Israel Antiquities Authority officials have seized two ancient Egyptian coffin covers found while inspecting a shop in Jerusalem’s Old City, the IAA revealed in a press release on Tuesday. It is suspected that the sarcophagus pieces were looted sometime during last year’s revolution in Egypt, then brought into Israel for authentication in preparation for being sold abroad.
The two pieces, made of palm wood and plaster with elaborate painting, were cut in half to facilitate fitting into a regular suitcase, an act the IAA says caused “irreparable damage.” Carbon-14 dating has confirmed that the covers are thousands of years old: one dates between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE, the other from the 16th to 14th centuries BCE.
According to the IAA, “until recently antiquities dealers and other entities have exploited loopholes in the law whereby they brought antiquities into the country for the purpose of ‘laundering’ them.” In Israel owners of stolen artifacts can obtain documentation that would enable them to be sold in the open market as “artifacts… ostensibly of Israeli provenance.”
A new law, to take effect April 20, aims to curtail the practice. “The new regulation will provide us with the tools… to prevent the importation into the country of antiquities that were stolen or plundered in other countries, thus enabling us to thwart the international cycle of robbery and trade in stolen archaeological artifacts,” said IAA official Shai Bar-Tura.
Egypt has requested the return of the sarcophagus covers, and the “legalities are currently being examined in order to return the objects to their country of origin.” In the meantime the items are being held by the IAA in climate controlled conditions in Jerusalem.