Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1431, (21 - 27 February 2019)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1431, (21 - 27 February 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Coffin returns from New York

Egypt recovered an ancient Egyptian gilded coffin purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in New York with a forged export licence this week

Egyptian gilded coffin
Egyptian gilded coffin

The Antiquities Repatriation Department at the Ministry of Antiquities in collaboration with the Foreign Ministry of this week succeeded in recovering an anthropoid gilded coffin of Nedjemankh, a priest of the ram-god Heryshef, which had been stolen and illegally smuggled out of the country, reports Nevine El-Aref.

The coffin was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in New York through an antiquities trader who held a 1971 Egyptian export licence.

Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, supervisor of Egypt’s Antiquities Repatriation Department, said that investigations held by the Manhattan district attorney’s office in New York had lasted for around 20 months, during which Egypt had submitted evidence showing that the coffin’s export licence was fake and that Egypt had not issued such a document for the coffin. 

Before the passage of the Antiquities Protection Law 117 of 1983, the law allowed for the issuing of export licence for some artefacts.   

Through the investigative work of the Manhattan district attorney, the Metropolitan Museum learned that it had received a false ownership history, fraudulent statements and fake documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export licence for the coffin. 

The district attorney’s office approved Egypt’s arguments for its possession of the coffin and ordered its return to its homeland.

Metropolitan Museum President and CEO Daniel Weiss told the New York Times that “after we learned that the museum was a victim of fraud and had unwittingly participated in the illegal trade of antiquities, we worked with the district attorney’s office for its return to Egypt. The nation of Egypt has been a strong partner of the museum’s for over a century.”

Abdel-Gawad said that the museum’s president had sent an email expressing the museum’s apologies to Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and the Egyptian people for what had happened and said that the museum was committed to figuring out “how we can help to deter future offenses against cultural property.”

“Our museum must be a leader among our peers in the respect for cultural property and in the rigour and transparency of the policy and practices that we follow,” Max Hollein, the museum’s director, said in a statement to the New York Times

“We will learn from this event – specifically I will be leading a review of our acquisitions programme – to understand what more can be done to prevent such events in the future,” Hollein said.

Upon its arrival in its homeland, Abdel-Gawad said the coffin would be put on display temporarily in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square and then would be among the new Grand Egyptian Museum’s collection after its official opening in 2020.

The coffin is carved in wood and covered with a layer of gold inscribed for Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef of Herakleopolis. The elaborately decorated surface includes scenes and texts in thick gesso relief that were intended to protect and guide Nedjemankh on his journey from death to eternal life as a transfigured spirit.

The Ministry of Antiquities thanked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Egyptian security and juridical authorities, as well as the members of the National Committee for Antiquities Repatriation, for the efforts they had made to recover the coffin. 

It also thanked the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the Metropolitan Museum.

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