1.31.2011

Egypt Museums and Archaeology News

I got told off on Friday for "spreading rumours" about looting of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and now of course I wish I hadn't been right or my sources so good. Although apparently there is now some internet access at the moment in Egypt, because the government blocked it and Blackberries and banned Al Jazeera it's difficult to be a hundred percent sure what went on. That's where propaganda takes over, with anti-collecting fanatics claiming the looting was due to the art market and pro-collecting fanatics seeing this as 'proof' that source nations cannot look after their own archaeological heritage.

Propaganda is also why I was worried about looting in Egypt, although I had not been in Tunisia at the beginning of the month. In Egypt, as in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, archaeology and the past was used by the regime as part of it's propaganda.

So this is the information about damage we're heard:

On Friday, shortly after the curfew went into effect (but was ignored), there were rumours of looting at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (see photo here). Volunteers, unwilling to see a repeat of Baghdad, formed a human chain initially across the entrance, and then around part of the Museum. Eventually the army arrived with tanks and secured the Museum.
Dr Zahi Hawass, who is said to now be sleeping in the Museum at night, seems to believe that ten convicts were responsible for the vandalism. They seem to have hit three separate galleries around the first floor of the museum - this is based on what they damaged and where it had been on display - and to have entered from above.
The 'main' damage is a statue from the tomb of Tutankhamun - which Hawass believes can be repaired - and two mummies that lost their heads. But as you can see from the video below from Al Jazeera, a lot of very fragile wooden statues were tossed around, and cases smashed.





Dr Hawass' blog has his reaction to the looting here: The Situation in Egyptian Antiquities Today (he faxed the post in since the internet was down). He's also interviewed in the video below:



MSNBC has before and after photos of the statue of Tut that was damaged in Cairo, as well as screen grabs of other items knocked over here.

The two mummies had been identified as those of Yuya and Tjuya by Margaret Maitland  in her blog. They were not royal, but their daughter Tiye married Amenhotep III whose son was Akhenaten and grand-son Tutankhamun. Maitland also has before and after photos of the damaged items, as well as identifying a second statue of Tut as amongst the debris, and one of his fans and ... It's simpler to point people towards Maitland's post, which she is updating as news comes in: Statues of Tutankhamun damaged/stolen from the Egyptian Museum

This map from Ancient Egypt Online (here) shows the areas in the museum we know were 'hit' by the vandals.

This interviews with Wafaa el-Saddik suggests that pieces are missing from the Egyptian Museum, not just broken. The Memphis museum, like a lot of the sites south of the capital, has been badly looted, according to the interview - here. There are also reports elsewhere of sealed graves having been opened and robbed, and sites pillaged. 

The Coptic Museum was targeted as were many others. The director of the Jewellery Museum had thankfully taken the initiative to hide his items.The Library of Alexandria, which has been destroyed again and again throughout history, is safe.

The Egyptology Blog is updating as their hear from teams, both about the safety of members and of sites - that seems to be the best place to go for news - here. And Mary Beard's son is safe. There are also good round-ups about people and sites on the KV64 Blog - here.

Frankly too little information is getting out of the country to be sure, but archaeologists all seem to be safe, archaeological sites things of the past - and not in the good way.

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