Early in the days of the protests in Cairo, thieves broke into the famed Egyptian Museum: On January 28, nine men broke into the museum and destroyed two mummies and damaged a number of ancient and invaluable artifacts, including two statues of Tutankhamun. But, as reported in the February 12 New York Times, the thefts were much more extensive than first described by Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities—and archaeologists and others are asking, why did he try to downplay the theft?
Two days after the break-in, Hawass was promoted to Hosni Mubarak’s cabinet as minister of antiquities. On Saturday, February 12, Hawass says on his website that several important—invaluable and irreplaceable—items have been stole and that the thieves had broken 70 objects, including two sculptures of Tutankhamen, as well as having taken two skulls from a research lab. He writes:
The staff of the database department at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo have given me their report on the inventory of objects at the museum following the break in. Sadly, they have discovered objects are missing from the museum. The objects missing are as follows:
1. Gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess
2. Gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun harpooning. Only the torso and upper limbs of the king are missing
3. Limestone statue of Akhenaten holding an offering table
4. Statue of Nefertiti making offerings
5. Sandstone head of an Amarna princess
6. Stone statuette of a scribe from Amarna
7. Wooden shabti statuettes from Yuya (11 pieces)
8. Heart Scarab of Yuya
An investigation has begun to search for the people who have taken these objects, and the police and army plan to follow up with the criminals already in custody. I have said if the Egyptian Museum is safe, than Egypt is safe. However, I am now concerned Egypt is not safe.
Hawass claims that the damaged objects could all be restored. But rchaeologists and Egyptologists in Egypt and around the world are asking, why did Hawass not report about the real extent of the thefts to the museum at first?
What is clear is that this missing material is not just any old rubbish, but 18 collectables (more than will fit into one knapsack) which will fetch top dollar from some unscrupulous collector who may have ordered their taking and already have them in his hands. The scattering of the other objects on the museum floor (by somebody acting as a decoy?) may have been deliberate in order to slow down the process of assessing what was missing, allowing time for the stolen items to disappear into the murky world of the no-questions-asked antiquities market.
The theft and damage of these antiquities is not simply a tragedy. It is, if I may so, a barbaric act, as the artifacts in the Egypt Museum are part of all of our cultural heritage. As Egyptologist Margaret Maitland writes on her blog, The Eloquent Peasant
Now we must hope to mobilize the world’s awareness of these objects to be alert to their possible movement or sale. I will try to outline soon some of the current discussion on potential avenues available to thwart the trafficking of stolen Egyptian objects. In recent days, people around the world have been inspired by the spirit of the Egyptian people. No one can now doubt that they are capable of great achievements now, in the past, and in the future. Insha’Allah, the stolen objects will be recovered soon, but until then, people around the world who love Egypt will surely be willing to offer whatever help they can.
To see more about the developments in Egypt, click here.
Most Recent Care2 coverage on the Egyptian Protests:
Photo of statue of Tutankhamun astride a panther by flydime.