In the midst of the recent violence in Egypt, the Mallawi National Museum has been ransacked by looters. The museum is located about 190 miles south of Cairo, and contained many artifacts that hadn’t yet been studied by researchers.
The stolen artifacts included animal mummies, votive statues, religious offerings, wooden coffins, stone jewelry, funerary masks, amulets, statues, and even canopic jars — originally designed to hold the organs of a mummified body.
Looters struck the building while supporters of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi were holding a protest outside. The museum’s collection of 1,089 artifacts was reduced by 1,050 items in a mere matter of hours. Just to add insult to injury, after the looters left, local gangs entered the building to smash and burn what little was left. Some of the destroyed objects were nearly 5,000 years old. National Geographic has released some eerie photos of the aftermath, showing smashed display cases and a handful of artifacts that were too large to carry off.
So far, a handful of the Mallawi artifacts have been recovered, including a collection of gold coins, some Greco-Roman reliefs, papyrus texts and statues of various Egyptian gods. At 125 items, it’s only a tenth of what was stolen, but it’s a start. The returned items are being housed with what’s left of the collection in a secure storehouse to protect against further looting.
In an effort to recover the rest of the loot, Egyptologists are turning to social media to publicize the missing items. A Facebook group called Egypt’s Heritage Task Force is posting photos of the museum’s collection to help dealers and collectors recognize the stolen goods. Egyptian officials have also catalogued the missing items and posted a list to UNESCO’s website — which will hopefully prevent them from being traded in the international market.
Sadly, this disrespect for Egypt’s museums is nothing new. Similar attacks occurred during the 2011 revolution, when more than 50 artifacts were stolen from the world-famous Egyptian Museum. Protestors smashed the heads of two mummies and damaged 10 smaller artifacts. Many of the stolen items have never been recovered. Since then, reports of looting have surfaced at archeological sites across the country.
Photo credit: Liz Lawley