The “green coffin” has become the most recent ancient artefact to be recovered by Egypt following years on its smuggling out of the country.
The Green Coffin is the cover of a wooden coffin from ancient Egypt. It is of exceptional size, more than three metres long, and is made of wood covered with hieroglyphic inscriptions.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry asserted that Egypt’s recovery of the “Green Coffin” from the US is another Foreign Ministry success in restoring its civilisational heritage. He was speaking at a press conference held at the Foreign Ministry premises together with Tourism Minister Ahmed Issa.
The US charge d’affairs in Cairo and Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Mostafa Waziri attended the press conference.
The Egyptian foreign minister said the recovery of the green coffin came after strenuous efforts that extended for several years and in coordination among the Foreign Ministry, the diplomatic missions in the US, the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry as well as the Public Prosecutor’s office.
This matter asserted the’ State’s commitment to restoring antiquities that had been illegally smuggled outside the country, Mr Shoukry noted, adding that the recovery of the green coffin is testimony to the cooperation between Egypt and the US in protecting cultural possessions and returning Egypt’s smuggled antiquities.
Mr Shoukry asserted that Egypt was among the first countries that approved the Hague Agreement of 1954 and the UNESCO Agreement for 1970 on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. He said that Egypt is seeking to expand the signing of similar agreements that could ease the return of smuggled antiquities from abroad, noting that Egypt has succeeded over the past ten years to bring back as many as 29,300 pieces of antiquities.
Addressing the conference, Tourism Minister Ahmed Issa asserted that the State gave great attention to the file of retrieving smuggled antiquities. Egypt, Mr Issa said, has restored 29,300 pieces of antiquities including 5,300 that were smuggled in 2021 and 110 in 2022.
Meanwhile, SCA Secretary General Mostafa Waziri explained that the coffin lid dates back to the Ptolemaic period in Egypt (323 – 32BC), and belonged to a priest of the city of Heracleopolis, Ankh In Maat. The over three-metre-long wooden relic is decorated with columns of hieroglyphic texts coloured in gold.
It carries the portrait of the deceased, with the face and ears painted green, a symbol of rebirth and resurrection in ancient Egypt. It weighs 500kg and is 90 centimetres wide.
According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which was responsible for seizing and returning the artefact, the green coffin lid was looted from Abusir necropolis close to Cairo, and trafficked into the US in 2008, where it was sold to a private collector and eventually loaned to the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences in 2013.
Egypt’s Consul General in Houston Hossam El-Qawish succeeded in recovering the coffin lid, which was handed over to the consul in a repatriation ceremony last September following an investigation that lasted for more than four years.
Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mostafa Waziri said that these efforts started in 2019 when the country requested the US Attorney General’s Office in Manhattan return a gilded coffin of Nedjem Ankh that was on display at the Metropolitan Museum and is now on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Fustat, Cairo.
The green coffin, Mr Waziri said, will be moved to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square after it undergoes restoration.
3 January 2023
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