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Ancient ‘Green Coffin’ sarcophagus returned to Egypt after US officials ruled it was looted

  • January 04, 2023

An ancient wooden sarcophagus was finally returned to Egypt after U.S. officials determined it had been looted over a decade ago.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said in September the “Green Coffin,” a nearly 10-foot long sarcophagus painted with a bright green face, took this path to a museum in the U.S.:

  • The sarcophagus was looted from an archeological site in Egypt by a group that had previously taken other Egyptian artifacts. 
  • It was then smuggled out of the country through Germany before coming to the U.S. in 2008.
  • The artifact was then sold to a private collector before it was loaned to the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, and later to the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences for its Hall of Ancient Egypt.

The artifact was then seized by U.S. officials who determined it should be returned to Egypt. 

“This stunning coffin was trafficked by a well-organized network that has looted countless antiquities from the region,” said Manhattan District Attorney Bragg at the time. “We are pleased that this object will be returned to Egypt, where it rightfully belongs.” 

On Monday, Egypt officials announced the sarcophagus had been returned to the country in a ceremony in Cairo.

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry said at a press conference the artifact is a testimony to Egyptian civilization that “continues to impress the world,” according to the Daily News of Egypt

Mostafa Waziri, the top official at the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said at the ceremony the sarcophagus dates back to the Late Dynastic Period of ancient Egypt, which was from 664 B.C. to 332 B.C. Waziri added the artifact may have belonged to an ancient priest named Ankhenmaat, but some of the inscription on it had been erased. 

More: For years, experts said a Roman emperor wasn’t real. Scientists say a coin could prove otherwise

Roman bust: A woman bought a sculpture at Goodwill for $34.99. It actually was a missing ancient Roman bust.

More than 5,000 stolen artifacts returned to Egypt in 2021

Egypt officials said the recovery of the sarcophagus is part of a nationwide effort to return stolen artifacts back to the country. The Associated Press reported authorities succeeded in getting 5,300 stolen artifacts returned to Egypt from across the world in 2021. 

The Houston Museum of Natural Science said in a statement to USA TODAY it worked with U.S. and Egypt officials to return the artifact.

“HMNS has never owned the artifact and was not involved with its removal from the Arab Republic of Egypt. As a courtesy, once we learned of the circumstances regarding the piece, we facilitated its immediate return. HMNS is fully supportive of repatriation efforts for antiquities illegally removed from their country of origin,” the museum said.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.

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