The Metropolitan museum handed over the gilded coffin of Nedjemankh to Egypt

Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 26 Sep 2019

A stolen coffin illegally sold to New York’s Met Museum will arrive home to Egypt

Sameh Shoukry
The Manhattan District Attorney's Office recovered a gilded coffin of Nedjemankh from the Metropolitan Museum earlier this year. It was handed over to Egypt Wednesday night

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office recovered a gilded coffin of Nedjemankh from the Metropolitan Museum earlier this year. It was handed over to Egypt Wednesday night.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr and Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held a repatriation ceremony in New York Wednesday to show off the gilded coffin of the ancient Egyptian priest Nedjemankh.

According to USA Today, Vance told reporters that New Yorkers, who come from all over the world, are especially sensitive to preserving cultural heritage. He hailed the cooperation between New York prosecutors and Homeland Security investigators that led to the recovery and return of the coffin.

"Returning stolen cultural treasures to their countries of origin is at the core of our mission to stop the trafficking of stolen antiquities," Vance told USA Today. "I am honoured to repatriate this extraordinary artifact back to the people of Egypt, and I thank my office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit as well as our partners at HSI New York for their diligence in this investigation.”

“This is not only for Egyptians, but for our common human heritage and our sense that we all share in these values and we are all of the same international family,” Shoukry said at the repatriation ceremony.

The coffin was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum through an antiquities trader who held a 1971 Egyptian export license.

Shaaban Abdel Gawad, supervisor general of Egypt’s Antiquities Repatriation Department, said that investigations undertaken by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office lasted around 20 months, during which Egypt submitted evidence of ownership and that the export license of the trader was fake. Before the promulgation of Antiquities Protection Law No 117 of 1983, Egyptian law allowed the export of some artefacts.

In the wake of the investigation, the Met learned that it received a false ownership history when it purchased the gilded coffin, along with fraudulent statements and fake documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office upheld Egypt’s ownership of the coffin and directed that it should be returned to its homeland.

The Met's president and CEO, Daniel Weiss, told The New York Times in a previous statement: “After we learned that the museum was a victim of fraud and unwittingly participated in the illegal trade of antiquities, we worked with the DA’s office for its return to Egypt. The nation of Egypt has been a strong partner of the museum’s for over a century.”


The museum’s president also sent the museum’s apologies to Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany, and to Egyptians.

Upon arrival to Egypt, the Ministry of Antiquities will hold a welcome ceremony for the coffin at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation, where it will be displayed.
The coffin is carved in wood and covered with a layer of gold inscribed for Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of Heryshef of Herakleopolis. The elaborately decorated surface includes scenes and texts in thick gesso relief that were intended to protect and guide Nedjemankh on his journey from death to eternal life as a transfigured spirit.

The Ministry of Antiquities thanked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Egyptian security and legal authorities as well as members of the National Committee for Antiquities Repatriation for their efforts in recovering the coffin, as well as the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Metropolitan Museum for their cooperation.   


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