A contested gilded coffin is on its way back to its rightful resting place, about seven months after it was originally confiscated from Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and eight years after smugglers snuck it out of Egypt. The Golden Coffin of Nedjemankh has been returned, yes, but will that be enough to break the curse? (More on that in a minute.)

At a repatriation ceremony on Wednesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance handed back the coffin — which formerly housed the mummified corpse of "a high-ranking priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef of Herakleopolis," per the Met — to the Egyptian people, after thieves lifted it from Minya during the country's 2011 revolution. The looters snuck their shiny plunder into the United Arab Emirates, then on to Germany, where it underwent restoration. From there, the coffin traveled to France, where a Parisian art dealer arranged its sale to the Met in 2017.

Once it reached New York City, the coffin (valued at $4 million) became the centerpiece of a special exhibit at the museum, displayed alongside some seventy other items from the museum's collection that helped paint a comprehensive picture of Nedjemankh's priestly dealings. The exhibit opened in July 2018, but was cut short in February 2019, when the D.A. presented the Met with compelling evidence that it was flaunting stolen goods. Gasp!

The museum claimed it had been legitimately bamboozled by the coffin's convincingly faked provenance, so when they bought it, they believed Egypt had exported it and everything was above board. Because it comes from one of the world's leading art institutions, this explanation may strain your credulity, because as Vance put it at the time: "Stewards of the world’s most important artifacts have a duty to hold their acquisitions to the highest level of scrutiny." I.e., a museum of the Met's caliber should know better, and museum director Max Hollein pledged to lead a review of the acquisitions program.

Because, yes, every so often the Met does have to return ill-gotten antiquities to their rightful owners. It happens to a lot of big-name museums in colonizing countries — see: The Rosetta Stone (born in Egypt; lives in London); the Bust of Nefertiti (born in Egypt; lives in Berlin); the Benin bronzes, which British armies stole from Nigeria in the late 19th century, and which the British Museum is loaning back (???) to their country of origin.

Returning the coffin to Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Hassan Shoukry, Vance explained Wednesday that he doesn't want New York's museums to operate that way.

"Coming as we do from all over the world, New Yorkers place a strong value on cultural heritage, and our office takes pride in our work to vigorously protect it,” he said. “Returning stolen cultural treasures to their countries of origin is at the core of our mission to stop the trafficking of stolen antiquities. I am honored to repatriate this extraordinary artifact back to the people of Egypt, and I thank my office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit as well as our partners at HSI New York for their diligence in this investigation."

Vance did not announce charges against the smugglers, and for its part, a Met spokesperson told Gothamist: "The Museum is appreciative of both the government of Egypt and the District Attorney’s efforts, with which we closely cooperated."

So, all's well that ends well...or is it? You'll recall mention of a curse from a few paragraphs ago, and yeah: buying a stolen coffin — and the coffin of a priest, a person who takes their orders from a panel of capricious gods with long memories and a taste for vengeance — must bring extremely bad energy into your house. This is basically courting a curse, specifically the curse of the pharaohs. Legend has it that anyone who disturbs an Egyptian mummy (particularly, a high-profile mummy such as a pharaoh, thus the name) in its tomb will meet a grisly end, and I don't know about you but I am not feeling brave enough to mess around with that today.

Granted, this particular coffin appears to have come to the Met mummy-less and free of any notable curses, just to be very clear about that. But still, look at its eyes, man. They are begging you to be sent home. Do you really want to defy this priest's final wishes?

"Send me home."

Photo by The Metropolitan Museum of Art