The American University in Cairo (AUC) has handed 5,000 historical artefacts over to the Ministry of Antiquities, parting with a collection it has held since the 1960s.
The collection consists of a number of clay vessels of different shapes and sizes, ushabti figurines, tombstones and wooden funerary masks from the Graeco-Roman era, as well as lamps from the Islamic period.
Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Department, told Ahram Online that the artifacts were unearthed by an AUC excavation team led by late Professor George Scanlon in 1964 at Establ Antar archaeological site in Fustat, Cairo.
According to the Egyptian antiquities law during that time, said Afifi, any artefacts unearthed at archaeological sites could be divided with foreign missions. Accordingly, the AUC succeeded in keeping half of the excavated items.
Then in 1983, with the passing of the Egypt Antiquities Law (No. 117), the objects were registered as the property of the Egyptian state, but in the possession of the AUC.
Mahmoud Khalil, Director General of the Antiquities Possession Department, said the AUC recently sent an official letter to the ministry asking for the artefacts to be returned to the state.
Khalil went on to say that the ministry immediately assigned an archaeological committee to inspect the collection, pack the items and transport them to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat.
The ministery has stated that anyone in possession of Egyptian antiquities should follow the lead of the AUC in handing them over, "since they are part of Egypt's heritage, to be enjoyed by all humanity."