NYC’s Metropolitan Museum Returns Stolen Ancient Coffin To Egypt

A coffin lid from Egypt with a gilded mask is displayed at the Field Museum
Scott Olson / Getty Images

The United States has returned an ancient coffin to Egypt after an investigation determined the object had been stolen from the country back in 2011.

The antique was in exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which had acquired it from a global art trafficking network. As reported by BBC News, an investigation determined that the network used fraudulent documents to conduct the transaction, and that the coffin was stolen and smuggled out of the northern African country eight years ago.

The gilded coffin of a priest named Nedjemankh, of the ram-headed god Heryshef of Herakleopolis, was around 2,100-years-old — hence dating back to the first century B.C. Before the investigation, it was being shown in an exhibit at the Met that featured Egyptian artifacts. And now, it has finally been returned to its origin country by U.S. authorities.

“This is not only for Egyptians but this is for our common human heritage and our sense that we all share in the values and we all are one of the same international family,” said the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Hassan Shoukry, at the repatriation ceremony.

Authorities determined the antique had been looted from the Minya region after the political riots in October 2011. It was then taken to the United Arab Emirates and to Germany afterward, where it was restored. Eventually it ended up in Paris, and it was sold to the NYC museum for $4 million by a Parisian art dealer two years ago.

In February this year, the Met announced it had been given a forged 1971 Egyptian export license and other false documents after agents for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office presented them with the evidence. By then, the highly-decorated coffin had been on display for six months, per Reuters.

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“Thus far our investigation has determined that this coffin is just one of hundreds of antiquities stolen by the same multinational trafficking ring. So, you may well see a few more significant seizure,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who also spoke at the repatriation ceremony.

Vance said his office’s relatively new Antiquities Trafficking Unit had been responsible for investigating a series of fake documents until they discovered the coffin’s true origin. The 2-year-old unit does a similar job as the FBI’s Art Crime Team, but on a New York scale, focusing on the city’s galleries, museums, and auction houses.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is known for hosting perhaps the most high-profile event of the year, with A-listers such as Kim Kardashian and Anna Wintour attending.