The sarcophagus, symbolically returned in a ceremony, dates to the late dynastic period of ancient Egypt, officials say.

An ancient wooden sarcophagus known as the “Green Coffin” has been returned to Egypt from the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences in the United States after US authorities determined it had been looted years ago.

The repatriation is part of the Egyptian government’s efforts to stop the trade in stolen antiquities. In 2021, authorities in Cairo managed to return 5,300 stolen artifacts from around the world to Egypt.

Mostafa Waziri, the top official of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said Monday the sarcophagus dates from the Late Dynastic period of ancient Egypt, an era stretching from the time of the last pharaonic rulers in 664 B.C. to the campaign of Alexander the Great in 332 BC.

The ancient wooden sarcophagus is displayed during a handover ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo, Egypt [Mohamed Salah/AP Photo]

The sarcophagus, nearly ten feet high with a brightly colored top surface, may have belonged to an ancient priest named Ankhenmaat, though some of the inscriptions on it have been erased, Waziri said.

It was handed over symbolically in a ceremony following a press conference in Cairo on Monday by Daniel Rubinstein, the US chargé d’affaires in Egypt.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Tourism and Antiquities Minister Ahmed Issa also attended.

“A precious piece of Egyptian history has been recovered after working with our friends in the US and years of effort,” Shoukry said.

Coffin was ‘traded’

The handover came more than three months after the Manhattan district attorney found the sarcophagus had been looted at Abu Sir Necropolis, north of Cairo. It was smuggled into the US via Germany in 2008, according to Manhattan district attorney Alvin L Bragg.

“This beautiful chest was traded by a well-organized network that looted countless antiquities from the region,” Bragg said at the time. “We are delighted that this object is being returned to Egypt, where it rightfully belongs.”

Bragg said the same network smuggled a gilded coffin out of Egypt on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The museum had bought the piece from a Parisian art dealer in 2017 for about $4 million. It was returned to Egypt in 2019.

In September, the Metropolitan Museum returned 16 antiquities to Egypt after a US investigation found they had been illegally traded.

The return of the sarcophagus comes when more countries are demand the repatriation of artifacts represent their heritage from museums in Europe and North America.

Egyptians have been too demanded the repatriation of the Rosetta Stone – one of the most important pieces in the British Museum – 200 years after the decipherment of the slab revealed the secrets of hieroglyphic writing and marked the birth of Egyptology.

Egypt says the return of artifacts is boosting the tourism sector, a vital source of income for the struggling economy. The country is expected to soon open a new museum near the Giza pyramids to showcase its most famous ancient Egyptian collections.

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