A valuable collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts was returned to its motherland by the US government in a clampdown on criminal gangs smuggling cultural treasures. Among the ancient artifacts was a child-sized sarcophagus uncovered in a Brooklyn garage in 2009, ancient figurines and a limestone carving of an Egyptian temple. The most noticeable item, however, was a 2,800-year-old mummy hand, which had ended up as a Hollywood movie prop, valued at the ridiculous price of $66.
ABC News reports that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) returned five ancient artifacts to the Egyptian state in a ceremony at Egypt’s Washington embassy on Thursday. All the objects were collected by federal agents after dual investigations with code names “Operation Mummy’s Curse” in New York and “Operation Mummy’s Hand” in Los Angeles.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah R. Saldaña proudly stated, “While we recognize that cultural property, art, and antiquities are assigned a dollar value in the marketplace, the cultural and symbolic worth of these Egyptian treasures far surpasses any monetary value to the people of Egypt.” Representing his nation in the ceremony that took place in Washington, Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda thanked the US Department of Homeland Security saying, “The tireless work of these men and women may often go unseen,” he said. “But it is nothing short of vital for the preservation of ancient cultures from around the world.” [via ABC News]
Hollywood “Property” Among the Artifacts
Along with the child’s sarcophagus, ancient figurines and a carving of a temple, was the mummified hand, which dates back to the eighth century BC, and had been smuggled into the United States from Egypt. The blackened, cloth-wrapped hand made it to Hollywood back in January 2013, when it arrived in a parcel at Los Angeles International Airport. Live Science reports that it was registered as a sci-fi movie item, valued at the ridiculous price of $66. Apparently, the smugglers tried to introduce the hand to the North American market as a film element of science fiction. Fortunately, the hand was voluntarily surrendered by its importer, and this way found its way to Egypt as part of an ongoing investigation known as “Operation Mummy’s Hand.”
Archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert, was shocked with the findings and said in a video statement released by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement , “It’s sort of amazing the things people will try and ship across international borders”. The hand stood on a podium during the ceremony and, according to Hiebert, it was so well preserved that one could clearly notice all the fingernails and wrinkles surrounding knuckles.
The Operation has been Completely Successful So Far
According to the ABC, ICE began ” Operation Mummy’s Curse ” in 2009 to smash a network of antiquities smugglers illegally carrying ancient artifacts of significant cultural and historical value from other nations into the United States. The operation has successfully collected over 7,000 artifacts, not just from Egypt, but from many other countries such as Greece, Iraq and India, with many of these ancient cultural items repatriated already in their motherlands.
According to Saldaña, agents have managed to carry out nineteen records in residences and businesses of the United States, two people have been sentenced and authorities will continue their dynamic effort against the smuggling networks. Saldana and the Foreign Minister of Egypt, Sameh Shoukry, made official the return of the cultural items with the signing of a “certificate of transfer” in which recognizes that the work is “part of the Egyptian cultural heritage” and belongs to the historic country.