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Antiquities Ministry recovers ancient Egyptian tablet from Paris auction house

The Antiquities Ministry has recovered an ancient Egyptian tablet dating back to the reign of Pharaoh Nectanebo II (circa 360-342 BC) that was due to be sold at a Paris auction house, the ministry announced Sunday.

The limestone tablet, estimated to be around 2,370 years old, arrived in Cairo on Sunday and is now being restored at the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the ministry said. Once the restorations are finished, the artifact will be returned to its place of origin: a temple in the Saqqara Necropolis.

Measuring 44 cm by 50 cm and weighing nearly 80 kg, the tablet is engraved with the image of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet — the deity of war, fire, medicine and healing — with a sun disc resting atop her head. To the right is a cartouche bearing the name of Pharaoh Nectanebo II, the last king of the 30th Dynasty (circa 664-332 BC) who reigned during the Late Period.

Nectanebo II is known for his resistance to the expansion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire into Egyptian territories.

The artifact was originally part of a temple relief that had been severed from the Saqqara Necropolis sometime during the 1990s and was then smuggled abroad, the ministry said.

The whereabouts of this fragment of the temple wall were unknown for nearly two decades, until last week specialists from the ministry’s Department for the Recovery of Artifacts discovered its presence on a list of items to be sold at auction in the French capital. The department is currently monitoring the selling lists of all international auction halls via the internet, the ministry explained.

Once the Egyptian authorities alerted their French counterparts that the artifact had been stolen, it was handed over to the Egyptian Embassy in Paris before it was finally shipped to Cairo.

In May, France returned a collection of 44 artifacts dating back to the Roman dominion over Egypt (circa 30-641 BC) and the Coptic Christian era. The artifacts had reportedly been seized by authorities at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in March and November 2010.

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