MICHELE NORRIS, host:
After a secret trip around the globe, a 3,000-year-old stolen sarcophagus is returning home. Earlier today, U.S. authorities sent the sarcophagus to Egypt. It was confiscated by customs officials at the Miami airport in 2008.
Zahi Hawass has made it his mission to recover Egypt's stolen artifacts. He's the secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, and the New Yorker magazine has called him the international star of Egyptology.
Dr. Zahi Hawass, thank you very much for joining us.
Dr. ZAHI HAWASS (Secretary-General, Supreme Council of Antiquities): Thank you.
NORRIS: Can you walk us through what happened? How did this ancient relic go from Egypt to Spain and then to Miami and now finally back to Egypt?
Dr. HAWASS: We do not know really when this coffin left Egypt, but we think that the coffin left Egypt in 1970 to Spain. And this man from Barcelona, who was connected with one of the art galleries in Barcelona, brought it to Miami to sell it to someone in Canada.
Then thanks to this agriculture officer who was searching for agricultural items, and he saw this coffin, and he thought there's something wrong here. Why this coffin is there? And that is the beginning. They began to contact me, and actually, the man from Spain could not give any evidence that legally this belonged to him. And I had to file a case against him. When they filed the case to court, the Spanish man was afraid. He said, give it back to Egypt.
NORRIS: When that agricultural official, the customs official, looked and saw this coffin, what is it that he saw? Describe the coffin for me. What does it look like?
Dr. HAWASS: He looked at a beautiful coffin. It belonged to a person called Imesy. This coffin belonged to Dynasty 21st, dated back almost 3,000 years ago. It's beautifully decorated with religious scenes of gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt that can help the deceased to 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's painted today.
NORRIS: Was there anything inside?
Dr. HAWASS: No, it was completely empty.
NORRIS: And where will the coffin be placed once it's back in Egypt?
Dr. HAWASS: We will put it in an exhibit at the Cairo Museum on April 7th. And after that it will be a permanent object in a museum at Sharm el-Sheikh.
NORRIS: The call that you got, what went through your mind when - did you know that this was out there somewhere? Was this a missing artifact?
Dr. HAWASS: No, we didn't know.
NORRIS: You didn't even know.
Dr. HAWASS: No, no. We have no - don't know anything about this coffin. It left Egypt illegally, but we don't have really, actually, any list of the stolen artifacts that left Egypt.
We have thousands of thousands of artifacts stolen from Egypt, and only after anything stolen from Egypt after 1972, which is the UNESCO convention. And, also, in the same time, I'm after six unique artifacts. I think they should be home: the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin museum, Rosetta Stone in the British museum, the Zodiac at the Louvre, the statue of the architect of the Great Pyramid at Hildesheim museum in Germany, and the statue of the architect of the second pyramid at Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and finally, the statue of Ramses II in Turin, Italy. I think their home should be Egypt.
NORRIS: This sarcophagus that just left and is headed back to Egypt now, how common is a case like this, where it really isn't that much of a battle to actually, in your mind, do the right thing, get that back in Egypt?
Dr. HAWASS: It's wonderful.
NORRIS: But how often does this happen where...
Dr. HAWASS: It happens all the time. I returned, until now, 30,000 artifacts for the last eight years back to Egypt.
NORRIS: Dr. Zahi Hawass, thank you very much for coming in to speak to us.
Dr. HAWASS: Thank you.
NORRIS: Dr. Zahi Hawass is the secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.
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