CAIRO: Hundreds of pillaged ancient Egyptian artifacts have been seized in an operation initiated by the Spanish Guardia Civil and the police of Cyprus, Europol announced Wednesday.
“The artifacts were discovered hidden in cheap vases during an inspection of a shipping container from Alexandria, Egypt, at the Port of Valencia on Spain’s Mediterranean coast,” said Director-General of Guardia Civil Arsenio Fernandez de Mesa.
The ancient Egyptian artifacts, with a total value of between 200,000 and 300,000 euros (U.S. $225,000-339,000), were recovered as part of a comprehensive crackdown launched by agents from European law enforcement authorities in 14 countries to prevent looting, theft and illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts.
The Spanish police showed the press 36 of the recovered Egyptian artifacts including “a majestic bust of Sekhmet, the ancient Egyptian warrior goddess, worth an estimated 100,000 euros ($125,000),” Spanish Police Captain Javier Morales was quoted as saying by news24.
Also among the most valuable recovered artifacts is a statue of Isis, ancient Egyptian goddess of magic, and a vase covered in hieroglyphics, said Morales.
“During the comprehensive operation, dubbed ‘Aureus,’ the agents carried out checks on 6,244 individuals, 8,222 vehicles, 27 vessels, as well as 2,352 inspections at antique and art dealers, auction houses and secondhand outlets. Checks were also stepped up at airports, land borders and ports in Europe,” according to Europol.
Most of Egypt’s major archaeological sites have been targeted for looting since the 2011 uprising toppled former president Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of ancient Egyptian artifacts, most of which were obtained from illicit digging activities, are now flooding the global markets, auction houses and electronic commerce websites.
In spite of the Egyptian government’s efforts to track smuggled artifacts inside Egypt and in auction houses abroad, the issue is still unsettled.
“During the past four years, Egypt has recovered over 1,600 artifacts and is currently working on other cases in many European countries,” Ministry of Antiquities’ Museums Sector head Ahmed Sharaf previously told The Cairo Post.
It is estimated that around $3 billion in Egyptian antiquities have been looted since the outbreak of the January 25 Revolution in 2011, according to the International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities, a U.S.-based initiative partnered with Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry.