Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1385, (15 - 21 March 2018)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1385, (15 - 21 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Coffin returns to Egypt

The ancient Egyptian coffin seized at Kuwait International Airport will arrive in Egypt later this week where tests will be carried out on its authenticity 

Coffin returns to Egypt
Coffin returns to Egypt

The ancient Egyptian coffin seized earlier this week at Kuwait International Airport in the Gulf has created concerns among many Egyptians who wonder how it was smuggled out of Egypt without being found and confiscated by police at Cairo International Airport, reports Nevine El-Aref.

This question has not yet been answered, but according to one source who requested anonymity investigations are now taking place and those responsible should soon be announced.

The story of the coffin started earlier this week when the Kuwait authorities announced that officers working at the air cargo terminal at Kuwait International Airport had found a 186cm coffin professionally hidden inside a sofa during the scanning of a shipment of office furniture sent from Egypt.

The coffin was confiscated pending further investigation in compliance with the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Meanwhile, the Kuwait customs authorities reported the incident to the country’s National Council for Culture, Arts, and Literature (NCCAL) to determine the coffin’s origin and historical authenticity.

The NCCAL set up a committee led by Sultan Gawish, director of museums and antiquities at the NCCAL, and including two Egyptian professors of ancient history and antiquities, Al-Sayed Mahfouz and Ahmed Said, who work at Kuwait University, to inspect the condition of the coffin and report on its authenticity.

According to the committee’s report, seen by Al-Ahram Weekly, the seized object is an anthropoid coffin carved in wood in the ancient Egyptian Osirin shape, except that the hands on the coffin are not folded together in the usual way. The lid is painted without any hieroglyphic inscriptions. Most of the surface is covered with a layer of calcined dirt and petrified rat dung.

“It is a very unusual and strange object,” Mahfouz told the Weekly, wondering where the coffin had been kept before it was smuggled out of Egypt.

He said that the anthropoid lid of the coffin bears the facial features of a person with unprofessionally painted long hair decorated with a foliage bandana. The shoulders are decorated with the falcon deity Ra-Hur-Akhti, while the chest is covered with a large painted collar called a waskhet. The bottom of the coffin is not painted and is inexpertly carved and unfinished.

The style of the coffin’s lid is similar to those found from the end of the Ancient Egyptian era and the early Ptolemaic Period, but the level of craftsmanship is less. This type of coffin is similar to the Merit-Et-Es coffin at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City in the US and the Ged-Hur coffin in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The thick layer of dirt covering the coffin’s surface had made it difficult for the committee to determine its authenticity, Mahfouz said. It had recommended that the object be returned to Egypt where scientific cleaning could be carried out in the laboratories of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square or at the new Grand Egyptian Museum.

“The cleaning process requires special materials that are not available to the committee,” Mahfouz said, adding that after the cleaning specialists could take a sample from the coffin for radioactive carbon analysis in order to determine its authenticity. 

Although the coffin is similar to those from the Late Pharaonic Period and early Ptolemaic era, he continued, the separation between the body and the base and the way the lid is carved in one piece appears anomalous and requires investigation.

Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, director of the repatriated antiquities department at the Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo, said the ministry had contacted the Foreign Ministry to follow up on the incident and that the coffin would arrive soon in Egypt for further examination. 

The Kuwaiti government had welcomed the cooperation of the Egyptian authorities, he said, adding that investigations were taking place to determine how the coffin had been smuggled out of the country.

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