CAIRO: Dozens of illegally smuggled ancient Egyptian artifacts that were seized by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the past five years have been repatriated to Egypt, the agency announced.
The artifacts, including a 2,300 year-old sarcophagus, were repatriated to Egyptian officials at a ceremony held at the National Geographic Society in Washington Wednesday, according to ICE.
The seizure of the artifacts is attributed to “Operation Mummy’s Curse,” a five-year investigation carried out by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) “targeting an international criminal network that illegally smuggled and imported more than 7,000 cultural items from around the world,” according to ICE.
Egypt’s political turmoil since the January 25 Revolution in 2011 and its consequent security lapse left the country’s cultural heritage vulnerable to looting. In spite of the efforts of the Egyptian government in tracking the smuggled artifacts inside Egypt and in auction houses abroad, the issue is still unsettled.
The sarcophagus was smuggled to Dubai before it ended up in a garage in Brooklyn, New York in September 2009, Special Agent Brenton Easter of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said, adding that it “shows marks made by looters, who cut it into pieces for shipping by express mail.”
The seized artifacts will arrive in Cairo airport Friday and will be received by Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el-Damaty who is expected to hold a press conference to demonstrate the repatriation circumstances alongside the details of the artifacts, Head of the Repatriated Artifacts Department Aly Ahmed told The Cairo Post Thursday.
“The sarcophagus, which bears a hieroglyphic inscription “Lady of the House,” dates back to the Greco-Roman Period (332 B.C.-390 A.D.) and will be housed in the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Cairo scheduled to open in 2018,” said Ahmed.
Other antiquities returned to Egypt include two Middle Kingdom wooden boat models and a series of finely carved limestone reliefs from an Egyptian temple, according to the ICE.
“The sarcophagus is just part of a $2.5 million collection of items recovered as part of Operation Mummy’s Curse. The investigation represents a new kind of U.S.-led campaign aimed not only at stopping smugglers and returning stolen relics to their homes, but also at taking down the global antiquities-trading networks that inadvertently help fund terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State group.”
Egypt succeeded in recovering over 135 ancient artifacts that were to be sold in an auction houses in several countries, according to a statement released by the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities in November.