A 9.5-foot-tall sarcophagus dubbed the “Jolly Green Giant,” and the “Green Coffin” at a Houston museum was considered among the most interesting objects in the museum’s Egyptian collection. It remains one of the largest of its kind ever discovered, weighing 500 Kilograms, or over 1102 pounds, and worth over $1 million.
But now, the sarcophagus is back in Egypt after the New York prosecutor’s office determined looters stole it from the Abu Sir Necropolis, north of Cairo. It entered the US illegally in 2008 after smugglers brought it through Germany.
The sarcophagus contained the mummy of an ancient priest named Ankhenmaat. The looters damaged some of the inscriptions on the coffin. The striking green face is symbolic of rebirth and resurrection, similar to the story of the resurrection of the god Osiris, often depicted as green.
There was a repatriation ceremony at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences with Egypt’s Consul General in Houston, Hosam Alkaweesh. Once in Egypt, officials held another ceremony in Cairo.
Video by BBC News:
Green Coffin and Gold Coffin Smuggled Into the US
The Museum fully cooperated with turning over the artifact, which was on loan. Before arriving in Houston in 2013, some may have seen the Green Coffin in a collection at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, which had it on loan from a private collector.
“Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., today announced the return of the ‘Green Coffin,’ valued at over $1 million, to the people of Egypt. The Green Coffin was looted from an archaeological site in Egypt and trafficked by the Dib-Simonian network, who smuggled the piece through Germany into the United States in 2008,” states the press release.
Previously, the same network trafficked a “Gold Coffin” which ended up at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The same office seized it and returned it to Egypt in 2019. The coffin, worth $4 million, belonged to another priest, Nedjemankh, also a high-ranking priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef of Herakleopolis. Five other pieces seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art returned to Egypt in September.
Video by Eyewitness News ABC7NY:
The Consul General noted that the return of the Green Coffin coincided with the 100th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Egypt and the US. It also marks over a century since the discovery of King Tut’s Tomb, which is the subject of the Houston Museum’s King Tut’s Tomb Discovery Experience.
The video below shows the Kin Tut’s Discovery Experience from the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences:
A Temporary Home in Houston’s Egyptian Hall
In 2013, the Houston Chronicle reported, “A green giant finds home in Egyptian Hall.”
The museum referred to the coffin as belonging to Gemshuankh and it was part of then-new permanent Hall of Ancient Egypt. Houston Public Media reported the ancient Egyptians created the sarcophagus out of sycamore wood.
“The sarcophagus dates to 664-323 BC and stands out for its large size and green face, which symbolizes rebirth,” the article stated.
Guest curator Tom Hardwick told NRP Houston about an inscription on the sarcophagus, then thought to date to 200 BC.
“Tom Hardwick is consulting curator who’s helping to build up the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s own collection of Egyptian artifacts. He says they’re having [fun] trying to decipher the inscriptions, which he says are cryptic,” NPR reported.
“What we do know for sure, is that he was a priest of the ram-headed god Herishef, [or Heryshaf] who was in charge of a city about 100 miles south of modern Cairo. Gemshuankh had the status to be buried for eternity in this 9-foot wooden coffin,” said Hardwick.
The ‘Jolly Green Giant’
According to the Chronicle’s recent article, Harwick nicknamed the mummy the “Jolly Green Giant,” but he acknowledged it was a “terrible habit” which tends to happen at museums.
“In 2018, Tom Hardwick, consulting curator of Egyptology at The Houston Museum of Natural Science, described the coffin, which he nicknamed ‘The Jolly Green Giant,’ as one the ‘largest’ and ‘most interesting’ objects in the museum’s Hall of Ancient Egypt exhibit. “It’s an outer coffin of a man who was a priest of the ram-headed god Heryshaf,” Hardwick said. “He lived and died probably about somewhere between 300 and 30 BC in the Faiyum in Egypt.”
The green giant and hundreds of other artifacts were on view at the opening of the 10,000-square-foot Hall. Hardwick said the exhibit also contained a stone beetle with what he considered “the world’s first tweet.“
“I call this the world’s first tweet,’ ” says Hardwick, fingering a palm-sized stone beetle dating to about 1350 BC. On the back is a terse message relating to Tutankhamun’s grandfather, who, according to the text, killed 102 wild lions during his reign.”
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube