The ancient “Green Coffin” sarcophagus that was smuggled into the U.S. has finally been returned to Egypt.
The wooden sarcophagus was featured at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. It was about 3 meters tall (9.5 feet), had distinct bright colors and is believed to date back to the Late Dynastic Period in ancient Egypt from 664 B.C. to 332 B.C., according to AP News.
It is valued at about $1 million, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. said in a September 2022 press release. It’s likely that the sarcophagus belonged to ancient priest Ankhenmaat, but it was trafficked out of Egypt by the Dib-Simonian network and was smuggled into the U.S. through Germany in 2008.
It was reportedly sold to a private collector and eventually ended up being loaned to the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
“While the coffin lid has long ignited the imaginations of those who view it due to its striking green visage and extraordinary size at almost 10 feet long, it is these same qualities which led to its illegal exportation from Egypt as part of a massive, multinational network of antiquities smugglers,” Ricky J. Patel, acting special agent in charge at Homeland Security Investigations, New York, said in the press release.
In a handover ceremony in Cairo Monday, the sarcophagus was finally returned to where it belongs.
“Today’s ceremony is emblematic of the long history of co-operation between the United States and Egypt on antiquities protection and cultural heritage preservation,” Daniel Rubinstein, U.S. chargé d’affaires in Egypt, said, according to BBC News.
Indeed, the Green Coffin is not the first artifact to be returned to the people of Egypt. In its effort to repatriate the many artifacts that had been looted and smuggled out of the country, it has also retrieved antiquities such as the Gold Coffin, which was also trafficked by the Dib-Simonian network and was returned in 2019, as well as five items that were seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and returned to Egypt in September 2022.
Israel also returned more than 95 relics that had been smuggled into the country, as per the outlet. Meanwhile, the University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland is also planning to repatriate several ancient items including a sarcophagus, mummified human remains and canopic jars, according to a statement from the university. The jars are said to be the oldest among the items, dating back to 945-700 B.C.
The items’ return to Egypt, expected to happen sometime in 2023, will be documented in a project called Kinship.
“The essence of Kinship is the return of a mummified body of an Egyptian man from Ireland to Cairo, mirroring the tragic displacement and migration of thousands of people from their homelands today — linking one man through time,” artist Dorothy Cross, one of the leads of the project, said in the UCC statement.