This mummy hand, from the eighth century BC, had been smuggled into the US from Egypt. Courtesy of Josh Denmark/ICE.
A stolen mummy hand dating has been returned to Egypt after being confiscated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It was recovered along with three wooden sarcophagi and a mummy shroud, according to an ICE press release.
All of the artifacts are between 2,000 and 3,000 years old.
“For the recovery and repatriation of these priceless artifacts, I would like to offer deepest thanks to the US Department of Homeland Security, [ICE] director [Sarah] Saldaña and—in particular—the agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” said ambassador Yasser Reda as the objects were returned at a ceremony held at the Egyptian embassy in Washington, DC. “The tireless work of these men and women may often go unseen. But it is nothing short of vital for the preservation of ancient cultures from around the world.”
The latest repatriation of stolen Egyptian artifacts is part of ICE’s ongoing Operation Mummy’s Curse initiative, launched in 2009. According to Saldaña, there have been four arrests and two convictions as part of the organization’s efforts to bring down the international network of antiquities smugglers and prevent them from bringing illicit artifacts into the US. Some 7,000 objects, from Greece, India, and Iraq as well as Egypt, have been recovered to date.
These efforts are all the more commendable given the lengths that smugglers will go to hide their ill-gotten gains. An ICE representative told artnet News that the recovered mummy hand had been shipped from France, disguised as a prop for sci-fi movies. The people carrying the priceless artifact had no idea that it was not, in fact, a realistic facsimile worth just $66.
‘It’s sort of amazing the kind of things people will try and ship across international borders,’ said National Geographic archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert in a video. “Some of them are kind of abused to get to the United States because they have to cover up the fact that they’re shipping ancient artifacts.”
Fortunately, the mummy’s hand and the four other objects are now on the way back to the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo