THE fate of a disputed 2,300-year-old Egyptian mummy hinges on key talks between an Irish university and a senior Egyptian diplomat.
The Irish Independent has learned that Egypt's new First Secretary to Ireland, Latif Ellayeh, will visit University College Cork ( UCC) next week in a bid to resolve a dispute over ownership of the ancient mummy and its sarcophagus.
Cairo officials are adamant that the mummy, which was once hidden under floorboards at UCC, is the property of the Egyptian state.
They want it returned if it is deemed to be a priceless artefact and suitable for shipment.
The mummy could yet become one of the centrepieces of a multi-million euro new museum close to the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx.
But UCC officials hope the mummy, believed to be that of a high-ranking court official rather than a pharaoh, will remain in Ireland.
"We are in correspondence with them (UCC) but I have not yet received the expert report on the mummy," Mr Ellayeh said.
He explained that he hopes to travel to Cork within the next fortnight to meet UCC officials and clarify the position.
The row over ownership of the mummy erupted in November 2011 but hopes for an early settlement were thrown into turmoil by Egypt's political situation following the overthrow of the Hosni Mubarak regime.
Both UCC and the Egyptian embassy are awaiting an expert report on the mummy and its archaeological significance.
Egyptologists are confused over precisely how the mummy arrived at UCC.
It was first reported at the college in 1903 but the mummy and sarcophagus come from different Egyptian eras. The mummy is that of an adult male who lived around 300BC, while the coffin is from Thebes and dates back to between 600BC and 700BC.
UCC said that the items were acquired some time in the 1880s or 1890s.
At the time, UCC was known as Queen's College Cork and closely mirrored the trend by English and Scottish universities for exhibitions of artefacts from classical civilisations.
However, the issue of the mummy became an embarrassment for UCC 50 years ago and one academic decided to store it under the floorboards of a lecture theatre.
The mummy has now been in safe storage at the Boule complex at UCC for 23 years but is not on public display.
UCC has said the mummy will not be put on public display until its fate is known.
The Cairo-based Ministry of Antiquities is determined to have the mummy returned to Egypt in line with its stance on other artefacts worldwide.
UCC already has strong links with Egypt via its medical, science and history faculties.