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Stolen gold coffin displayed at the Met returned to Egypt

Sep 27, 2019, 7:10 AM
US and Egyptian officials view the coffin of Nedjemankh at a repatriation ceremony in New York....
US and Egyptian officials view the coffin of Nedjemankh at a repatriation ceremony in New York.

(CNN) — An ancient gold coffin displayed at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is going home to Egypt — where it was stolen nearly a decade ago.

The coffin is worth $4 million and once held the remains of influential priest Nedjemankh, said the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in a statement Wednesday.

It was smuggled from Egypt’s Minya region during the country’s 2011 revolution, and transported through the United Arab Emirates to Germany and then France, before being sold to the Met Museum in July 2017. There, it was put on display along with 70 other items from the Egyptian collection.

In February this year, the district attorney’s office executed a search warrant and seized it from a Met Museum display. The museum cooperated with investigators after it was presented with evidence of the original theft.

“Coming as we do from all over the world, New Yorkers place a strong value on cultural heritage, and our office takes pride in our work to vigorously protect it,” Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said.

“Returning stolen cultural treasures to their countries of origin is at the core of our mission to stop the trafficking of stolen antiquities. I am honored to repatriate this extraordinary artifact back to the people of Egypt.”

The Egyptian minister of foreign affairs signed an official repatriation protocol at the repatriation ceremony. The coffin will now go on public display in Egypt.

Nedjemankh had been a priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef, according to the Met Museum’s website. The surface of the coffin was elaborately decorated with scenes and hieroglyphic texts meant to guide the priest on his journey to eternal life.

Egypt has been working to retrieve its stolen artifacts from around the world for years. In January, it recovered a section of tablet engraved with an ancient king’s royal symbol from a London auction house where it was listed for sale. The tablet had been stolen from an Egyptian museum in 1988 and smuggled out of the country.

Its efforts to retrieve artifacts have not always been so successful. A statue resembling the pharaoh Tutankhamun was sold for $5.97 million at a London auction in July, even though Egyptian authorities said it was stolen and demanded its repatriation.

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Stolen gold coffin displayed at the Met returned to Egypt