May 10, 2011

More on the situation in Egypt

Posted at 1:09 pm in Similar cases

Further coverage of some of the problems affecting Egypt’s antiquities at present.

Sky news

Priceless Objects Stolen From Egypt Museum
3:44pm UK, Sunday February 13, 2011
Juliet Bagnall and Lorna Blount, Sky News Online

Looters appear to have made off with some of Egypt’s priceless antiquities during the anti-government protests of the past three weeks.

The minister in charge of antiquities has reported that 18 items are missing from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, including two gilded wooden statues of Tutankhamun.

The news came after a full inventory of the museum was carried out following 18 days of demonstrations which engulfed the area around the building, on the edge of Tahrir Square.

At the beginning of the uprising, on January 28, looters climbed a fire escape to the museum roof and lowered themselves on ropes from a glass pane ceiling onto the top floor.

Around 70 objects were damaged, but until the minister’s announcement it was not known whether anything was missing

Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass said the museum’s database department determined eight objects were gone.

Investigators were questioning those already in custody since last month’s break-in.

The tomb of the Egyptian boy king Tutankhamun was discovered in 1922 by the archaeologists Howard Carter – one of the most important archeological finds of modern times.

Tutankhamun lived from around 1336-1327BC, and his tomb, found virtually intact, contained hundreds of gold and other precious artefacts.

An exhibition of items from the tomb created a sensation when it was brought to the British Museum in London in 1972.


Saturday, February 12, 2011
“Egypt’s Antiquities Fall Victim to the Mob”: A Response

Alexander Joffe’s article (Feb. 2) on the, fortunately minor, looting of the Cairo Museum is misleading and, indeed, paradoxical for an archaeologist, omits to mention, let alone discuss, the sole cause for this and all other looting and worldwide plunder. It exists to acquire “treasures” to be sold to customers: no customers, no looting or plunder. This reality is the beginning and end of all discussions on local plunder and looting. Such actions are initially conducted by thieves, not the “people” (“Iraqis,” “Egyptians”), who, as Joffe unfortunately claims, should “decide whether to preserve or destroy” their heritage. Both the thieves and local plunderers (who often commit violence in their activities), are employed by antiquity dealers, who arrange the smuggling abroad, and in turn sell their goodies to, museums and private collectors worldwide. The former purchase the plunder seeking to be labeled “encyclopaedic museums,” and “Guardians of the Past,” which goal in the United states is unknowingly and unwittingly paid for (many millions of dollars a year) by taxpayers; the later for social, prestige reasons. These are the plunderer’s employers, the very sponsors of all looting and plundering. Joffe mentions the looting of the Baghdad and Kabul museums, but not the five museums looted in 1991 under Saddam Husseins’ reign, or that at Corinth: all sold to their sponsors abroad.

Joffee and I agree that plundered artifacts “must be returned,” but clearly, if inadvertently, seems to support plunder in general by assuming they will be “safer in Europe or America,” again omitting to mention how the countless thousands of plundered antiquities reached Europe and America in the first place. Joffe’s attacks on Egypt’s Zahi Hawass conflate his justified claims for return (yes, the Nefertiti head was stolen from Egypt by the German archaeologist Ludwig Burchardt) with his flamboyant claims, and, crucially, does not mention that Hawass’ demands for return were made before the present chaos in Egypt, and were in some cases not “misguided.”

Oscar White Muscarella,
New York City

Daily Telegraph (Blogs)

Egypt’s treasures are looted – lucky all the best stuff is safely in Bloomsbury
By Ed West Politics Last updated: February 14th, 2011

Following events on January 28, when the Egyptian National Museum was raided, I wrote on Twitter as a sort of joke that it was a good thing all the best stuff was safely in Bloomsbury. But this is really not very funny:

On Jan. 28, as protesters clashed with police early on in the turmoil and burned down the adjacent headquarters of Mr Mubarak’s ruling party, a handful of looters climbed a fire escape to the Cairo museum roof and lowered themselves on ropes from a glass-paneled ceiling onto the museum’s top floor.

Around 70 objects – many of them small statues – were damaged, but until Sunday’s announcement, it was not known whether anything was missing.

Zahi Hawass, the antiquities minister, said the museum’s database department determined 18 items were gone.
Investigators searching for those behind the thefts were questioning dozens of people arrested over several days after last month’s break-in.

The most important of the missing objects is a limestone statue of the Pharaoh Akhenaten standing and holding an offering table. Akhenaten is the so-called heretic king who tried to introduce monotheism to ancient Egypt.

Tarek el-Awady, the museum director, said the looters did not break into the room containing the gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun and other items from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Of course it’s nothing on the scale of the tragedy that befell the National Museum of Iraq. But my Twitter comment had a certain truth to it; in some way it is fortunate that during the 19th century British, French and German archaeologists expended so much time and energy effectively ransacking the sites of the ancient world, for at the very least they are safe in the British Museum.

Of course if my name was Εδουάρδος Δύση I might feel differently. Perhaps the museum can reach some sort of compromise, so that once a country has been a stable democracy for 50 years, and passes basic standards of freedom as well as proving that it will care for its artistic and architectural treasures, then we hand them back. At that rate Greece should get back its looted treasures in 2024, assuming of course that one can truly consider life in the EU “democracy” any more.

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