Israel returns rare stolen relics to Egypt

The Foreign Ministry hands over to Egypt two ancient Pharaonic sarcophagi, giving symbolic expression to the warming of ties between the two nations in recent years.

The two rare ancient Egyptian sarcophagus lids were plundered from Egypt following the 2011 revolution, smuggled into Israel and held by Israeli authorities for four years.

The artifacts were found by Israel Antiquities Authority theft prevention agents in a dealer’s store in Jerusalem’s Old City in March 2012, but despite multiple requests by the Egyptian government they remained in climate-controlled storage in Jerusalem since their retrieval.

Egyptian sarcophagus detail (photo credit: courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)
A wooden Egyptian sarcophagus, confiscated by the Israel Antiquities Authority in 2012, that was set to be returned to Egypt on May 22, 2016 (Courtesy: Israel Antiquities Authority)

According to a Foreign Ministry press release, the ministry’s director, Dore Gold, “expressed the hope that the handing over of these ancient items can be a precursor to further bilateral cooperation in the field of historical heritage, as well as in other fields of mutual interest, to the benefit of both countries.”

Egyptian Ambassador Hazem Khairat “stated that Egypt appreciates the efforts made by the Israeli authorities to return these smuggled antiquities to their country of origin, Egypt, and is looking forward to the return of the rest of smuggled antiquities found in Israel,” the press release says.

The wooden sarcophagi are coated with plaster and decorated with hieroglyphics and brilliant illustrations.

Carbon-14 dating determined that one sarcophagus is 3,600 to 3,400 years old, from the Late Bronze Age 18th Dynasty, and the second is around 3,000 years old, the Iron Age.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement following their confiscation that the sarcophagi were cut in half in order to fit them into suitcases, causing “irreparable damage.”

— Ilan Ben Zion contributed

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