A trove of small figurines and jewelry that was illegally taken from King Tutankhamun's treasure- packed tomb has been returned to Egypt after more than 50 years, local authorities announced this week.
Consisting of 19 small-scale objects, the trove entered the Egyptian collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York from the 1920s to 1940s.
After an in-depth investigation into the history of the relics, the Met's experts concluded that "without doubt" the objects "originated in Tutankhamun's tomb."
"Fifteen of the 19 pieces have the status of bits or samples. The remaining four are of significant art-historical interest," Mohamed Abdel Maksoud, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said in a statement.
They include a three-quarter-inch-high bronze dog, part of a handle, a broad collar accompanied by additional beads and a lapis-lazuli sphinx that might have adorned a bracelet worn by King Tut.
The repatriation is the result of an agreement made last November between the museum and the then-antiquities chief Zahi Hawass. The world famous archaeologist, who claimed to have secured the return of some 5,000 treasures during his tenure, was fired last month after accusations of close ties to ex-President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in uprisings last February.
"These objects were never meant to have left Egypt, and therefore should rightfully belong to the Government of Egypt," Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Met, said in a statement.
At the time of the agreement, Hawass said the objects would be reunited with the other treasures of the boy king, who reigned about 1336-1327 B.C., to be first shown at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and then permanently at the Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza when it opens in 2012.
The attribution to King Tut's tomb appears to confirm speculations that several objects were stolen from the tomb, ending up in foreign collections.
The claim was first made in 1978 by the late Thomas Hoving, a former director of the Met, in his best-selling book, "Tutankhamun: The Untold Story."
Hoving argued that Howard Carter, who discovered King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings, stole objects from the site and had a secret arrangement to sell them to the Met.
In "one of the best kept secrets in the history of Egyptology," as Hoving wrote, the story goes that Carter and Carnavon secretly searched the tomb's inner chambers, pocketed several objects, then resealed the tomb's aperture and waited for the arrival of Egyptian authorities.
At that time,the Egyptian government generally allowed excavators to keep a substantial portion of the finds from digs undertaken and financed by them.
But in the case of Tutankamun's tomb, no such partition took place.
"Conjectures soon started, suggesting that certain objects of high quality, dating roughly to the time of Tutankhamun and residing in various collections outside Egypt, actually originated from the king's tomb," the SCA said.
Such conjectures intensified after the death of Howard Carter in 1939, when a number of artifacts were found to be part of his estate.
Indeed, the majority of the 19 objects repatriated by the Met were found among the contents of Carter's house at Luxor (all of the contents of that house were bequeathed by Carter to the Metropolitan Museum.)
"When the Metropolitan Museum acquired these objects, the whole group had been subjected to careful scrutiny by experts and representatives of the Egyptian government; and subsequent research has found no evidence of such a provenance in the overwhelming majority of cases," the SCA said.
For example, evidence indicates that objects that entered the Met from the private collection of Lord Carnarvon in 1926 do not belong to King Tut's tomb, the Egyptian authorities stated.
The repatriation of artworks and antiquities is one of the most debated and controversial arguments in the art world.
The objects from King Tut’s tomb were among some of the most disputed artifacts, along with the Parthenon marbles, which now embody the repatriation debate.
King Tut's objects join some recent significant repatriation, which include the Axum obelisk, looted by Mussolini's fascist troops in 1937 and returned to Ethiopia in 2008, the Venus of Morgantina, an ancient Aphrodite sculpture that was returned to Italy last May after years spent at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Hattuşa Sphinx, a 3,500-year-old statue of a sphinx that was returned to Turkey by Berlin's Pergamon Museum last month.
Photos: From King Tut's collection: Jewelry that might have been worn by the boy king. Courtesy of Metropolitian Museum of Art