Customs officers seize 3,000-year-old Egyptian artifact in Tennessee | Smart News


Imsety’s 3,000-year-old sculpture is the lid of a canopic jar, which contained organs during mummification.
United States Customs and Border Patrol

On August 17, US Customs and Border Patrol seized a 3,000-year-old Egyptian artifact in Memphis. (By the way, that’s Memphis, Tennessee, not Memphis, Egypt.)

Customs officials intercepted the item after its sender made conflicting statements about its declared value, the agency said in a statement. To learn more about the artifact, they contacted subject matter experts at the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archeology at the University of Memphis.

These specialists have determined that the stone sculpture is the lid of an Egyptian canopic jar, representing the funerary deity Imsety. The Egyptians used canopic jars to hold organs that had been removed from a body during the mummification process, including the lungs, liver, intestines, and stomach.

Early canopic jars had no decorations; when decorations first appeared, they usually depicted human heads, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. But over time, around the 16th century BCE, canopic jars were usually carved with one of the four sons of Horus – Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef and Qebehsenouf – and each kept a different organ. Imsety examined the liver in the afterlife. Intricate jars depicting these deities are displayed in museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum.

The lid intercepted at Memphis probably dates from Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period, experts say, which lasted from around 1069 to 653 BCE, meaning it’s probably around 3,000 years old.

According to the customs agency, the shipment was sent by a dealer to a private buyer in the United States and listed as an “antique stone sculpture over 100 years old.” As it turns out, the much older canopic jar lid is protected by bilateral treaties and falls under federal law that subjects certain archaeological objects to seizure and forfeiture. The law stems from the Cultural Property Convention Implementation Act 1983, which regulates artefacts of cultural significance.

Historical objects such as canopic jars can be used by archaeologists to further our understanding of ancient Egypt. Earlier this year, Egyptian archaeologists unearthed a large collection of mummification materials, which date back to the 6th century BCE. The objects included empty canopic jars, with inscriptions indicating that they belonged to a man named Wahibre-Mery-Neith, son of Lady Irturu, wrote the Greek journalistit’s Patricia Claus.

According to the Customs Agency statement, the artifact in Memphis has been transferred to Homeland Security Investigations for further examination.


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