Israel to return stolen ancient sarcophagi to Egypt
In another sign of improving relations with Egypt, Israel is set to return to Cairo stolen antiquities estimated to be almost 3,000 years old.
Beautiful ancient wooden coffin lids were smuggled from Egypt to Dubai, to London, and then ended up in a shop in the Old City in Jerusalem, Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the antiquity theft-prevention unit at the Antiquities Authority, told The Jerusalem Post.
The Antiquities Authority is holding the two covers of ancient sarcophagi, which had previously contained Egyptian mummies. The covers were smuggled into Israel in 2012.
Experts tested the wooden items using carbon-14 dating and determined they are authentic and thousands of years old, according to the Antiquities Authority website.
It also said it is believed that the smugglers probably plundered the ancient tombs in Egypt's Western Desert and that evidence of them being smuggled includes the fact that they were irreparably damaged by having been cut into two.
Klein went on to explain that his unit carries out detailed examinations of the inventories of the 64 recognized antiquity dealers. In addition, he said, "the law recently changed and now everything is digitalized, and the dealer needs to upload pictures of the items onto a network we built."
If a suspicious item is discovered, inspectors go to the shops to inspect the item in person.
In this case, inspectors from Klein's unit "went to the shop and saw very unique items that we had never seen before," continued Klein.
He said that, with the help of the Foreign Ministry, Antiquities Authority personnel contacted Egyptian colleagues, who informed them that the items were indeed stolen.
Asked if this is the first time Israel has returned antiquities to Egypt, Klein responded that it is not the first time, as, back when Israel controlled Sinai after the Six Day War, excavations took place and antiquities were discovered.
As part of the peace agreement with Egypt, these were returned, he added. "We want to help them to protect their national heritage, just as we hope other countries help us."