In an unforgettable image, a human chain of Egyptians, some armed with truncheons from the police, stood at the gate of the Egyptian Museum, to protect its priceless archaeological treasures. The January 29th Daily Mail reports that, early on Friday, nine men broke into the museum and destroyed two mummies and damaged a number of ancient and invaluable artifacts, including two statues of Tutankhamun.
The men were taking advantage of damage to the Egyptian Museum’s security from a fire in the adjacent headquarters of the National Democratic Party, President Hosni Mubarak’s party. The Associated Press reports that they were caught and detained by army soldiers. Egypt’s antiquities chief, Zawi Hawass, says that all the stolen items have been recovered and that the museum and its collections are now under military guard. Authorities have also sought to secure other archaeological sites. Armored personnel carriers are now protecting the pyramids on the Cairo’s outskirts and barriers have been erected around Karnak Temple in Luxor.
To get a chilling sense of the damage done to the Egyptian Museum and its irreplaceable artifacts—a model boat that is over 4000 years old, two gilded statues of Tutankhamun—see this post at Hypoallergic. Egyptologist Margaret Maitland at her blog, The Eloquent Peasant, viewed the footage from Al Jazeera below and suggested that it ‘appears to show wooden statues from the tomb of Tutankhamun with the gilded figure of the king ripped from the smashed bases.’ She includes photos of the statues in their intact state alongside the current one. The statues were apparently crudely broken off from their bases, one of which was in the form of a panther—’was’ as it is shown in several shattered pieces on the floor.
It’s sad and terrible. As a Classicist whose teaching is all about the ancient Mediterranean world of Rome, Greece, and Egypt, I found the images on Hypoallergic and The Eloquent Peasant tragic. How could anyone treat irreplaceable artifacts that are a part of our history and cultural heritage in so cavalier and, well, brazen and cruel a fashion? But I have to say, I also found that image of the human chain of Egyptian citizens, as one person has commented, ‘beautiful.’ Beautiful and hopeful about what’s going on in Egypt right now, today.
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Photo of statue of Tutankhamun astride a panther by flydime.