‘Breathtaking’ Mummy Coffin Covers Seized in Israel
Two decorated covers of coffins that once contained mummies have been seized by Israeli authorities, authenticated and dated to thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt — highlighting a seemingly vast black market for mummies.
Inspectors of the Unit for Prevention of Antiquities Robbery found the artifacts while checking shops in a marketplace in the Old City of Jerusalem. The inspectors confiscated the items under suspicion of being stolen property.
The ancient covers are made of wood and adorned with “breathtaking decorations and paintings of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics,” says the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Researchers examined the covers with carbon dating — which looks at a radioactive form of carbon in a sample to determine its age — and other tools, finding the artifacts are authentic. They dated one of the covers to the period between the 10th and eighth centuries B.C., considered the Iron Age, and the other to between the 16th and 14th centuries B.C. (Late Bronze Age).
The researchers aren’t sure exactly how the wooden covers made their way to Israel. However, the covers had been sawed into two parts (causing irreparable damage), suggesting smugglers needed to conceal the items in a standard-size suitcase, according to the IAA. Robbers may have plundered the ancient tombs in the Western Desert in Egypt; afterward, individuals may have smuggled the wooden covers from Egypt to Dubai, and then through another European country before ending up in Israel.
These types of covers typically hold a sarcophagus made of palm wood that contains the embalmed remains of a person — a mummy. Officials aren’t sure what happened to the sarcophagi or the mummies. [Gallery: Amazing Egyptian Discoveries]
The confiscated antiquities highlight what is a seemingly vast black market for mummies and other antiquities. Though exact numbers are not known, some have suggested the market reaches the billions of dollars. In fact, smuggling mummies dates back to medieval times, when Egyptian mummies were ground up into a powder that was thought to have medicinal properties.