Mummified remains and a painted wooden sarcophagus are among a group of artifacts that an Irish university plans to return to Egypt.
The items are owned by University College Cork (UCC) and date from between 975 BCE and 100 CE. The sarcophagus was donated to UCC in 1928 and, based on an inscription on its surface, likely holds the remains of a man named Hor.
The university said it will return its collection of Egyptian artifacts in 2023. The group includes a set of four canopic jars, containers in which the individually mummified organs would be placed during the mummification process. The jars are recognized by their lids, which were commonly shaped in the likeness of four animal-headed guardian deities. A funerary mask and body coverings known as cartonnage will also be returned to Egypt.
There are no records detailing how the cartonnage came into the possession of UCC; the sarcophagus was excavated by Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli in the early 20th century. The planned restitution is part of an ongoing collaboration between the UCC, the Egyptian and Irish governments, and the National Museum of Ireland to identify and repatriated stolen cultural heritage in Irish cultural institutions.
Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, said in a statement that he was “delighted” that his agency was involved in what he described as an “important project.” Egypt’s ambassador to Ireland, Mohamed Sarwat Selim, expressed his gratitude for the cooperation that made the repatriation possible.
Ireland is among the growing number of countries in the Global North reckoning with the fact that some artifacts in their collections were acquired through illegal trafficking or during periods of colonization.
Many major Western museums have voluntarily returned the stolen artifacts to their countries of origin, while others have resisted the idea of dismantling their collection. Recently, the British Museum in London has made tentative motions toward loaning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, which would fulfill a longtime goal of the Greek government to see the prized sculptures—taken from Greece by a Scottish nobleman in the 1800s—reunited with the Acropolis in Athens.