An ancient golden coffin worth $4 million, which is believed to have been looted from Egypt and sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) in New York City, has been returned to its home in a ceremony on Wednesday.
Earlier this year, at the Met’s exhibit of “Nedjemankh and His Gilded Coffin,” attended by Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Hassan Shoukry, the coffin was the centerpiece.
The 2,100-year-old coffin of a priest called Nedjemankh was sold to the Met by an art trafficking network using fake documentation, the BBC said.
At Wednesday’s ceremony, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance said: “Returning stolen cultural treasures to their countries of origin is at the core of our mission to stop the trafficking of stolen antiquities. I am honoured to repatriate this extraordinary artefact back to the people of Egypt.”
“Coming as we do from all over the world, New Yorkers place a strong value on cultural heritage, and our office takes pride in our work to vigorously protect it,” he said.
The Met apologized to Egypt and handed over the ornate, mummy-shaped coffin following a probe involving authorities in Egypt, Germany and France, prosecutors said.
“Several thousand stolen antiquities worth more than $150 million have been recovered by the Antiquities Trafficking Unit. Many of these have been returned to their rightful owners and repatriated to their countries of origin”, prosecutors said.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit worked with Homeland Security investigators and Egyptian officials in tracking the priceless artifact, which was purchased by the Met for $4 million in 2017, reports ABC7 News.
The coffin, which was reportedly crafted in Egypt in the first century BC, housed the remains of a high-ranking priest of the Egyptian ram god Heryshef of Herakleopolis, known as Nedjemankh.
The Art Newspaper describes the coffin’s surface as decorated with scenes and texts in gesso relief, which the museum said were intended to guide Nedjemankh on his spiritual journey from death to eternal life.
Looted from the Minya region of Egypt after the country’s 2011 revolution, the coffin was smuggled to the United Arab Emirates and then later to Germany.
It then headed to France, where it was sold by a Paris art dealer to the famed Fifth Avenue art museum in July 2017. The coffin has finally returned home.
“It is not the protection of our heritage, but the protection of mankind’s heritage.” “Today we are celebrating the return of one of our national treasures,” Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Hassan Shoukry said.
Reports indicate that the Met’s acquisitions undergo “a rigorous vetting process” that follows a 1970 UNESCO treaty, federal and state laws and the Association of Art Museum Directors’ guidelines.
The repatriated coffin is expected to be put on public display in Egypt.