The U.S. returned a sarcophagus featured at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences to Egypt after determining that the object had been looted and smuggled into this country.
The sarcophagus, which at 500 kilograms (about 1,100 pounds) is one of the biggest, dates back to the Late Period of Ancient Egypt (747-332 BC), said Mostafa Waziri, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities at Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
Ahmed Issa, Egypt’s minister of tourism and antiquities, said the lid “was looted and smuggled from Egypt to the United States a few years ago.”
The recovery came as a result of the collaboration with US authorities and an investigation spanning over two years, Issa added.
“The sarcophagus is very thick, which pushed looters to steal the sarcophagus’s lid without the base,” Waziri added during the news conference, saying it is known as the “Green Sarcophagus” because of the green face on top of it.
The sarcophagus was symbolically turned over during a ceremony in Cairo by Daniel Rubinstein, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Egypt.
The handover came more than three months after the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office determined the sarcophagus was looted from Abu Sir Necropolis, north of Cairo. It was smuggled through Germany into the United States in 2008, according to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg.
“This stunning coffin was trafficked by a well-organized network that has looted countless antiquities from the region,” Bragg said at the time. “We are pleased that this object will be returned to Egypt, where it rightfully belongs.”
Bragg said the same network had smuggled a gilded coffin out of Egypt that was featured at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Met bought the piece from a Paris art dealer in 2017 for about $4 million. It was returned to Egypt in 2019.
The one in New York was smuggled out in 2011.
Meanwhile, some intriguing new theories of mummification are being considered.
Mummification may never have been intended to preserve the bodies of ancient Egyptians after death, experts say, a sharp contrast to the popular understanding of the practice.
An increasing number of archaeologists say that the preservative effects of mummification were likely accidental, and blame early modern Egyptologists for propagating a misunderstanding based on little evidence.
Instead, the theory goes, mummification was meant to alter the bodies in a way that didn’t rely on the popular theory that the bodies would become reanimated in an afterlife.
Instead, the experts say, Egyptians intended to turn their pharaohs into statues, works of art with religious significance.
The Egyptologists advancing this view say that the Victorians who first studied mummies concluded that preservation was the aim due to their own macabre fascination with the afterlife.
Personally, I am skeptical of this theory. There is plenty of evidence from the early dynasties that the approach to mummification was evolving to ensure the best preservation possible. Statues would have been the second-choice substitute if the body was destroyed.
Enhancing this skepticism was the smear against Victorians in the article. While not perfect, scientists of that era are a large part of why we have made significant advances over the last 150 years in all the sciences, including Egyptology.
To round out his post, let me include this video from my favorite Egyptologist, Bob Brier. In it, he discusses his research project, in which he and his team recreated the Egyptian mummification process and made a modern mummy.
Based on Brier’s work alone, I assert the evidence is very suggestive that preservation was the main aim of mummification. Given that molecular cloning of mummy DNA is occurring, the mummified Egyptians may one day achieve their goal of living again (albeit not in the way they envisioned).DONATE
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