Israel Begins Returning Sinai Artifacts to Egypt

The first of three shipments of ancient artifacts dug up in Sinai by Israeli archaeologists and slated to be returned to Egypt will be sent to Cairo this week.

The artifacts, collected during the time Israel held the Sinai desert from 1967 to 1982, are to go on display at the Cairo Museum.

Agreement on returning the archaeological finds unearthed in the Sinai, including some artifacts privately purchased by Israelis from antiquities dealers, was reached last January in accordance with international treaties.

The accords stipulate that in certain cases ancient artifacts must be returned to the country in which they were found.

At a handing-over ceremony Monday in Jerusalem, Egyptian Antiquities Department officials explained the decision to mount an exhibition at the Cairo Museum: “We want to show the Egyptian public that Israel is returning these finds that are part of the Egyptian heritage.”

But Israeli archaeologists said the exhibition decision appears to be more of a political issue than a scientific, cultural or artistic matter.

The artifacts themselves are of relatively minor value and would not warrant a special exhibit in as prestigious an institution as the Cairo Museum, the foremost world museum housing ancient Egyptian and Pharaonic relics.

The Egyptians are to build a museum for the Sinai exhibits at El Arish within two years.

The artifacts include 10 tombstones from a Byzantine fishing village on the Bardiwill Lagoon in northern Sinai, purchased by the late Moshe Dayan from a dealer in Jaffa.

The tombstones include crude drawings of a face and a standard inscription in crude Greek noting that “no one lives forever.”

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