Scroll down for updates. MASSIVE LOOTING OF ANTIQUITIES.
Dear Readers. My husband, Horemheb, and I had been talking about going on a tour of Egypt led by my favorite Egyptologist, Bob Brier. Due to a complex array of issues, we chose not to go. I was a bit disappointed, but trusted that when God wanted me in Egypt, then I would get there. Truly, the Hand of God was on my family — we would have left yesterday, as the civil disorder erupted in that country.
Today, I received this report from the internet community in which I am active: Egyptologists’ Electronic Forum. Here is a report about the damage occurring to Egypt’s museums and irreplaceable historical treasures:
Looters broke into the Egyptian Museum during anti-government protests late on Friday and destroyed two Pharaonic mummies, Egypt’s top archaeologist told state television.
The museum in central Cairo, which has the world’s biggest collection of Pharaonic antiquities, is adjacent to the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party that protesters had earlier set ablaze. Flames were seen still pouring out of the party headquarters early on Saturday.
“I felt deeply sorry today when I came this morning to the Egyptian Museum and found that some had tried to raid the museum by force last night,” Zahi Hawass, chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said on Saturday.
“Egyptian citizens tried to prevent them and were joined by the tourism police, but some (looters) managed to enter from above and they destroyed two of the mummies,” he said.
Frankly, one of my deepest concerns is that the Muslim Brotherhood’s goons get in power. Remember the Afghan Buddha? Impose that image on the Great Sphinx — fundamentalist Islamists have little respect for images of idols or living things.
UPDATE 1: It seems tourist sites are being shut.
“(..) 1229 The Egyptian military has closed tourist access to the pyramids, AP reports. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers have
sealed off the site on the Giza plateau, which is normally packed with tourists.(..)
1221 Rahim Hamada called the BBC from Cairo: “Civilians are surrounding the museum of Cairo in [Tahrir] Square and protecting
it from looting. All the police have left the square, I think, to try and create disorder, but the civilians are taking control and organising
UPDATE 2: The Egyptian Army is now guarding the Cairo Museum:
“The Egyptian army secured Cairo’s famed antiquities museum early Saturday, protecting thousands of priceless artifacts, including
the gold mask of King Tutankhamun, from looters. The greatest threat to the Egyptian Museum, which draws millions of
tourists a year, first appeared to come from the fire engulfing the ruling party headquarters next door on Friday night, set ablaze by
Then dozens of would-be thieves started entering the grounds surrounding the museum, climbing over the metal fence or jumping inside from trees lining the sidewalk outside. One man pleaded with people outside the museum’s gates on Tahrir Square not to loot the building, shouting at the crowd: “We are not like Baghdad.”
After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, thieves carted off thousands of artifacts from the National Museum in Baghdad – only a
fraction of which have been recovered. Suddenly other young men – some armed with truncheons taken from the police – formed a human chain outside the main entrance in an attempt to protect the collection inside.
“I’m standing here to defend and to protect our national treasure,” said one of the men, Farid Saad, a 40-year-old engineer.
Another man, 26-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim, said it was important to guard the museum because it “has 5,000 years of our history. If they steal it, we’ll never find it again.”
Finally, four armored vehicles took up posts outside the massive coral-colored building in downtown Cairo. Soldiers surrounded the
building and moved inside to protect mummies, monumental stone statues, ornate royal jewelry and other pharaonic artifacts.
The soldiers appeared to have rounded up all the would-be looters who made it onto the museum grounds and had lined them up in a
row. As the soldiers corralled one man toward the line, crowds outside the fence shouted, “Thief, thief!” A couple the troops then
hit the man with the butts of their rifles and sat him down with the others apparently caught inside. ”
UPDATE 3: I just conferred with the travel agency; Bob Brier’s tour has been rescheduled due to the unrest. A note from one of the representatives: We are following the situation in Egypt very closely and, although we have postponed the February trip, have not set a date as to when the trip will be re-instated. Everything depends upon what happens in Egypt. The safety of our clients is always our highest concern, and the situation in Cairo, in particular, is too unstable to trust that any Far Horizons tour group will be secure.
Far Horizons is an outstanding professional, dynamic, and responsive tour group. More information on all the fabulous tours, focused in archeology, culture and history can be found by clicking HERE.
MUT NOTE: The fact that Egyptian citizens made a human shield around the Cairo Museum gives me good hope that true to what I know about Egypt: Egyptians pride themselves on their ancient roots. This action gives be good hope that Egyptians, who love their country more than any ideology, will ultimately prevail.
Update 4: From an Egyptologist in Egypt — in part, she addresses the non-Cairo antiquities sites (e.g., Valley of the Kings near Thebes):
Fears are that the building of the NDP that was on fire for the whole night would collapse on the museum. I also had phone calls expressing that the Coptic Museum is left without security as well as the areas of Memphite Necropolis which are south of the Pyramids. One can only imagine what is happening at the sites in more remote areas in Lower Egypt. In Upper Egypt, things are still calmer, though Army tanks have reached Luxor.
Earlier, el-Masry al-Youm reported that a museum was on fire in Alexandria, but I’ve not received any further confirmation. I don’t know what can be done, but I highly suggest that people concerned about the Egyptian Antiquities should call their nearest government representatives to urge the Egyptian “authorities” to send more security forces to museums and archaeological sites. It is obvious I am concerned about also family and friends, but as an Egyptologist I am extremely worried about the Egyptian Antiquities.
Urgent Update: The Theban Necropolis is left without any security, the Qurnawis and villagers from al-Boairat are the ones trying to
protect the Valley of the Kings. There are organised thugs attempting to rob and loot the antiquities in the zone.
UPDATE 5: The area around the ancient site of Saqqara, home to the famous step pyramid, has been looted. The following is an EEF posting —
Nile TV just posted that the SCA magazine in Qantarrah, East of the Delta, has been robbed.
From Moustafa Wazery, the head of the West Bank: The West Bank is intact, the local people have protected the
whole area. The Luxor museum is also intact. However, more robbery had occurred in Saqqara.
UPDATE 6: A HillBuzz friend has a similar take: Ancient Egypt Could Be Deleted
UPDATE 7: Photos showing the damage at the Cairo Museum, and one of the images seems to confirm that objects from King Tutankhamen’s tomb were damaged.
UPDATE 8: I often joke about the effervescent Dr. Zahi Hawass, who is usually hamming it up in front of the cameras during the periodic ancient Egypt specials I watch. I think the heartbreaking devastation and grief seen on his face, as he realizes the dimensions of the destruction to rare and irreplaceable antiquities, is one of the most compelling images of the Egyptian crisis I have seen. This tells me the loss to Egyptology is worse than we can possibly imagine.
UPDATE 9: VIDEO LINK TO DR. BOB BRIER TALKING ABOUT THE HARM TO EGYPT’S ANTIQUITIES.
Hat-tip: My friends at FAR HORIZONS TOURS.
UPDATE 10: Dr. Zahi Hawass puts out his first statement, which shows I read his face correctly: My heart is broken and my blood is boiling. I feel that everything I have done in the last nine years has been destroyed in one day, but all the inspectors, young archaeologists, and administrators, are calling me from sites and museums all over Egypt to tell me that they will give their life to protect our antiquities.
As every one knows, the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, is naturally lit and due to the architectural style of it, there are glass windows on its roof. The criminals broke the glass windows and used ropes to get inside, there is a distance of four metres from the ceiling to the ground of the museum. The ten people broke in when I was at home and, although I desperately wanted to go to the museum, I could not leave my house due to the curfew. In the morning, as soon as I woke up, I went directly there. When I arrived, I found out that, the night before, three tourist police officers had stayed there overnight because they were not able to get out before the curfew was put in place. These officers, and many young Egyptians who were also there, helped to stop more people from entering the museum. Thankfully, at 10.00pm on Friday night, the army arrived at the museum and gave additional security assistance.
I found out that one criminal was still at the museum, too. When he had asked the people guarding the museum for water, they took his hands and tied him to the door that lead to the gift shop so that he could not escape! Luckily, the criminals who stole the jewellery from the gift shop did not know where the jewellery inside the museum is kept. They went into the Late Period gallery but, when they found no gold, they broke thirteen vitrines and threw the antiquities on the floor. Then the criminals went to the King Tutankhamun galleries. Thank God they opened only one case! The criminals found a statue of the king on a panther, broke it, and threw it on the floor. I am very thankful that all of the antiquities that were damaged in the museum can be restored, and the tourist police caught all of the criminals that broke into it. On Saturday, the army secured the museum again and guarded it from all sides. I left the museum at 3.00pm on Saturday, 29, 2011.
UPDATE 11: It seems that the 2 mummies that were destroyed — and beheaded — were two of the most famous mummies in all of Egypt: Those of King Tutankhamen’s grandparents, Yuya and Tjuya.
The mummies of King Tutankhamun’s great-grandparents might have had their heads ripped off as a result of the recent turmoil in Egypt, according to reports beginning to circulate on the Internet.
Dramatic Al Jazeera footage suggests that the two mummies vandalized at the Egyptian museum might be those of Yuya and Tjuya, which recent DNA tests identified as King Tut’s great-grandparents. Indeed, the gilded, open-work cartonnage case shown on Al Jazeera belongs to Tjuya, according to Margaret Maitland, a D.Phil. candidate in Egyptology at the University of Oxford.
“The case was placed directly on Tjuya’s body, so it is doubtful that it could have been removed without damaging her mummy. This suggests that the two mummies mentioned by Dr. Zahi Hawass as being beheaded and severely damaged may be those of Yuya and Tjuya. They are important historical figures, as well as two of the best preserved mummies from ancient Egypt, so it would indeed be tragic if this is true,” Maitland writes in her blog (CLICK HERE FOR MORE PHOTOS and ANALYSIS).
The Al Jazeera footage also shows that wooden statues from the tomb of King Tutankhamun have been smashed. Much destruction appears to have been dealt a wooden boat that Maitland identified as coming from the tomb of Meseti at Asyut. “It’s one of the largest model boats in existence and it dates to approximately 2000 B.C., so over it’s 4,000 years old. Very sad,” said Maitland. “
Across Egypt reports are beginning to come in that reveal widespread looting of museums and antiquities, not just in the capital Cairo, sources on the ground told Bikya Masr in a statement.
According to antiquities official Mohamed Megahed, “immense damages to Abusir and Saqqara” were reported. Looters allegedly have gone into tombs that had been sealed and destroyed much of the tombs and took artifacts.
“Only the Imhotep Museum and adjacent central areas were protected by the military. In Abusir, all tombs were opened; large gangs digging day and night,” he said.
According to Megahed, storage facilities in South Saqqara, just south of Cairo has also been looted. He did mention it was hard to ascertain what, and how much, was taken.
He said Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) officials “are only today [Sunday] able to check on the museums storage, but early reports suggest major looting.”
He called on the international archaeology community to issue a “high alert” statement on Old Kingdom remains and Egyptian antiquities in general, “and please spread the word to law enforcement officials worldwide.”
UPDATE 14. Coordinating an action plan to save Egyptian antiquitiess:
On Facebook, I have created a group named “Protect Egyptian Cultural Heritage”, where I ask all the members to contact their ministries of Foreign Affairs and/or Science, and UNESCO and ask them to insist with the Egyptian government that they do much more to protect their cultural heritage. I have taken the liberty to post
some of the information shared via EEF on that group’s page to point out the severity of the situation.
If you are on Facebook and you are interested in joining this group and use it to “spread the word”, here is the link:
It is an open group, so anyone can ask to become a member.
If you are not on Facebook or you have no desire in joining this group, you can find the contact info for UNESCO here:
UPDATE 15: TEMPLE OF MUT ABANDONED BY RESEARCH TEAM!
This morning Dr. Gerry Scott gave an update from Cairo on how the crisis is affecting Egypt’s antiquities, sharing what new information he had. Dr. Scott is director of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), an organization that supports nearly two dozen projects throughout the country and aims to help conserve Egypt’s antiquities. Its work has attracted numerous grants including funding from USAID.
Scott is in Cairo and has been telephoning project directors and archaeologists – collecting information and helping those who want to leave the country get out. His efforts have been hindered by the government’s decision to shut down internet access and cell phone service. Also, with the turmoil outside, he has been forced to work from his apartment. He said that a number of archaeology teams are choosing to leave, including those at the Dakhleh Oasis and at the Temple of Mut in Luxor.
Bad news from Scott includes the fact that there is antiquities damage at the Giza Pyramids.
UPDATE 16. The Egyptian Revolt and Islamic Imperialism. A friend of the site provided a link to an excellent American Thinker piece that fleshes out the more recent history of the region. Some of the great points:
From the Ottomans:
The corrupt Ottoman caliphate in Istanbul was the target for the first Arab revolt (1916-19). The goal of Sherif Hussein bin Ali was a unified Arab nation stretching from the Levant through the Arabian Peninsula. Bin Ali’s revolt against the Turks was successful with the help of the British — and then undermined by colonials with a different agenda. London had little sympathy for Arab nationalism; the English enemy in WWI was the German/Turkish axis.
The loss of Egypt to Islamic theocrats will be more consequential than the loss of Iran. Elections are just another arrow in the fundamentalist quiver. Unfortunately, too many naïve observers in the West confuse voting with democracy.