Locks of 3,200-year-old hair from the pharaoh Ramses II were unveiled at the Egyptian Museum on Tuesday, returned to Egypt after being stolen 30 years ago in France and put up for sale on the Internet.
The small tufts of brown hair were displayed alongside pieces of linen bandages and 11 pieces of resin used in the mummification of Ramses and his son Merneptah in a glass display case. Photographers mobbed the case as Egypt's culture minister and antiquities chief showed off the returned items.
The hair will eventually be put on display next to Ramses' mummy at the museum.
The theft was discovered when the pieces of hair were put up for sale on a Web site last November by a French postman, Jean-Michel Diebolt, who gave the hair a price tag of $2,600.
Diebolt is the son of a French researcher who examined the 3,200-year-old mummy when it was brought to France in 1976 for treatment to stop the spread of a rare fungus. Diebolt is being investigated in France for allegedly possessing stolen goods.
Egyptian antiquities official Ahmed Saleh traveled to Paris early last week to retrieve the stolen items.
"It was wonderful mission. I felt very great when I had the lock of hair of Ramses II in my hand," said Saleh.
Ramses II, who ruled from 1270 to 1213 B.C., is one of ancient Egypt's most famous pharaohs, known for building some of its grandest monuments. Some believe him to be the pharaoh at the time of Moses.
Egypt's antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, said the retrieval of the items was made possible by the strong diplomatic relations between Egypt and France.
Hawass, who has pressed several countries for the return of Egyptian antiquities, said the Internet is playing an important role in the search for other stolen relics.
"We open the Internet everyday, and the most important source you have are my spies," Hawass said. "I have spies all over the world, and those spies, they inform me every day of things you would not believe."
Hawass has sought — without success — the return of such finds as the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, the bust of Nefertiti at Berlin's Egyptian Museum and a pharaonic mask at the St. Louis Art Museum.
But he said Egypt is awaiting the arrival of a statue coming from Spain, another artifact from Mexico and duck-shaped lamps that were stolen from Saqqara and will be retrieved from Paris.
If Egypt has its way, more artifacts will follow. Saleh added: "When one country gives you back your artifact, other countries will do the same."