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Egypt in talks to repatriate relic

EGYPT is in talks with United States authorities to repatriate a 3,000-year-old pharaonic-era wood coffin that was intercepted by US customs officials, Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities said yesterday.

The coffin, which was smuggled out of Egypt in 1884, dates to the 21st pharaonic dynasty, which ruled Egypt between 1081 BC and 931 BC, and came from the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, the antiquities council said in a statement.

The coffin is carved to resemble its occupant, and is painted with images and religious inscriptions meant to aid the soul on its journey through the afterlife, the statement said.

Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass described the coffin as being in good condition, saying the carved face on it as "marvellous and beautiful."

Egypt will send a formal repatriation request "within days" to Miami, Florida, where the coffin is being held, the council said. It added that Cairo had provided evidence to prove the coffin left the country illegally and establish its claim.

The statement said an American had bought the coffin from a Spanish dealer and shipped it to the US, but US customs officials in Miami impounded it on February 26 for lack of paperwork establishing legal ownership.

The American buyer subsequently relinquished his claim to the coffin, the statement said.


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