Egypt is a country known for its rich 5000 year history, housing some of the most precious Pharaonic artifacts. Yet, Egypt is not the only home for these treasures of the pyramids. For many years, thousands of artifacts were smuggled outside of the country including priceless remnants of its past like the Rosetta Stone and Nefertiti’s Head Statue. There is even going to be a petition from Egypt’s archaeologist Zawi Hawas to bring back the Rosetta Stone to Egyptian shores in October.
Luckily, following a repatriation ceremony held between Egypt and the USA on September 8th, it was announced that 16 looted antiquities are coming back to the country. Nine of these artifacts were taken from a man called Michael Steinhardt, an American antique collector as well as a billionaire hedge fund manager. Forbes reported that he was under a lengthy investigation that spanned several years. In 2021, 180 artifacts that he stole were returned back and he was officially banned from collecting antiquities for the rest of his life. It’s known as a lifetime ban and it was the first of its kind that was ever announced.
While under investigation for an international smuggling ring, six other artifacts were found and confiscated from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They had quite the journey prior to their return to Egypt. According to the Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, they were originally stolen from several archaeological sites in Egypt, then smuggled through Germany and Netherlands to France where they were sold by a French auction house known as Pierre Bergés & Associés to the Met. The auction house acted as an illegal channel to sell many other artifacts that stemmed from countries like Libya, Syria and Yemen.
With a value amounting to over 70 million EGP, this showcases the importance and worth of these artifacts as national treasures. From the Met, some of the looted items include five linen fabrics that illustrate biblical messages from the book of Exodus dating between 250 and 450 BC. Of the 16 artifacts that were retrieved, some of the most notable antiquities included:
A Fayum Mummy Portrait & A Stele Of The Goddess Hathor
During Roman Egypt, Fayum mummy portraits were realistic, naturalistic portraits of men and women of all ages which were usually painted on wooden boards that were then hung on Upper class mummies. The piece dates back to 54-68 CE and was stolen from Egypt in 1990. In 2013, it was then sold to the Met by Pierre Bergés & Associés.
The stele is a plaque made of limestone that is engraved with hieroglyphic messages. During ancient Egypt, the stele was used to commemorate certain people so this particular stele was made to honor the Goddess Hathor. It dates back from the third Intermediate Period to the Late period. It was bought from the Pierre Bergé auction house in 2015.
A Face Of An Egyptian Sarcophagus & The Stella of Kemes
The face of the Egyptian sarcophagus once belonged to a wooden anthropoid coffin before it was split in two. These faced coffins were believed to be a perfect substitute for the deceased that is housed within it should anything happen to them. In December 2015, it was bought by the Met from the Pierre Bergé auction house.
Dating all the way back to 1750–1720 BCE, the stelle of Kemes was made to honor Kemes, known as the Overseer of Percussionists. He is found on the upper part of the stele. It was bought by the Met from the Pierre Bergé auction house in 2014.
Each artifact is a literal mirror into Egypt’s ancient past so their return marks a celebratory occasion for the Egyptian community. Egypt’s Consul General Howaida Essam Mohamed was happy to have cooperated with the New York District Attorney’s office in the retrieval of the antiquities:
“It is safe to say that we can open an entire museum solely based on the artifacts repatriated via the support and efforts of the District Attorney of New York, and for that, we are eternally grateful.”General Howaida Essam Mohamed Via siouxlandproud
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