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Pictures: Looters Shatter Museum of Ancient Egyptian Treasures (TEXT and PHOTOS)

World  (tags: Egypt, cultural heritage, society, sadness, violence, conflict, politics, news, ethics, middle-east, humans, crime, corruption )

- 1762 days ago -
Amid the deadly chaos that has erupted in Egypt, the country's cultural heritage took a hit last week when looters ransacked the archaeological museum in the town of Mallawi.

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Carrie B (306)
Friday August 23, 2013, 3:17 pm
Aftermath of the Attack
Photograph by Roger Anis, El Shorouk/AP

Amid the deadly chaos that has erupted in Egypt, the country's cultural heritage took a hit last week when looters ransacked the archaeological museum in the town of Mallawi.

Located about 190 miles (300 kilometers) south of Cairo, the museum was opened in 1963 to showcase the finds from excavations at nearby sites.

"The museum contained irreplaceable artifacts, many not yet studied," says Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. "The looting leaves enormous gaps in our understanding of ancient Egyptian religious and funerary rites."

Housed in a modest, two-story building, the museum's galleries displayed a wide range of objects—animal mummies, votive statues, religious offerings, brightly painted wooden coffins, necklaces of stone beads, a ritual rattle known as a sistrum, funerary masks, amulets, statues from tombs, stone trays for sacred oils, jars that once held the internal organs of an Egyptian now long dead—all of which had survived in remarkably good condition for more than 2,000 years.

According to local news reports, looters—as yet unidentified—broke into the museum while supporters of recently deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi were holding a sit-in protest in the museum's garden. From the 1,089 artifacts on exhibit, an estimated 1,050 were stolen.

After the looters had departed, gangs of what one source calls "local bad boys" entered the building and began to burn and smash what was left.

In the photo shown here, debris from the rampage surrounds large artifacts that were too bulky to haul off.

This incident is just the latest of countless attacks on Egypt's archaeological riches since the 2011 revolution.

During the protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square that ended the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, looters broke into the Egyptian Museum—home of one of the world's foremost archaeological collections—and made off with about 50 artifacts. Many are still missing.

The country's continuing turmoil has led to lax security at archaeological sites and storerooms throughout the country, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Reports of looting have surfaced everywhere from Abu Rawash and Abusir to El Hibeh and Luxor.

Looting is certainly not a new phenomenon in Egypt. It was as lucrative in antiquity as it is today. Almost as soon as the paint was dry in the tombs of the rich and powerful, robbers would break in and grab what wealth they could. Even the tomb of King Tut was a target. Experts believe looters got in twice, stuffed their pockets, and left jewelry strewn along the exit passage as they fled from guards.

What's different today is the scale—selling antiquities is a global business, and it's booming.

To help warn dealers and collectors away from the Mallawi loot, Egyptologists are turning to social media to publicize the objects as quickly as possible. A group on Facebook called Egypt's Heritage Task Force is leading the effort. Their page includes a growing collection of artifact photos sent in by people who visited the museum in recent years. As of this morning it showed almost 900 images.

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials have catalogued what has been lost and sent the list to UNESCO for publication in Arabic and English on its website. They are now salvaging what they can from the ruined galleries and encouraging looters to return priceless treasures that testify to the glory of ancient Egypt and the infinite possibilities of human creativity.

—A.R. Williams

Published August 23, 2013

Sheila D (194)
Friday August 23, 2013, 3:32 pm
Must have been a pretty big group of looters to have stolen as much as they did...and how did they move all that...vehicles...Notd with thanks and a feeling of been there, seen that.

Freya H (357)
Friday August 23, 2013, 4:19 pm
Sad, sad, sad! How can people show no respect to our collective history - especially their own nation's magnificent ancient history? What savages!

Elizabeth M (65)
Friday August 23, 2013, 5:17 pm
How tragic to loose parts of their history to looters. I cannot understand the mentality of anyone who would want to destroy artifacts of their own ancient culture. The photos almost made me feel that I was there viewing this destruction.
Thank You Carrie.

Carrie B (306)
Friday August 23, 2013, 5:23 pm
This breaks my heart. I can not imagine the mentality of those who would destroy such history and beauty.

Linda Moore (240)
Friday August 23, 2013, 5:40 pm
Sweetie, they are A-HOLES!!! Period. Greedy, EFFING A-Holes!!!

Birgit W (160)
Friday August 23, 2013, 6:20 pm
Very sad news. Thanks Carrie. Hate destroyes everything.

Laurie H (817)
Friday August 23, 2013, 6:52 pm
This is very sad indeed, Carrie. I too cannot fathom destroying for no reason!!! WHY??? Thanks so much for sharing, Carrie~

Past Member (0)
Friday August 23, 2013, 6:59 pm

Suzanne L (99)
Friday August 23, 2013, 8:29 pm
Thanks for posting Carrie. It's a tragedy. Whenever there is that level of social unrest or chaos from a natural disaster some people will try to take advantage to make a profit. I hope they are able to recover many items intact. It's a good thing that some of Egypt's archaeological treasures are on tour out of Egypt.

Robert Hardy (68)
Friday August 23, 2013, 9:41 pm
It is so hard not to grow tired of such excessive behavior. I will leave this one to karma.

Past Member (0)
Friday August 23, 2013, 10:44 pm
That is terrible. Egypt has an amazing archaeological past. Why destroy the most beautiful and precious thing you have on your doorstep? Egyptians should be proud of their past and do all they can to preserve such artifacts
Sadly this behaviour adds weight to the argument that anything of value is safer in western museums..

Past Member (0)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 4:36 am
Thats sad Its their heritage Hope they can recover some of it

S S (0)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 5:56 am
Thank you.

. (0)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 6:54 am
That's terrible! What a sad situation.

Arlene Mary Baladi (40)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 7:58 am
It is a sad situation in the Middle East right now...guess this proves that Egypt is not the center of the Arab world. Peace, Light and Love

. (0)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 11:38 am
An element of the population has reached a new low.

Rehana V (0)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 12:55 pm
What a shame. Criminal elements always on standby! Hope they recover the items.

Shaheen N (64)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 1:39 pm
Sadly noted, a loss of heritage

Muriel Servaege (53)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 2:09 pm
Thank you, Carrie. I must admit I'm not surprised: remember what happened in Iraq!

M B (62)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 2:14 pm
This is tragic. I wonder if the situation elswhere was as bad, it would happen there, too.

Joanne Dixon (38)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 3:22 pm
Egypt has been getting robbed of ots own heritage since the grave robbers started, which was not long after the tombs were sealed in the first place. For much of the last couple of centries the looting has been by the "West." We finally became reasonable enough to try to assure Egyptian treasures stayed in Egypt, and now this. So, so sad. And monka, I do think it could happen anywhere unless there were no cultural treasures in a country.

Lynne Buckley (0)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 3:46 pm
Very sad.

Stan B (123)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 6:16 pm
Barbarians!! They did the same thing in Iraq amidst all the chaos.

Past Member (0)
Saturday August 24, 2013, 10:59 pm
Just a shame. People today have no ethics-morals and respect, Worthless S-heads. Thanks Carrie

Past Member (0)
Sunday August 25, 2013, 4:27 am
Sadly noted.

Roger G (154)
Sunday August 25, 2013, 1:36 pm
noted, thanks

Deborah W (6)
Monday August 26, 2013, 9:20 am
The scum of the earth always surfaces in times of trouble ... how else could they survive if there wasn't always another "opportunity" to visit?

Maria Papastamatiou (4)
Tuesday August 27, 2013, 10:32 am
so sad.

Kathryn Niell (112)
Tuesday August 27, 2013, 5:57 pm
So tremendously sad. What a terrible waste of the world's cultural heritage. I am deeply outraged at this news.
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