The return of 122 Egyptian and Greco-Roman artifacts is being heralded as another win for the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act of 1986 (the PMCH Act). This act was created to prevent and prohibit the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of culturally significant property.
The artifacts in question were stolen more than a decade ago but were just recently discovered in a warehouse at Australian auctioneer Mossgreen Auction hall. Upon the discovery the items were slated to be auctioned off to the highest bidders. But a cooperative effort between the governments of Australia and Egypt resulted in a return of the items.
The 122 artifacts include everything from miniature amulets to larger bronze statues from the Neolithic to the Greco-Roman eras. Some of the most important finds among these items, which were stolen from a variety of archaeological sites around Egypt include a 26th-Dynasty bronze statue of the Apis Bull; a glass statue of Maat, the goddess of justice; a bronze statue of Osiris, the god of prosperity; and a lid from a canopic jar that belonged to one of Horus’s sons dating from the Middle Kingdom.
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The items were formally returned in a handover ceremony that was hosted by Egyptian Ambassador to Australia Omar Metwalli at the embassy premises in Canberra. The recovered artifacts are expected to make their return to Egyptian soil next week and plans are already being made to exhibit them together in a special display at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.
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The black market for historic artifacts and stolen art ranks among those for guns and illegal drugs. Egypt has been particularly affected by the underground buying and selling of historic artifacts. The interest in Egyptian history has created a huge demand on the black market for Egyptian artifacts.
“It is particularly important to verify the origin of cultural property that might be imported, exported and/or offered for sale, especially on the internet,” the Director-General of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that helps facilitate the return of artifacts to their country of origins, said.
During the uprising in Egypt earlier this year several important museums and historic sites were looted. While UNESCO worked closely with government agencies and INTERPOL to stem the flow of looted items he also stated that he wanted to “call on security forces, customs agents, art dealers, collectors and local populations everywhere – to do their utmost to recover these invaluable pieces and return them to their rightful home. Every possible measure must also be taken to provide the security necessary to protect Egypt’s heritage sites and prevent any further thefts.”