Egypt's looted ancient 'Green Sarcophagus' lid returned by US

Recovery of artefact dating back 2,700 years is part of efforts to protect country's heritage, says Egyptian minister

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Egypt has recovered an ancient sarcophagus lid that was smuggled out of the country and ended up on display at a museum in the US.

The 2,700-year-old artefact — known as the “Green Sarcophagus” — has been returned to Egypt by the US, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said.

The lid, which is about three metres long, was among 17 artefacts recently recovered from the US, Tourism and Antiquities Minister Ahmed Issa said. The complete sarcophagus weighs about 500kg.

It was looted from the Abusir necropolis, south of Cairo, then transported to the US in 2008.

It was acquired by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, in Texas, in 2013, according to state media.

Its recovery is part of efforts to protect Egypt's heritage, Mr Shoukry said.

Over the past decade, Egypt has recovered about 29,000 antiquities taken abroad illegally.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said only the lid of the half-tonne sarcophagus had been stolen.

It is one of the largest wooden sarcophagi from Ancient Egypt, he said, dating back to the Late Period, spanning the last of the Pharaonic rulers from 664BC to Alexander the Great’s campaign in 332BC.

The coffin may have belonged to a priest named Ankhenmaat, though some of the inscription has been erased, Mr Waziri said.

It was named the Green Sarcophagus because of the colour of the face on its brightly painted lid.

The handover came more than three months after the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office determined the sarcophagus was looted.

It was smuggled through Germany into the US in 2008, according to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

“This stunning coffin was trafficked by a well-organised network that has looted countless antiquities from the region,” Mr Bragg said.

“We are pleased that this object will be returned to Egypt, where it rightfully belongs.”

Updated: January 03, 2023, 8:01 AM