CAIRO – New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art will return to Egypt a fragment of an ancient pharoanic shrine it purchased from a collector, Egypt's antiquities department said Monday.
The Supreme Council of Antiquities said that a piece of a red granite shrine, known as a "naos," was purchased from an antiquities collector in New York last October so that it could be returned.
The piece arrives in Egypt Thursday, the statement said. Egle Zygas, senior press officer for the Met, confirmed the museum's decision.
SCA head Zahi Hawass hailed the Met's move as a "great deed," singling it out as the first time a museum has bought an item for the sole purpose of repatriating it.
The fragment belongs to the naos honoring the 12th Dynasty King Amenemhat I, who ruled 4,000 years ago, which is now in the Ptah temple of Karnak in Luxor.
It's the latest coup for Hawass, Egypt's assertive and media-savvy archaeologist, who has been on an international lobbying campaign to reclaim what he says are stolen Egyptian artifacts from the world's most prestigious museums.
He says so far he has recovered 5,000 artifacts since becoming antiquities head in 2002.
In early October, Hawass compelled the Louvre to return five painted wall fragments of a 3,200 year-old nobleman's tomb by publicly cutting ties with the French museum, suspending its excavations in the country and canceling a lecture by one of its former Egyptology department curators, Christiane Ziegler.
After France's Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand agreed to return the fragments, Hawass restored the Louvre's excavations but has continued to shun Ziegler, whom he claims is responsible for acquiring the artifacts in the first place.
Though the Met did not openly say its decision was prompted by the Louvre's, Hawass interpreted it as the Met's devotion to return illegal antiquities.
"It is also a kind gesture from the newly appointed Met director Thomas Campbell," he said.
Before taking on the Louvre, Hawass cut ties with the St. Louis Art Museum after it failed to answer his demand to return a 3,200-year-old golden burial mask of a noblewoman.
Hawass has a laundry list of Egypt's cultural heritage that he wants back, including the bust of Nefertiti — wife of the famed monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten — and the Rosetta Stone, a basalt slab with an inscription that was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The bust is in Berlin, the stone in London.