Egypt repatriated 45 ancient Egyptian artifacts from France on Tuesday, among them a plaque depicting the goddess Sekhmet estimated to be approximately 2,400 years old. Most of the other items are said to date back to the Coptic era.
On Tuesday, the Antiquities Ministry issued a statement announcing that, in coordination with the Foreign Ministry, the plaque was discovered on the website of an auction house in Paris, and retrieved before it could be sold.
Stolen from a temple in the Saqqara necropolis in the 1990s, it dates back to the rule of King Nectanebo II (reigned 360 – 343 BC), who was the last native ruler of Ancient Egypt before the Persian invasion led by King Artaxerxes III in 343 BC.
Measuring 44cm by 50cm, and weighing approximately 80kg the artifact depicts Sekhmet, the lioness-headed goddess of war, conquest and healing with a sun disk atop her head, accompanied by a cartouche with King Nectanebo II’s name in hieroglyphs.
According to the statement the ministry also received 44 small to medium-sized smuggled artifacts, most of which date back to Egypt’s Coptic Christian era. They are reported to have been seized at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris. Crafted from stone, wood, ivory and bone they include a mid-sized statue of a woman, percussive wooden hand-clappers adorned with Coptic crosses, beaded necklaces and other ornamental items.
Over the past few years official efforts to counter the smuggling of artifacts have resulted in the repatriation of hundreds of relics from France to Egypt.
In July 2014, French officials recovered an ornate sarcophagus lid, reportedly stolen from the Saqqara Museum in 2011 and then smuggled out of the country. In November 2014, France agreed to return a further 239 artifacts from ancient Egyptian, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic eras including dozens of Ushabti funerary statuettes.
2016 saw the recovery of an additional 44 ancient artifacts from France, and the repatriation of another plaque with assistance from the French authorities. This was also stolen from a temple in the Saqqara necropolis, and similarly bears an image of Sekhmet with a sun disk. It was previously sent to the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo for restoration.