Egypt seeking return of ancient coffin from U.S

Sun Mar 22, 2009 9:04am EDT
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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt is in talks with U.S. authorities to repatriate a 3,000-year-old pharaonic-era wood coffin that was intercepted by U.S. customs officials, Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities said on Sunday.

The coffin, which was smuggled out of Egypt in 1884, dates to the 21st pharaonic dynasty, which ruled Egypt between 1081 BC and 931 BC, and came from the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, the antiquities council said in a statement.

The coffin is carved to resemble its occupant, and is painted with images and religious inscriptions meant to aid the soul on its journey through the afterlife, the statement said.

Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass described the coffin as being in good condition, describing the carved face on it as "marvelous and beautiful."

Egypt will sent a formal repatriation request "within days" to Miami, where the coffin is being held, the council said. It added that Cairo had provided evidence to prove the coffin left the country illegally and establish its claim.

The statement said an American had bought the coffin from a Spanish dealer and shipped it to the United States, but U.S. customs officials in Miami, Florida impounded it on February 26 for lack of paperwork establishing legal ownership.

The American buyer subsequently relinquished his claim to the coffin, the statement said.

Egyptian artifacts are often stolen and smuggled abroad. Since 2002, Egypt has succeeded in bringing home around 5,000 stolen or smuggled artifacts.

(Writing by Aziz El-Kaissouni)