Monday, March 23, 2009

Egypt Demands Repatriation of Coffin Allegedly Illicitly Exported 125 Years Ago

Zahi Hawass has requested that US Customs return a Pharonic era coffin that allegedly was illicitly removed from Egypt in 1884 or some 125 years ago. See:

Hawass has made clear in the past that the 1970 date of the UNESCO Convention will not constrain his repatriation demands. What is more troubling is that US Customs apparently has done its part to convince the purchaser of the coffin to abandon it to the Egyptians.

US law should only require repatriation of artifacts in response to import restrictions or proof that they have been "stolen." Here, however, Egypt has never requested import restrictions on cultural artifacts. Moreover, the coffin left Egypt almost a century before Egypt's 1983 patrimony statute described in United States v. Schultz.

This appears to be yet another case where a dubious patrimony claim succeeds not on the merits, but rather because the importer has been intimidated into giving in without a fight.

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