Three people have been arrested by Egyptian authorities for trying to steal an ancient statue of Pharaoh Ramses II with a crane. They were caught in a quarry south of the city of Aswan with the crane and manual digging equipment, according to Egypt’s Public Prosecution in a statement on Tuesday.
The plan of the three detained was to lift the 10-tonne colossus out of the ground and to excavate antiquities in the area, officials said. Egypt’s prosecutor’s office said it has ordered the three defendants to be held in custody for four days pending investigations. It has also asked the police to investigate others who were involved in the crime.
The Antiquities Authority in Aswan has proven the “antiquity [of the statue] and attributed it to Ramses II, with a weight of approximately 10 tonnes”, the statement by the Public Prosecution said.
Some 3000 years ago, Ramses II, also known as the Great, was the king of the 19th dynasty (1292–1190 BCE) of ancient Egypt. His reign was the second-longest in Egyptian history. He led the construction of temples across Egypt.
The three who tried to lift his statue also had videos of other ancient statues which they had sent through social messaging apps, authorities said. Videos of their digging operations were also found on their mobile phones.
Egypt has over the decade gotten back around 29,000 ancient pieces trafficked out of the country. More than 100 of the items looted were recovered in 2022 from the U.S., France, and New Zealand, officials said.
Earlier this month, it recovered its ancient wooden sarcophagus called the “Green Coffin” from the U.S. after it was looted several years ago. The sarcophagus, which is 2.9m (9.5ft) long, was returned to Egypt from the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences in the United States.
The return of the sarcophagus came amid calls on Western countries to return artifacts looted during colonization. Last month, Germany returned 20 Benin Bronzes looted in the 19th Century to Nigeria following a deal made earlier in 2022 to bring back over 1,000 of the cultural artefacts.