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Looted ancient sarcophagus returned to Egypt from US

CAIRO (AP) – An ancient wooden sarcophagus that was featured at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences was returned to Egypt after United States (US) authorities determined it was looted years ago, Egyptian officials said on Monday.

The repatriation is part of Egyptian government efforts to stop the trafficking of its stolen antiquities. In 2021, authorities in Cairo succeeded in getting 5,300 stolen artifacts returned to Egypt from across the world.

Mostafa Waziri, the top official at the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the sarcophagus dates back to the Late Dynastic Period of ancient Egypt, an era that spanned the last of the Pharaonic rulers from 664 BC until Alexander the Great’s campaign in 332 BC.

The sarcophagus, almost three metres tall with a brightly painted top surface, may have belonged to an ancient priest named Ankhenmaat, though some of the inscription on it has been erased, Waziri said.

It was symbollically handed over at a ceremony on Monday in Cairo by the US chargé d’affaires in Egypt Daniel Rubinstein.

Top official at the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mostafa Waziri takes a look with a magnifier at an ancient wooden sarcophagus during a handover ceremony in Cairo, Egypt. PHOTOS: AP
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry speaks during the ceremony

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 US in 2008, according to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L Bragg.

“This stunning coffin was trafficked by a well-organised 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 USD4 million. It was returned to Egypt in 2019.