A gilded coffin acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017 has been returned to Egypt after officials determined it had been looted from the country in 2011. The coffin was the centerpiece of the Met exhibition “Nedjemankh and His Gilded Coffin,” which opened in July of 2018. A formal repatriation ceremony was held Wednesday, with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. and Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Hassan Shoukry in attendance.
The Met acquired the coffin in 2017 from a Paris-based dealer for €3.5m ($4.2m) who says it was purchased from a private collection. The coffin came with a 1971 Egyptian export license, which was exposed as a forgery. In reality, the artifact had been stolen from the Minya region of Egypt after the country’s 2011 revolution, and was then smuggled to the United Arab Emirates, then Germany, then France. The Met cooperated fully in the investigation, and its director has said he will personally lead a review of the museum’s acquisitions process to prevent such deception in the future.
The coffin itself is from the first century B.C.E., and is inscribed for Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of the god Heryshef of Herakleopolis. The scenes and texts covering the coffin were intended to guide the priest on his journey to eternal life.
In a statement, Vance said:
Coming as we do from all over the world, New Yorkers place a strong value on cultural heritage, and our office takes pride in our work to vigorously protect it. [...] Returning stolen cultural treasures to their countries of origin is at the core of our mission to stop the trafficking of stolen antiquities.