MFA Boston Returns a Looted Egyptian Coffin to Sweden

MFA Boston (the Museum of Fine Arts) Returned to Sweeden a Coffin Used to Bury an Egyptian Child Named Paneferneb.

Apr 27, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
MFA Boston
The museum of fine arts, Boston. Via Wikipedia


MFA Boston (the Museum of Fine Arts) returned a looted Egyptian coffin to Sweden. Overall, this coffin was a burial place of an Egyptian child named Paneferneb between about 1295 and 1186 B.C.E. This process happened after a discovery, which showed evidence of the artefact being stolen from the Gustavianum, Uppsala University Museum, around 1970.


The coffin resurfaced in 1985… How?

MFA Boston
An Egyptian child’s coffin. Via the museum.


In 1920, the British School of Archaeology in Egypt discovered the coffin in Gurob, Egypt. Flinders Petrie oversaw the excavation. He and his wife Hilda Urlin dug up several significant archaeological sites. One of his most important discoveries in 1896 was the Merneptah Stele. Additionally, in 1905, he found the Proto-Sinaitic script, which is the ancestor of nearly all alphabetic scripts.


The Egyptian authorities established a system of “partage,” or the dividing of findings, at that time. It divided up the findings of the archaeological digs between Egypt and foreign sponsors. As part of that arrangement, in 1922, the coffin transferred to Uppsala University’s Victoria Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. However, by at least 1970, the 43-inch-long, ceramic tomb vanished from sight.


carter workman coffin,MFA Boston
Howard Carter and an unidentified Egyptian workman examine one of Tutankhamun’s coffins, 1925, via the Griffith Institute.


The coffin resurfaced in 1985, when the MFA purchased it from one Olof S. Liden. Liden said he represented Eric Ståhl, the artist. He produced a fake letter in which Ståhl purportedly described excavating the coffin in 1937 near Amada, Egypt. Liden also produced forged certification papers for the coffin, allegedly from Swedish specialists. Ståhl, noted the museum in its announcement of the return of the coffin, “is not known to have participated in any excavation in Egypt”.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter


MFA Boston – the Top Tier of Collections

Three Egyptian Gold mummy masks of Pharaohs from ancient egypt
Gold masks of King Psusennes, center, and the gold coffin and mummy mask of King Amenemope, from the royal necropolis of Tanis discovered in 1939-1940 by Pierre Montet, the first intact Pharaohs tombs ever discovered.


When curators at the MFA saw a picture of the coffin during excavation in the 2008 book Unseen Images: Archive Photographs in the Petrie Museum, they immediately smelt rat foul. They got in touch with the Gustavianum staff after noticing the disparity. The procedure of retrieving the piece began, and the museum’s website said it got deaccessioned in October.


“It has been wonderful working with our colleagues in Uppsala on this matter, and it is always gratifying to see a work of art return to its rightful owner”, said Victoria Reed, senior curator of provenance at the MFA. “In this case, we were fortunate to have an excavation photograph showing where and when the coffin was found, so that we could begin to correct the record”, she also added.


Ancient jewelry treasures from intact egyptian tomb Pharaoh Psusennes Tanis
From Psusennes’ treasure : a lapis-lazuli necklace, a 1,8 kg solid gold bracelet. Cairo Egyptian museum, photos Global Egyptian Museum.


The MFA Boston’s department of the art of ancient Egypt, Nubia, and the Near East includes some 65,000 artifacts. Also, sculpture, jewellery, coffins, mummies, mosaics, and more. This puts it in the top tier of collections of its kind worldwide. Also, there are other institutions, such as the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza and London’s British Museum. The Gustavianum houses a collection of about 5,000 examples.

Author Image

By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.