The sarcophagus is wooden, probably sycamore, applied with plaster and decorated with pigment. Photos: Denis Mortell Photography

UCC to return mummified remains to Egpyt

A university on Leeside is to repatriate a number of objects including mummified human remains to the Egyptian state.

UCC recently announced that it has been collaborating with the Egyptian Embassy, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the National Museum of Ireland and a plan for the safe preparation and transport of the objects, from its heritage collection, has been developed.

The items in question include mummified human remains, a sarcophagus, a set of 4 canopic jars, and items of cartonnage (coverings) dating variously from 100AD to about 975BCE. UCC came into possession of the mummified remains by donation in 1928. It is envisaged the transfer will take place in 2023.

The sarcophagus is wooden, probably sycamore, applied with plaster and decorated with pigment. Analysis of the coffin dates it at approximately 625 to 600 BCE. An inscription indicates that 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. Other illustrations depict gods and goddesses, while inscriptions pray that Hor will have eternal life with the gods, happiness, and plenty of food and drink.

The coffin was excavated by Ernesto Schiaparelli sometime between 1903 and 1904, from tombs in the Valley of the Queens. It is possible, though unconfirmed, that it was subsequently sold at the Salle de Vente in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Upon donation, the sarcophagus and mummified remains were held in UCC. The sarcophagus went on public display in 1993 at the Cork Public Museum’s From the Nile to the Lee exhibition.

The mummified human remains are that of an adult male, estimated to be between 45 and 50 years old and measuring 1.69m, but they are not that of Hor, to whom the sarcophagus belonged.

Testing done on the wrapping of the remains date it at around 305BCE to 500AD, meaning the sarcophagus pre-dates the human remains by several centuries. The remains are currently in appropriate conditions managed by conservation specialists.

The 4 canopic jars were purchased by UCC and are believed to be the oldest of all the items being returned to the Egyptian state, with an estimated date of between 945-700BCE. They are a set belonging to one person, Pa-wer, son of Pa-aa-mert (father) and Minen (mother). These jars also appeared in the From the Nile to the Lee exhibition in 1993.

The set of cartonnage pieces in UCC’s collection are made of linen, plaster, and paint and date earlier than 100 AD. Cartonnage were placed on mummified remains at the time of burial. The set in UCC comprises of a chest covering, a lower body covering, a foot case and a head covering. It is not clear if these pieces are from the same original set.

There are no records indicating how the set came in to UCC’s possession – they may have also been purchased from Preston’s of Harrogate, though there is no evidence to confirm this. The cartonnage also appeared in the Cork Public Museum exhibition in 1993.

Speaking on the impending transfer, UCC President Prof. John O’Halloran said: “UCC takes seriously the care of its heritage assets and is 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: “I wish to emphasize the utmost importance of the ongoing cooperation between University College Cork 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 the canopic jars to our 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.”

The objects’ journey home to Egypt is to be documented in Kinship, a creative project led by artist Dr Dorothy Cross, and creative producer Mary Hickson.

Speaking on their project, 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.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Simon Coveney TD said: “I am delighted that my department, and in particular our embassy in Cairo, has been able to facilitate and support this important project led by University College Cork and President John O’Halloran and including an ambitious creative programme by one of our finest artists on the global stage, Dorothy Cross.”