An ancient statue of a priest that was smuggled out of Egypt has been returned after being spotted at a fine art fair in the Netherlands.
The legless figure of Ni Kau Ptah, dating back to the Old Kingdom, was handed to a committee of experts at the tourism ministry in Cairo on Monday.
It is now at the Egyptian Museum in the city’s Tahrir Square, to be studied and restored, Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, the general supervisor of the Recovered Antiquities Administration, told The National.
The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said it co-ordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Egyptian embassy in The Hague and the Dutch authorities to retrieve the statue, as part of Egypt’s efforts to recover stolen artefacts from abroad.
“It’s very important to have it back to Egypt. Small or big, it’s a part of our history,” Mr Abdel-Gawad said.
The statue was discovered at the annual European Fine Art Foundation fair (Tefaf) in Maastricht in 2018 and transferred to the Egyptian embassy.
It was illegally smuggled and is not from the holdings of museums or stores belonging to the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
The figure depicts the priest standing with his arms by his sides and wearing a short kilt. His name is engraved on the right arm.
“We know from the name of this statue that it’s from a place in Saqqara,” Mr Abdel-Gawad said.
Saqqara is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the necropolis for Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt.
The Ni Kau Ptah statue dates back to the era from 2000 to 2500BC and was probably part of the walls of a tomb, Mr Abdel-Gawad said.
It is one of thousands of Egyptian artefacts repatriated this year.
“In 2021, we started with 5,000 pieces from the United States and we have two pieces from Italy and also 114 pieces from France and this statue from Holland,” Mr Abdel-Gawad said.
The 5,000 items at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, include funeral masks and heads of stone statues.
They were returned in January after years of negotiations.
In April, two smuggled Greco-Roman artefacts were seized in the Genoa region of Italy.
Last month, Egypt recovered 114 artefacts smuggled to France and three from Britain.
The smuggling of Egyptian antiquities has been a problem for many decades. An antiquities ministry statement from 2018 said that 32,638 artefacts had been lost in the previous 50 years.
Egypt is preparing to open the Grand Egyptian Museum this year. It will be the world’s largest archaeological museum dedicated to a single civilisation, with 50,000 antiquities on display.
The country is focusing on preserving its heritage, as well as boosting tourism amid the Covid-19 pandemic.