University College Cork (UCC) has announced it is to repatriate a number of objects in its heritage collection to the Egyptian State.
The items in question include mummified human remains, a sarcophagus, a set of four Canopic jars, and items of cartonnage (coverings) dating from 100AD to about 975BC. UCC came into possession of the mummified remains through a donation in 1928.
UCC is collaborating with the Egyptian Embassy, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Museum of Ireland over how best to prepare and transport the objects, which is expected to take place next year.
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 to the college by the “African Missioners” on Cork’s Blackrock Road. This record is understood to refer to both the sarcophagus and the mummified human remains.
Initially there was a mistaken assumption that the mummified remains were that of a queen because the sarcophagus was excavated from the Valley of the Queens. However, it has since been established the remains are that of an adult male, estimated to be between 45 and 50 years old.
The wrapping of the remains date it at around 305BC to 500AD, meaning the sarcophagus predates the human remains by several centuries. The sarcophagus is wooden, probably made from sycamore, and dates from between 625 to 600 BC. An inscription indicates it belonged to a man named Hor.
Painted decorations on the lid and sides depicts the procession of the gods to the table of offerings where the deceased, Hor, is presented by Thoth, Egyptian God of writing, wisdom and magic. The coffin was excavated by Ernesto Schiaparelli sometime between 1903 and 1904, from tombs in the Valley of the Queens. It is possible that it was subsequently sold at the Salle de Vente in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo..
UCC said contrary to media reports, the sarcophagus was stored in the University’s Medical Museum from 1928 until the 1940s. Then it was moved to the Pathology Lecture Theatre from the 1940s until the 1970, before transferring to the Lee Maltings Complex from 1970 to 1988 and the Boole Library from 1988. It is currently held on UCC’s campus.
The four Canopic jars were purchased by UCC from the firm of JE and EK Preston, Antiquaries and Dealers in Works of Art in Harrogate, Yorkshire, England sometime between 1911 and 1912. These are believed to be the oldest of all the items being returned to the Egyptian State, with an estimated date of between 945-700BC.
The set of cartonnage pieces in the collection date to before100AD. They comprise a chest covering, a lower body covering, a foot case and a head covering. There are no records indicating how they came into UCC’s possession.
It is understood that discussion has been ongoing about the collection for several years. In 2011 The Irish Times reported that the collection had been the subject of enquiries from the Egyptian Embassy in Dublin as Egypt was seeking their repatriation for a new museum. At that point Karim Moukhtar, then second secretary at the Egyptian embassy in Dublin, said the embassy was waiting for a report on the state of the mummy and the coffin before forwarding the details to the antiquities council in Egypt.
The following year a spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy in Dublin told the Irish Examiner that a restoration team and a number of experts had examined the mummy and the coffin in which it is contained. The embassy said a report was being completed and that a decision on the future of the mummy would be made at a later date. In recent years countries such as Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Italy, Mexico and Greece have been part of a global push seeking the return of their artefacts from museums and universities in other countries.
Last year the National Museum in Dublin said it had adopted a new principle on repatriation in relation to collections it held. It said that like many museums with its origins in the 19th century it was in possession of “legacy collections that do not reflect contemporary collecting practices or ethics”.
It said repatriation or restitution of objects within these collections formed “an important element of an overall process of decolonisation at the [museum]”.
The museum said its collection of so-called Benin Bronzes, originally from Nigeria, would form part of these discussions.
The journey to Egypt by UCC’s mummy is to be documented in Kinship a creative project led by artist Dr Dorothy Cross. and producer Mary Hickson.
Dr Cross 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.”
UCC president Professor John O’Halloran said the university was pleased to be in a position to present these objects to the Egyptian State.
“I wish to thank all stakeholders for their assistance in developing a programme for the return of these items, particularly His Excellency Mohamed Sarwat Selim, Egyptian Ambassador to Ireland, Minister Simon Coveney and his officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the National Museum of Ireland.”
His Excellency Mohamed Sarwat Selim, Egyptian Ambassador to Ireland, said that he wished to emphasise that there was the “utmost co-operation” between UCC and the Egyptian State through the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Dublin, in seeking the return of the Egyptian mummy and the set of canopic jars to his homeland.
“I wish to thank all stakeholders for their work, particularly, UCC President Professor John O’Halloran, the National Museum of Ireland and the Egyptian officials at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities for their continuous efforts to ensure the completion of this endeavour successfully in 2023.”
Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Coveney said that his Department was delighted to be able to facilitate and support the project.