Looted amidst the tumult of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, the golden coffin of priest Nedjemankh was unveiled on Tuesday in Cairo after its return from New York.
Standing at 1.8 metres (six foot), the fine gilded sarcophagus has gained notoriety, apart from for its historical value, for its role at the centre of an international trafficking ring
Dating back to the Ptolemaic period (1st-2nd century BC), the ornate wooden coffin was designed for Nedjemankh, a high priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef.
The shimmering artefact adorned with gesso reliefs had been housed since 2017 in New York’s Metropolitan Museum, which purchased it from a Paris art dealer for around 3.5 million euros ($3.8 million).
But in February, a Met exhibition which named the high priest had to shut down after being informed the sarcophagus had been plundered by a multi-national trafficking ring.
It had been smuggled out of Minya in southern Egypt in 2011, the year that long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular revolt.
It had then made its way to the United Arab Emirates and Germany before landing up in France.
“I am very happy to have this piece back again in Egypt… We will know all the details about the theft later,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation unveiling.
Egypt has sought to promote its archaeological heritage in a bid to revive its vital tourism sector, which took a battering from political turmoil after the revolution.