Police detained a French postman behind an Internet operation selling strands of hair and tiny pieces of cloth allegedly taken from the mummy of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II. If authenticated, Egypt wants the hair back.
The suspect, identified as Jean-Michel Diebolt, allegedly obtained the items from his late father, a French researcher who analyzed the 3,200-year-old mummy in the 1970s, judicial officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing.
The 50-year-old suspect, a postman who also writes for a local newspaper, was detained late Tuesday at his home in the town of Saint-Egreve, a suburb of Grenoble in southeast France, the officials said. He was released Wednesday but is being investigated for allegedly possessing stolen goods, they said.
Police seized a dozen small plastic sachets and boxes containing minuscule samples of hair and cloth that he alleged came from Ramses II.
“Selling strands of hair from the mummy of Ramses II: €2,000,” or about $2,600, read the entry on the Web site. It said strands of cloth from the mummy also were available.
Diebolt’s wife, Sonia, insisted in an interview that the pieces were authentic and that she didn’t know if the late scientist had the right to possess them.
Egypt’s antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, told The Associated Press in Cairo that he had sent a letter to France’s ambassador “wondering if those claims are true” and “saying that we want the hair back.”
If confirmed, Hawass said France should carry out “a big investigation into the matter.”
The French Foreign Ministry said it was closely monitoring the situation, and an investigation was under way.
France’s Atomic Energy Commission said in a statement Wednesday that its researchers had conducted two analyses of the mummy in 1977 for the French Museum of Mankind.
One was a disinfection procedure using radiation, the other was on an analysis of three hair fragments from the mummy’s shroud — not extracted from the head.
The mummy of King Ramses II, who ruled Egypt from 1270 to 1213 B.C., is conserved at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. In 1976, the remains left Egypt for the first time, sent to France for treatment to stop the spread of a rare fungus that had been eating away at the mummy.
Associated Press Writer Nadia Abou el-Magd contributed to this report in Cairo.