University College Cork to return mummified body to Egypt

An Egyptian mummified body, a sarcophagus, a set of four Canopic jars and coverings (cartonnage) dating from about 975 BCE to 100 CE are among ancient objects to be repatriated by Ireland’s University College Cork (UCC).

Meanwhile, Trinity College Dublin is considering whether to return 13 skulls stolen from an island community.

The announcement was made following discussions between the university, the Egyptian and Irish governments and the National Museum of Ireland, who have devised a plan for the safe transport of the objects next year. Egypt has been pressing for a return of the objects for the past decade.

UCC President Prof John O’Halloran said the university took the care of its heritage assets very seriously and was pleased to be in a position to present the objects to the Egyptian state.

Egypt’s Ambassador to Ireland Mohamed Sarwat Selim said he wished to emphasise the utmost importance of the co-operation of the stakeholders in seeking the return of the objects to their homeland.

The decision will be studied with interest by universities and other institutions in Ireland and abroad who are under increasing pressure to return precious artefacts to their homelands.

Germany announced earlier this year that it planned to return objects taken from Africa during its colonial rule. United Kingdom museums have returned some objects while Greece is pressing the British Museum for the repatriation of the Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles.

The University of Cambridge’s Jesus College, located in the UK, in October 2021 became the first institution to officially hand over a Benin Bronze artefact to Nigeria.

UCC came into possession of the mummified remains through a donation in 1928. The only available records show that “a mummy of an Egyptian Queen” was donated by the “African Missioners” on Cork’s Blackrock Road. This record is understood to refer to both the sarcophagus and the mummified remains.

Initially it was assumed that they were of a queen because the sarcophagus was excavated from the Valley of the Queens. It has since been established they are of an adult male.

The wrapping dates the mummified remains to around 305 BCE to 500 CE. The sarcophagus is wooden, probably made from sycamore, and dates from between 625 to 600 BCE. An inscription indicates it belonged to a man named Hor.

The coffin was excavated by Ernesto Schiaparelli in 1903-04 from tombs in the Valley of the Queens. It may have been subsequently sold at the Salle de Vente in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The set of four Canopic jars, purchased by UCC from the firm of JE and EK Preston, in Harrogate, Yorkshire, England between 1911 and 1912, are believed to be the oldest of all the items being returned to the Egyptian state, with an estimated date of between 945 and 700 BCE.

The set of cartonnage pieces in the collection date to before 100 BCE. They comprise a chest covering, lower body covering, foot case and head covering.

The objects’ journey home will be documented in ‘Kinship’, a creative project led by Irish artist Dr Dorothy Cross, who said: “The essence of Kinship is the return of a mummified body of an Egyptian man from Ireland to Cairo, mirroring the tragic displacement and migration of thousands of people from their homelands today – linking one man through time. Kinship will memorialise his journey through film, writing and visual art.”

Meanwhile, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) will hold consultations about whether to return 13 skulls that were stolen from the western island of Inishbofin, off the coast of County Galway, in 1890. They are believed to date back to the 1600s and were taken from an abbey by British anthropologist Alfred Haddon and Andrew Dixon, an Irish medical student.

They are believed to have been above ground because of a belief that the soul resided in the head and that not burying them would facilitate the souls getting to heaven.

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