CAIRO: A 3,300 year-old ancient Egyptian pillar fragment that once stood at Karnak temples in Luxor and was illegally smuggled to London, will return to Egypt in the next few days, Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty said in a statement Thursday.
Chairman of Egypt’s Restored Artifacts Department Aly Ahmed told The Cairo Post that Damaty’s announcement came “after the British citizen, who possesses the fragment, contacted the Egyptian Embassy in London he decided voluntarily to return it back to the Egyptian authorities after he found out it was original and was illegally smuggled.”
The authenticity of the artifact was confirmed by an Egyptian-British committee of specialists, said Ahmed adding that the limestone fragment is registered in the antiquities ministry’s archive.
Dating back to the reign of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose IV (1,401B.C-1,391B.C.), “the limestone fragment pillar shows a relief of solar God Amon Re standing receiving offerings from the pharaoh,” Ahmed said, adding that the date when the artifact was stolen remain unknown.
“The ministry will receive the artifact from our embassy in London after the completion of the recovery procedures in coordination with the Foreign Ministry,” said Damaty.
In October, a German national, according to his late mother’s will, voluntarily handed over an ancient Egyptian Ushabti figurine to the Egyptian authorities.
“During the past four years, Egypt has recovered over 1,900 smuggled artifacts and is currently working on other cases in many European countries,” said Damaty.
Egypt’s ancient sites have been targeted for thousands of years but the upheavals and the security lapse following the 2011 revolution have helped looters and tomb robbers target museums and several archaeological sites for treasures to sell on the black market.
“During the past four years, a third of Egypt’s archaeological sites have been either looted, exposed to agricultural encroachments or illegal building or experienced illicit digging,” world-renowned Egyptologist Zahi Hawaas said in a statement earlier this year.
He called on the current Antiquities Ministry to push for harsher punishment on antiquities crimes by changing the crime description from misdemeanor to felony.
According to Articles 41 and 42 of the Egyptian law governing archaeology and the antiquities trade, “whoever steals, hides, unlawfully smuggles or participates in smuggling an antiquity outside Egypt shall be subject to an intensive prison term with hard labor for not less than three years and not more than 15 years and a fine of not less than 100,000 EGP ($15,000) and not more than 1 million EGP,” Karem Aidy, a lawyer at the State Council, told The Cairo Post.