Update: Artifacts stolen by US pilot returned to Egypt

Back in February, I posted this ugly story of cupidity and disrespect about a US pilot who stole ancient artifacts from the Ma’adi Museum when he was deployed to Egypt in 2002.

He was arrested in February for selling stolen goods, but not with the theft itself, so in the end he pled to possession and sale and got a measly 18 months probation.

Anyway, a fraction of the stolen antiquities were returned to Egypt in an offical ceremony in Manhattan today.

Officials said the items, including several small urns on display at the ceremony, came from the Ma’adi archaeological site outside Cairo and date to 3600 B.C. or earlier.

“When (the military officer) stole these items from Egypt, he robbed a nation of part of its history,” said Peter J. Smith, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s New York office. “The repatriation of the Ma’adi artifacts reunites the people of Egypt with an important piece of their cultural heritage.”

Unfortunately, most of the approximately 370 artifacts stolen have yet to be recovered. The shady dealer only bought 80 of them and he scattered them to the four winds. The rest could be anywhere.

Edit: Here’s a fun fact from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s press release about the return (emphasis mine):

n 2003, the owner of Sands of Time Antiquities, then located in Atlanta, Sue McGovern, purchased approximately 100 Egyptian antiquities from Johnson, who said he had inherited the large collection from his grandfather who had worked in Egypt in the mining industry in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. In fact, Johnson had used his diplomatic status to illegally ship the Ma’adi artifacts he had acquired in Egypt to the U.S., in violation of Egypt’s export laws, diplomatic protocol as outlined in the Vienna Convention, and U.S. law for smuggling the artifacts into the country.

On buying the collection, McGovern discovered inside some of the pieces, paper from a 1932 calendar with markings and numbers indicative of excavation notes (plot numbers, etc.).

In 2004, she sold some of the pieces to other antiquities dealers in New York, Holland and London, where an expert on the Ma’adi excavations recognized that the story behind their acquisition was false and notified the dealer.

So the dealer knew as soon as she got the goods that the backstory had to be bullshit, but she just kept right on trucking until she couldn’t deny it anymore.