Israel returns stolen sarcophagi to Egypt

Two ancient Egyptian sarcophagus covers were delivered to Cairo’s Egyptian Museum Tuesday after Israel confiscated them from smugglers and returned them to Egypt.

Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anani said the colorful wooden covers, decorated with hieroglyphics and illustrations, were recovered after they went on sale in 2012 and arrived at the museum Tuesday following cooperation between the two countries and Interpol.

Last month, Israel handed over to Egypt two ancient Pharaonic sarcophagi, giving symbolic expression to the warming of ties between the two nations in recent years.

The rare sarcophagus lids were plundered from Egypt following the 2011 Arab Spring revolution, smuggled into Israel and held by Israeli authorities for four years.

The artifacts were found by Israel Antiquities Authority theft prevention agents at a dealer’s store in Jerusalem’s Old City in March 2012, but despite multiple requests by the Egyptian government they remained in climate-controlled storage in Jerusalem since their retrieval.

El-Anani said the covers will be restored and put on display in the Cairo museum or a new, Grand Museum currently under construction near the Giza Pyramids.

El-Anani said it is still unclear how the rare artifacts made their way to Israel, but that Egypt would continue to repatriate any antiquities that were taken from the country illegally.

With their handover to Egypt, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold “expressed the hope that the handing over of these ancient items can be a precursor to further bilateral cooperation in the field of historical heritage, as well as in other fields of mutual interest, to the benefit of both countries.”

Egyptian Ambassador to Israel Hazem Khairat said that Egypt “appreciates the efforts made by the Israeli authorities to return these smuggled antiquities to their country of origin, Egypt, and is looking forward to the return of the rest of smuggled antiquities found in Israel,” according to a statement released to the press.

The wooden sarcophagi are coated with plaster and decorated with hieroglyphics and brilliant illustrations.

Carbon-14 dating determined that one sarcophagus is 3,600 to 3,400 years old, from the Late Bronze Age 18th Dynasty, and the second is around 3,000 years old, and from the Iron Age.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement following their confiscation that the sarcophagi were cut in half in order to fit them into suitcases, causing “irreparable damage.”


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