The lids of two lavish ancient ritual coffins were seized in Israel after being smuggled from Egypt via Dubai, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said on Tuesday.
In an announcement released just days before the celebration of Passover – marking the Israelites Exodus from Egypt – the IAA indicated the rare artifacts were uncovered a few months ago during a raid of antiques shops in Jerusalem's Old City.
The wooden lids are coated with plaster and decorated with paintings and hieroglyphics; a carbon-dating examination by IAA officials determined that the artifacts were indeed authentic, with one dating to sometime between the 10th and the 8th centuries B.C.E. and the second to between the 16th and the 14th centuries B.C.E.
Both lids were 'well-preserved thanks to the arid desert climate and are currently held in a climate-controlled room at the IAA's labs.
IAA officials estimated the artifacts were exposed during an antiques robbery in Egypt's western desert area, adding that they believed the lids were used to cover a palm-tree coffin holding a mummy from the time of the pharaohs; the location of the mummy is unknown.
It is estimated that the lids were smuggled from Egypt to Dubai and through another European country before arriving in Israel. In order to facilitate their smuggling, the lids were both sawed n half, causing them irreparable damage.
The lids were smuggled into Israel in order to procure an authentication certificate, which would then allow the dealers to sell them to collectors.
Following the seizure, the Egyptian government requested that the lids be returned to its possession, with talks geared at their return taking place.
Shai Bar-Tura, the head of IAA's theft prevention unit, said that an joint investigation with the Egyptian government revealed that the lids were not registered in Egpt, thus they were most likely stolen from an illegal dig.
The East Jerusalem antique collector will mostly likely not be charged, as it is impossible to prove that the lids were taken from an illegal dig. Sources close to the collector rejected the IAA's claims, saying the lids belong to him, and that he acted according to the law.
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