Thursday, 30 August 2012

Israel Bought Smuggled Coffin Lid


The pieces of the painted anthropoid coffin lid seized by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) from a shop showroom in Jerusalem's Old City in April 2011 will return to Egypt in the coming weeks. It will be restored then exhibited at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

Osama El-Nahas, director-general of the Repatriation of Antiquities Department at Egypt's Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA), told Ahram Online that [...] lid was stolen and illegally smuggled out of the country and slightly modified to look like a replica. It was first taken to Dubai, from where it was transported to Israel, where it subsequently turned up in a shop in Jerusalem's Old City.[...] the IAA bought the lid from the shop owner and promised it to Egypt.
Presumably this was deemed better in this case than some kind of legal process to seize the smuggled object. Will Egypt be reimbursing the purchase price? The Times of Israel (which states that the seizure was in March 2011 rather than April) gives - apart from a better photo - some additional information: 
the owner of the shop where the sarcophagi were found had claimed to have bought the artifacts in Dubai and legally transferred them to Israel by way of London. 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 that took effect in late April 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.
Presumably the object was imported before this new law (discussed earlier on this blog) came into force.

The object is reported to have most likely come from the burial of "an unidentified 16th Dynasty nobleman". If so, it would most likely have been looted from a tomb in Upper Egypt, perhaps Thebes (also possible are sites like El Kab, Abydos or Edfu). Whatever the case, presumably the sarcophagus lid was not the only thing in the tomb, so who has the rest of the bits?

And what about the 18th dynasty one seized at the same time?  And have any of the people handling these coffins been identified by the investigations and are any of them facing any charges? Or did the Jerusalem dealer "lose" the paperwork?

Source: Nevine El-Aref , 'Israel to return ancient coffin lid to Egypt', Al-Ahram 29 Aug 2012

Gabe Fisher and Asher Zeiger, 'Israel to return stolen sarcophagi' (with the tagline: "Coffin it up") The Times of Israel, August 30, 2012, 9:30 pm

Photo:  Sawn-up sarcophagus, seized in Jerusalem (photo Israeli Antiquities Authority)

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