Somehow, parts of a priceless sarcophagus went missing from Egypt’s state museum in 1931 and got smuggled to Europe. Now, finally, they are back in place.
A boat crosses the Nile river in Cairo
Thanks to a deal between museums in Germany and Egypt, priceless gold fragments of a sarcophagus plundered in 1931 were returned to their proper home and went on display Sunday in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.
The 3,000-year-old artefacts, including gold foil from the base of a sarcophagus believed to be the coffin of the renegade pharaoh Akhenaton, disappeared from the Cairo museum seven decades ago.
After a half century missing, the artefacts resurfaced two decades ago in a private Swiss collection. From there, they were donated to a museum in Munich, and they are now back in Cairo, having undergone a $90,000 renovation.
Now that both halves of the sarcophagus are put together, an ancient lid has been put on a modern mystery.
The entire coffin is now on display in the Cairo museum’s "Akhenaton gallery", along with statues and steles of the pharaoh, remembered as a "heretic king" because he broke with traditional Egyptian polytheism. Some scholars believe he was the world’s first monotheistic ruler.
There are few if any clues as to who stole the artefacts in the first place.
The collector who found them, in concert with Munich’s Egyptian Museum, had always intended to return them, according to the German embassy in Cairo, Reuters reported.
But Egypt has taken the occasion to remind Europeans that they retain possession of other artefacts – some of incomparable value – calling for their return.
"This is a plea on behalf of humanity to the Louvre (in Paris) to return the (statue of an) Egyptian scribe, to Berlin to return the head of Nefertiti, and to Britain to return the Rosetta Stone," Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni told journalists.
The Rosetta Stone, long on display in London’s British Museum, contains the key which first enabled European archaeologists to translate ancient hieroglyphs.