Israel returned almost 100 looted archaeological artifacts to Egypt on Thursday during Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah a-Sisi in Cairo.
Four of the items were confiscated from an antiquity dealer smuggling them in from England in his suitcase at Ben-Gurion Airport in 2013.
Egypt was informed of the operation and authorities then approached their Israeli counterparts, calling their attention to objects sold in an antique store in Israel that they said had been illegally removed from the country.
An investigation eventually led to the seizure of over 90 items, transferred to the State of Israel. At Egypt’s request and as a gesture of goodwill, Israel decided to return them.
The returned artifacts include inscriptions on stones and papyruses, a piece of a sarcophagus and several figurines, including dozens of shabtis or oshabtis – typical funerary figurines that were used in Egypt for millennia.
“The Antiquities Authority welcomes the initiative of Foreign Minister Lapid and is happy to help Egyptian authorities restore antiquities of Egyptian culture, stolen from Egypt, back to the Egyptian people,” said IAA general director Eli Eskozido, who accompanied Lapid to Cairo.
“The State of Israel and the Israel Antiquities Authority are interested in cooperating with the Egyptian authorities to protect the archaeological treasures that belong to the whole of human culture,” he added. “It is essential to work together to eradicate the theft of antiquities and the illegal trade in antiquities worldwide. The Antiquities Authority expects to strengthen cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities on archaeology and research.”
“In ancient Egypt all subjects were required to devote some time during the year to forced labor for the kingdom,” Dr. Shirly Ben-Dor Evian, Israel Museum curator of Egyptian archaeology said in an interview to The Jerusalem Post earlier this year. “Only the members of the elites received a special exemption from the king. However, there was a fear that this exemption would not be granted in the afterlife. For this reason, the members of the upper classes were buried with these figurines, which they thought would act as their servants and work on their behalf.”
The Egyptologist noted that sometimes the shabtis in a tomb numbered in hundreds – one for every day of the year. Some special figurines would act as supervisors, and there were also a few extras, in case any of the servants was unable to work. The artifacts often feature elements such as baskets or agricultural tools.