3,000-year-old Egyptian artifact seized in Memphis, Tennessee

A potentially 3,000-year-old canopic jar was found as it was being smuggled through the city.

 An ancient Imsety canopic jar lid seized by US Customs and Border Protection. (photo credit: US Customs and Border Protection)
An ancient Imsety canopic jar lid seized by US Customs and Border Protection.
(photo credit: US Customs and Border Protection)

While Memphis, TN has plenty of landmarks paying homage to its ancient Egyptian namesake, federal officials were likely not expecting to find a potentially 3,000-year-old ancient Egyptian artifact being smuggled through the city.

The artifact, an Egyptian canopic jar lid of the funeral deity named Imsety, had been declared as an antique stone sculpture over 100 years old and had been sent from a dealer in Europe to a private buyer in the US. Canopic jars were used to hold the internal organs of mummies, with Imsety specifically protecting the deceased's liver.

In ancient Egyptian theology, Imsety was one of the four sons of Horus and was represented with a human-headed figure.

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) worked with subject matter experts at the University of Memphis Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology to determine that the artifact was authentic and is likely from the Egyptian Third Intermediate Period, 1069 BC to 653 BC.

The artifact is protected by bilateral treaties and falls under the category of archaeological materials of cultural property imported into the US that is subject to seizure and forfeiture (CPIA 19 USC 2609). The CPIA (Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act of 1983) restricts the import of some archaeological and ethnological materials into the US.

The Pyramid of Memphis, Tennessee (credit: Joel יוֹאֵל/Wikimedia Commons)The Pyramid of Memphis, Tennessee (credit: Joel יוֹאֵל/Wikimedia Commons)

The dealer who shipped the item made contradictory statements about its declared value, and CBP seized it and turned it over to Homeland Security Investigation for further examination.

Memphis's Egypt connection

Memphis, TN is named for the ancient capital of Egypt and is home to the 10th largest pyramid in the world. One of the entrances to the University of Memphis hosts a large replica of the Colossus of Ramesses and the city's zoo features a grand entrance modeled after an Egyptian temple.