190926 Egypt US
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. examine The Gold Coffin of Nedjemankh following a news conference announcing its return the the people of Egypt in New York City, U.S., September 25, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

New York: American authorities on Wednesday repatriated to Egypt a gilded coffin purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art but discovered to have been looted in the wake of 2011’s Egyptian revolution.

A joint investigation by American, Egyptian, German and French law enforcement officials determined the coffin crafted between 150 and 50 BCE was stolen from Egypt’s Minya region.

The ancient artifact sheathed in gold, which was associated with gods in ancient Egypt, was a central piece of a recent Met exhibit, after the museum purchased it in 2017.

But the show abruptly ended in February when New York authorities seized the sarcophagus.

At a press conference attended by Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday, New York’s district attorney Cyrus Vance said the probe revealed “glaring inconsistencies” related to the coffin’s sale.

That the artifact first surfaced in 2011, a year that saw the revolution overthrow president Hosni Mubarak, “should have been a red flag,” Vance said.

The Met bought the sarcophagus from a French art dealer, whose identity was not revealed, for some $4 million (Dh14.7 million).

The prestigious museum in Manhattan had apologized to Egypt at the time of the seizure.

Vance said he had elaborated on details of the investigation “in the hope that folks in the industry will take note and perhaps use the lessons learned in this case to better scrutinize their acquisitions.”

The sarcophagus measures nearly 1.8 metres long and once held the mummy of Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of the ram deity Heryshaf.

Vance said it was among hundreds of objects stolen by the same multi-national trafficking ring, and that “more significant seizures of prominent antiquities in the months and years to come” are possible.