After two years of investigation and negotiation, the 21st Dynasty coffin of Imesy is being returned to Egypt. Minister Farouk Hosni describes the coffin as beautifully plastered and painted with colourful religious scenes.
It was intercepted at Miami International Airport in 2008 when the importer failed to show the necessary documents to prove his ownership of the ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, which was part of a shipment from Spain. This raised concern amongst the American authorities that the coffin had left Egypt illegally.
An investigation was started by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As the earliest public record of the piece dates to 2007 when it was being exhibited in Madrid, they concluded that the coffin had left Egypt after 1970. ICE then confiscated the coffin and contacted the SCA, who petitioned for the artefact’s return to Egypt.
In November 2009, the matter went before US courts, at which time the SCA presented their case with the help of a pro-bono lawyer from Miami.
The importer eventually retracted his claim and withdrew from the case. The SCA agreed that the coffin be entrusted to US authorities, with the guarantee that it would be repatriated to Egypt as soon as possible.
Arrangements are currently underway for the coffin to be handed over to the SCA in early March, when Dr. Zahi Hawass will be travelling to Washington DC to retrieve the coffin – of course – during an official gala ceremony.
Two other high-profile ‘repatriation’ cases in which artefacts that illegally left the country made their way back to Egypt are the reinstatement of a chunk of red granite to the ‘naos’ of Amenemhat I (willingly donated by the METmuseum) and the return of fragments of wall paintings that were removed from Theban Tomb 15, after which they turned up in the Louvre (after Egypt threatened to suspend the Louvre’s excavations).
Earlier, Egypt announced that it will be hosting a ‘Repatriation of Artefacts Abroad’ conference in March. The conference – with Greece, Italy, China and Mexico attending – will be a world first.
We’ve previously asked Heritage Key users to share their opinions on ‘Artefacts Abroad’, have a look at the results!
In the meantime, Egypt is not the only country demanding their ‘pieces of heritage’ to be returned (there’s Greece and the Elgin Marbles, Italy and the Lysippos Statue, the Maoris demanding their heads back, and many more…). Find an overview – and join the discussion – here.