U.S. Returns Sarcophagus To Egypt

A 3,000-year-old wooden sarcophagus was returned to Egypt. i i

A 3,000-year-old wooden sarcophagus, seized in Miami, was returned to Egypt in a ceremony at the National Geographic Society after a two-year international investigation. Courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
A 3,000-year-old wooden sarcophagus was returned to Egypt.

A 3,000-year-old wooden sarcophagus, seized in Miami, was returned to Egypt in a ceremony at the National Geographic Society after a two-year international investigation.

Courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

A 3,000-year-old stolen sarcophagus is returning home to Egypt after a trip around the world.

At a ceremony Wednesday at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., U.S. authorities returned the sarcophagus, which was confiscated by customs officials at Miami International Airport in 2008.

"We don't know anything about this coffin," Zahi Hawass, the secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, told NPR's Michele Norris. "It left Egypt illegally, but we don't have really any list of the stolen artifacts that left Egypt."

The coffin belonged to someone called Imesy who lived almost 3,000 years ago; it is believed to have been taken in 1970 from Egypt to Spain.

A statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the coffin was originally scrutinized for agricultural concerns at Miami's airport. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and ICE contacted the importer to see if the coffin had been exported legally from Egypt. Neither the importer nor the Spanish gallery that exported the object could show it left Egypt legally.

"Given the absence of a credible provenance, the item was determined to be owned by Egypt through its Cultural Patrimony Laws," the ICE statement said. "The item was seized as imported stolen property. ICE worked through its attache offices in Egypt and Spain to provide the information that led to the forfeiture of the property."

Hawass said the coffin was beautiful, but empty. He said it bore religious signs of gods and goddesses that were believed to help the dead go safely to the afterlife.

"If you look at the color on the lid of the coffin, you will see and you will think as if it was painted today," he said.

The coffin will be placed in an exhibit in the Cairo Museum on April 7. Later, it will be a permanent object at a museum in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

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