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U.S. Returns Looted Sarcophagus to Egypt

U.S. Returns Looted Sarcophagus to Egypt

Smuggling network had also looted a gilded coffin out of Egypt that was once featured at New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

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).


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Thousands of cultural artifacts have been destroyed by Islamists in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, etc. Should these people ever gain control of Egpyt all of this stuff will be melted down.

    alaskabob in reply to Paula. | January 3, 2023 at 5:54 pm

    One imam wanted the pyramids destroyed. There is only one god etc etc etc and nothing before matters… as with the burning of the libraries of Delhi and Baghdad.

    Mel Plontz in reply to Paula. | January 4, 2023 at 2:16 am

    Yeah, but think of the energy savings provided by concentrating all this stuff conveniently in Egypt.

    Danny in reply to Paula. | January 4, 2023 at 2:18 pm

    Egypt is ruled by people who will see to it you are dead if you destroy their artifacts.

The law rightfully says that this ancient Egyptian artifact should be returned to its legitimate owners. On the other hand, its legitimate owners are Muslims who consider the ancient Egyptians infidel pagans and have a history of destroying such things (Bamiyan Buddas for instance).

It will be interesting to see how they are treated. Cash cows or hated symbols of infidelity?

    UnCivilServant in reply to Gosport. | January 3, 2023 at 11:12 pm

    The legitimate owners are not the people now squatting on the ruins of Egypt.

      The legitimate owner is the Republic of Egypt, by every legal standard available. It belongs to Egypt the same way the Elgin Marbles belong to the British Museum — the right of undisputed possession. Whoever stole it from Egypt committed the same crime as it would be to steal the Marbles; and just as the hypothetically stolen marbles should be returned to their owner from whom they were stolen, i.e. the British Museum, so should this be returned to the owner from which it was stolen, i.e. the Egyptian government.

      If you have a contrary argument I’d be very interested to hear it. Seriously. I’m not being sarcastic at all; I love thinking about this kind of question, which goes to the fundamental nature of property rights.

        BobM in reply to Milhouse. | January 4, 2023 at 9:37 am

        Artifacts dating back millennia are not just the heritage of the current nation they are sited in, but of mankind in general.

        Take the Elgin Marbles, for example. Due to poor to no maintenance in situ it’s indisputable if they had been left in place they’d be corroded all to heck by now. I was a mineral collector in my youth, according to New Age Think removing mineral and fossil specimens from in situ is desecration – “they should be left in place for future generations to enjoy”.

        Only problem is the surface and near surface specimens I collected would not (in general) survive for future generations. Geodes from a farmers field – impediments to farming the farmer would throw away otherwise. Pyrite crystals exposed by a highway roadcut? Soon to be rust stains after a few winters. Rare crystals of minerals only found in a specific Quebec quarry? Soon to be road gravel.

        Given official Islamist views on “pagan idols” I’m not comfortable depending upon the greed of Egyptian officials to protect ancient artifacts in a majority Muslim nation. Especially since greed also drives the stolen artifact trade. And more especially since the destruction we saw in Afghanistan. For the sake of “purity” many many islamists are perfectly willing to destroy humanities’s history – just as in Iran they’re willing to rape and murder women for “immodesty” and citizens in general for not being OK with such rape and murder.

        Is Greece going to spend to preserve the marbles better than the British Museum? Are they going to better let the public view them and scholars have easy access? Or are they asking the Brits to give up possession and pay THEM to maintain standards?

        In Egypt you face those hurdles PLUS the faithful whose faith tells them the artifacts in question very existence is an offense against G O D. If you want to pretend that problem doesn’t exist just to be polite and Woke, why not save everyone the effort and just pile up in bonfires now rather than later?

          Milhouse in reply to BobM. | January 4, 2023 at 3:57 pm

          BobM, what makes it the “heritage of mankind”? What did mankind ever do to become its owner? Where did this claim by mankind magically appear from?

          The sarcophagus isn’t anyone’s “heritage”. It’s a piece of property that was lying around ownerless and there for the taking, just as the Marbles were, until someone took possession and claimed it. By every standard of property law that I’m aware of, that makes it that person’s property. In this case, that person is the Republic of Egypt.

          As for the Marbles, it’s true that if they were given to Greece they would not be maintained as well as they are now, but that’s not why they should not be given. If they belonged to Greece, then they should be given back to their owner, to destroy if that’s what the owner wants to do. The Marbles belong to the British Museum because when Lord Elgin took them they were lying around ownerless and nobody else wanted them. So he took possession and claimed ownership, and they became his, and then he gave them to the museum and they became its. Even if Greece were a fabulously wealthy country and absolutely committed to preserving them they still shouldn’t go there, simply because they don’t belong to Greece. They never did. They’re not anyone’s “heritage”. They’re the museum’s property and it has the right to keep them no matter how good or bad a job it’s doing of preserving them, or how good or bad a job anyone else would do.

    DaveGinOly in reply to Gosport. | January 4, 2023 at 2:07 pm

    Note that Afghani Taliban refused to destroy the Buddhas. It was necessary to detail foreign Taliban fighters to do the deed, as they had no respect for the country’s cultural heritage (and the money it brings it from foreign visitors).

    Danny in reply to Gosport. | January 4, 2023 at 2:18 pm

    The legitimate owner is the Egyptian state that is ruled by Sisi.

    Could you produce proof Sisi is any of the things you just said?

Here was the chance to export FJoe Biden… the downside is that they would be confused as to whether a dessicated mummy 0r the living serving President was in it.

“A lot of what we say when we describe ancient Egypt is less about what actually happened in ancient Egypt and more about the assumptions of Victorian upper-middle-class white, cis-gendered, bearded men,” said Price.”

Does this mean the descendants of “Victorian, upper middle class, white, cisgendered bearded men” can also have their culture returned, or are they singularly relegated to the dustbin?

urbane culture

An item of historical significance may or may not have been looted. But, more importantly, who is the best caretaker of said item? It’s obvious most of us here have been paying attention to events of the last few decades where historic artifacts in the middle-East are concerned.

    Danny in reply to WestRock. | January 4, 2023 at 2:20 pm

    I would feel safer visiting Alexandria or Cairo than Chicago or Detroit.

      BobM in reply to Danny. | January 4, 2023 at 3:01 pm

      Unless you’re a foreign female news reporter willing to mingle with a crowd of protestors you’re probably right. If you are, all bets are off.

      Btw, how sad is it that major American cities like Chicago or Detroit are arguably the standards to compare against in the categories of “unsafe urban hellholes”?

What do these theorists make of Genesis 50:2 and 50:26? The understanding that this was a method of preservation long predates the Victorian era. And to claim that this is not a reference to mummification is a bit far-fetched.

    alaskabob in reply to Milhouse. | January 3, 2023 at 8:47 pm

    I don’t think they have read Genesis…. or have convinced themselves that it is a fairy tale. Sad.

      Milhouse in reply to alaskabob. | January 3, 2023 at 11:28 pm

      It doesn’t matter if it’s a fairy tale. Let it be one, it’s still a written work from long before the Victorian era, which refers to the ancient Egyptian practice of embalming their dead to preserve them. Or at least that is how it has been understood for at least the past 2000 years, again long before the Victorian era.

Mummy to Metro Museum: “PLEASE – send me to Florida!”

“…he mummified Egyptians may one day achieve their goal of living again ..”

Wait, I saw this movie!!

I was about to get all up in arms about returning stuff stolen from Egypt until I saw it happened in 2011!!

Right, return that shit asap!

E Howard Hunt | January 4, 2023 at 8:56 am

Seems like a case for Philo Vance.

Why would one make “statues” of the dead and then hide them away in sarcophagi and tombs?

Milhouse : “BobM, what makes it the “heritage of mankind”? What did mankind ever do to become its owner? Where did this claim by mankind magically appear from?”

Buy that logic what did any of the past few Egyptian govts ever do to become owners of all those artifacts? For centuries they and the locals have happily sold “their heritage” to foreigners for foreign gold.

They do not have a good history of being guardians of history.

As to their “right” to destroy artifacts if they so choose – If the Italians were planning to demolish the Coliseum and other Roman landmarks to build condominiums any sane person would object to such waste.

    Milhouse in reply to BobM. | January 4, 2023 at 7:17 pm

    “what did any of the past few Egyptian govts ever do to become owners of all those artifacts?” They did the same as anyone does to acquire ownerless property. They took possession of it and claimed it, without objection. Which is exactly how Lord Elgin got the Marbles, or how the first owner of every bit of property in the world acquired it.

    Tell me how you think property is created? Where do property rights come from? What makes something mine rather than yours? If I make something, it’s mine. If the rightful owner gives it to me, it’s mine. But what about things that were ownerless? When someone finds a gold nugget in a stream, or a piece of land in an uninhabited valley, how does it become theirs? By taking it and claiming it. They pick up the nugget, they fence in the land they want, etc. In old-fashioned language this was called “mingling their labor with it”.

    And the same applies to property that once belonged to someone, but they have irretrievably lost it and have given up all hope of ever retrieving it, or they have died leaving no traceable heirs at all. Their property becomes ownerless and the first person to claim it, by picking it up or fencing it in, etc., gains ownership.

    If you disagree with this, please describe how you think property rights are first acquired.

    And an owner has the right to destroy his property. Other people might object, but it’s none of their business. Without that right, it’s not truly his.