Egyptian security officials at the Cairo International Airport foiled a plot to smuggle out of the country mummified limbs that were hidden inside a loudspeaker, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced on Sunday. The contraband was to be loaded on a plane to Belgium when authorities spotted something strange on the X-rays.
In a hollowed-out speaker, they found six preserved body parts belonging to two different mummies: two sets of feet and lower legs; two sets of hands and forearms; an upper arm; and part of an upper torso, according to Iman Abdel-Raouf, an Egyptian official who works on archaeological matters. The authorities did not identify the smuggler, or whether any perpetrators were charged.
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The recovered remains will be brought to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo so that a team of archaeologists can inspect and conserve them, according to the ministry. Their analysis could provide insight into the origins of these body parts, and how they relate to other discoveries. Every artifact from Egypt’s past, no matter the size, helps shape scientists’ understanding of its ancient civilizations.
Grave robbing and smuggling have long troubled Egypt. Looting of ancient Egyptian artifacts escalated during the 2011 revolution, and the country has lost an estimated $3 billion to illegal smuggling since then, according to the Antiquities Coalition, an American nonprofit that tracks the looting and trafficking of antiquities.
“So long as there is a demand for looted and stolen artifacts, thieves and traffickers are going to find the supply,” said Tess Davis, the coalition’s executive director. “It’s impossible to police all of the country all of the time.”
In 1983, the country enacted a law, known as Law No. 117, mandating that all antiquities, art and artifacts — mummies included — were to be strictly regulated and considered the property of Egypt. Anyone found guilty of smuggling such items from the country could face fines and up to two years in prison.
Some stolen bits of history are finding their way home. Earlier this month, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it would return to Egypt a gilded coffin that belonged to a priest named Nedjemankh, dated to the 1st century B.C. It was purchased in 2017 from an art dealer in Paris for $4 million. Bogus papers claimed it had been exported out of Egypt legally, when it had in fact been looted in 2011.
Nicholas St. Fleur is a science reporter who writes about archaeology, paleontology, space and other topics. He joined The Times in 2015. Before that, he was an assistant editor at The Atlantic. @scifleur • Facebook
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