(eTN) – The University Museum at Southern Illinois University in the United States handed over a Ptolemaic bronze cat reliquary to the Egyptian embassy in New York earlier this week. Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni announced the return of the reliquary, adding that this event marks another successful initiative of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and the Ministry of Culture in returning stolen Egyptian antiquities to source.
Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the SCA, explained that the bronze reliquary presumably once held feline remains. The reliquary is surmounted by two cats seated side by side. It was acquired by the University Museum in 1996, when the director at the time bought it from a private collector in Paris.
The story of the reliquary’s return began one month ago when Dona Bachman, the museum’s current director, sent a letter to the SCA asking for approval to exhibit the artifact as part of the museum’s collection, and requesting more details about the object and the archaeological site where it was originally found. Hawass immediately noticed the reliquary had been smuggled out of the country. Bachman and the museum’s board of directors accepted Hawass’s request that they hand the object over to the Egyptian Embassy in New York, which in its turn will bring the reliquary to Egypt by diplomatic pouch.
A committee led by Dr. Ahmed Mostafa, director of the SCA’s Department for the Return of Stolen Antiquities, was formed to inspect the object, verify its authenticity, and determine the archaeological site within whose sand it was found.
Since 2002, Egypt has succeeded in recovering over 5000 artifacts that have been illegally shipped out of the country. In addition, a number of international museums, private collectors, and civilians have voluntarily handed over their ancient Egyptian collections to Egypt so that it may recover its precious heritage.
The bulk of the smuggled artifacts was retrieved by the antiquities department in the last months since its establishment in April 2002. Switzerland surrendered 311 items; New York, three. Cairo received on March 2002, three more stolen pieces found in the possession of a convicted antiques dealer and another, an ordinary collector in New York.
Two years ago, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry for Cultural Affairs’ office officially wrote to four world super powers, France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States, demanding the return of famous artifacts for showcase at a temporary exhibition of ancient Egyptian artifacts. The objects, in question, were on display in separate museums while in the hands of the four countries. The antiquities demanded, all well-known, include the Zodiac at the Louvre, Nefertiti’s bust at the Berlin Museum, the statue of the engineer Hem Iunu who built Khufu¡’s pyramid displayed at the Roemer & Pelizea Museum in Hildesheim, the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and the statue of the engineer Ankh Ha If who built the second pyramid at the Boston Museum.
Hawass, Hosni and Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit launched into a diplomatic strategy, ordering the return of the objects. The famous ancient masterpieces are scheduled for exhibition on temporary basis at the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in 2011 in Cairo.
In 1983, Law 117 was passed to protect Egyptian antiquities and treasures from smugglers.
About 500 smuggled artifacts have been retrieved by the antiquities department in the last months since its establishment in April 2002. Switzerland surrendered 311 items; New York, 3. Yes, the Big Apple did. Cairo received mid-March 3 stolen pieces found in the possession of a convicted antiques dealer and another, an ordinary collector from New York.