What comes next?

UPDATE 2nd March 1am: Dr. Zahi Hawass says he’s considering resigning, confirms looting of two warehouses near the pyramids at Giza and at Abydos

It is now two weeks since it was announced that a number of objects were missing from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and a month has passed since the actual break in when the objects taken. However, even though an official list of missing items was released, because of a lack of photos, inventory numbers, or detailed information, we still don’t actually know precisely what’s missing. It is possible that this information could be valuable in stopping the objects from leaving the country or being sold.

Since the break in, museum staff have been working very hard under difficult circumstances trying to assess the situation, repair broken objects, and search for those that are still missing and I certainly applaud and appreciate their efforts. The museum has now reopened and many of the objects that were damaged are back on display. Dr. Hawass has stated that even the terribly damaged wooden statue of Tutankhamun on a panther has been restored, and press videos show that the Mesehti models from Asyut and the cartonnage of Tujya have also been repaired and are back in their cases. Several of the missing objects have been miraculously recovered, including the Akhenaten masterpiece.

I hope that soon there may be time to release more detailed information and photos of the objects that are missing. As of yet, the statue of Nefertiti that was stolen has still not been identified and we are not sure which Amarna princess head is missing. I have been checking a number of publications for information about these pieces and have still found nothing. The majority of the Amarna princess heads are made of quartzite rather than sandstone, as listed on the inventory of missing items. It doesn’t help though that Borchardt, the probable excavator of the piece, identifies many of the heads as sandstone, though they are now acknowledged to be quartzite. I haven’t been able to find a copy of the original publication that *may* contain this statue in either Oxford or London, so if anyone has access to Ludwig Borchardt’s Ausgrabungen in Tell el Amarna 1912/13 in Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 52, 1913, it would be great if you could check it out!

I understand that the assessment of the collection at the museum is still ongoing and there are also many positive results of recent days to focus on, but if there is a chance that information and photographs of the missing objects could help their recovery, I hope that they can be made available in the near future.

Dr. Hawass’ latest statement says:

The museum’s collections management and documentation team continues to work with the curators to complete their inventory, so that we can finalize the list of missing objects and concentrate on getting everything back as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, there are people saying things that are untrue, and trying to make trouble, and sometimes the media likes to repeat these stories, because they think this will interest the general public. I prefer to ignore these people, and focus on our work. There is much to do to protect our monuments, and this is now, as it has always been, my first priority.

There has been a lot of varied discussion recently about how to assess the antiquities situation in Egypt and what measures might be taken recover and prevent the trade of looted items. With a number of items still missing and sporadic looting attempts continuing, it is certainly worth discussing these issues to consider potential courses of action and ways in which people might help. An article by Dr. Declan Butler in the journal Nature addressed some of these questions.

He noted that Hague Convention outlines measures that could be taken in future to guard against and better assess any threats to sites and museums, while an international assessment mission, like the one carried out in Iraq, has been a suggestion:

The massive destruction of cultural heritage during the Second World War prompted the adoption of the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict in 1954 at The Hague in the Netherlands. Signatories to the Convention pledge to take measures such as creating maps and inventories of cultural heritage, and to set up military units with expertise in archaeology and the protection of key sites and artefacts. In principle, governments and armies should draw up heritage-protection plans during peacetime, which can be activated once a conflict starts…

Rühli hopes that Egypt will call on external experts to form an international mission to assess the damage, and decide what restoration is needed. Such a mission could also assess the security at sites, and how this might be improved. Jan Hladík, a specialist in cultural heritage at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), notes there was a similar UNESCO mission during the Iraq War, in 2003. Researchers have also called on law-enforcement agencies and art dealers around the world to look out for stolen Egyptian antiquities.

Rick St. Hilaire, a cultural heritage lawyer, has discussed the possibility of implementing legislation in the United States to protect against objects being imported, enacting an Emergency Protection for Egyptian Cultural Antiquities Act. He also offers practical advice on who to contact for anyone who encounters a potentially looted object or has suspicions. I would be very interested to learn more about possible legislative avenues outside the US as well. There has been some defensive backlash against such legislation from collectors in America, who have accused archaeologists of using the looting in Egypt to try to strengthen restrictions on the import of Egyptian artefacts ‘far and beyond the scope of authority vested under U.S. law’, however this response seems rather reactionary and self-interested.

St. Hilaire has also commented on the need for better information in any efforts to protect Egyptian heritage:

The welfare of the Egyptian people are to be considered first while we continue to monitor cultural property issues. One issue that requires attention is obtaining reliable information. The lack of credible information regarding the theft or looting of cultural objects in Egypt requires resolution, especially since many cultural organizations have called on law enforcement to remain alert. Authorities at the US border cannot be expected to be on heightened alert when there is conflicting information about the extent of looting at archaeological sites or thefts from museums. Egyptians involved with cultural heritage, aided by journalists on the ground, should investigate the extent of damage to cultural heritage in Egypt. Only then can American authorities provide appropriate assistance.

The most effective way of protecting against trade and looting of antiquities is on the ground, through assessment and heightened security. The employees of the new Ministry of Antiquities and the Egyptian people have made an enormous effort to this effect, and the world owes them a debt of gratitude. Again, Egypt has already managed to recover a number of items that were taken from various sites, but presumably assessments are still taking place of what is gone and what damage has been done. Hopefully if any of the archaeologists who work at the sites in question can be of any assistance they will be included in the process.

A recent report on the situation was made by the Blue Shield, and Lee Rosenbaum has posted addressing it and the potential need for further assessment of the antiquities situation there. The Blue Shield report concludes by stating:
It is important to plan further missions in Egypt in the near future, since only a very small portion of areas where damage was reported could be surveilled. It is strongly suggested by the mission that a conference in Egypt should be planned in the near future to analyze the security situation at archaeological sites, on how to deal with emergency situations and how to create contingency plans using the Egyptian example.

Dr. Robert Bianchi, on the Restore + Save group, made the suggestion that a policy allowing photography at museums and sites in Egypt might have helped better assess the looting at the museum and elsewhere. He urges that the policy be revisited. He also suggests that the Egyptian media be given a more active role in issuing antiquities announcements:

If the revolution will truly be bringing a return of power to the people of Egypt then perhaps one of the issues to address is the role of the media. The Egyptian media should be given the exclusive right to be the voice of the antiquities service (in whatever form it will eventually become) rather than hand-picking selected non-Egyptian media outlets for such announcements.

There are a lot of potential avenues that could be taken to try to protect sites and objects both now and in the future, and hopefully Egypt, other governments and international organisations, and Egyptologists can also contribute to this dialogue and future course of action. If you have suggestions, please add your contribution to the comments below!

In other news, a recent statement by Dr. Hawass addressed the subject of protests outside the Ministry of Antiquities, stating that a number of the protestors had apologised and brought flowers and planned job creation would open up 900 new positions in the ministry.

It is worth noting that the UK travel advisory for Egypt has now been lifted, all museums and sites have re-opened, and efforts are being made to encourage visitors and welcome tourists:

Ahram Online reports that security guards and archaeologists managed to thwart an attempt by a gang of thieves to break up and steal a colossal red granite statue of Ramses II from a quarry in Aswan.

There have also been reports from the US Copts association (via Kate) and on the Facebook Restore + Save group of Coptic monasteries being attacked by the army.

4th century St. Bishoys in the Wadi Natrun
4th century St. Bishoy's in the Wadi Natrun

In more positive news, there has been a proposal that the burned out National Democrative Party headquarters beside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo be turned into a public garden. It has previously been cited as a potential risk to the museum because of the structural damage it has suffered.

UPDATE 2nd March 1am:

In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities said ‘that his department was unable to protect Egypt’s historic sites and artifacts and that he was considering resigning. In a telephone interview he said that thieves on Monday broke into two warehouses near the pyramids of Giza that held artifacts excavated in the early 20th century. It was not yet clear what had been taken’. He also stated that ‘people had also been caught excavating at night at Abydos, an important archaeological site north of Luxor’.

For further accounts of the break ins at Giza, see the following articles at Al Masry Al Youm and Bloomberg.com.

Also, in an interview with the Prague Post, Miroslav Barta discusses the possible break in at the Czech storehouse at Abusir.

Statues of Tutankhamun, Akhenaten, & Nefertiti stolen from the Egyptian Museum, Cairo

UPDATE: 14th Feb, 4pm: Yuya’s heart scarab & shabti found on museum grounds; at least 8 amulets stolen from Dashur; Egyptian antiquities workers protesting
UPDATE: 15th Feb, 11:20pm: Zahi Hawass says they have found part of the statue of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess; a statement from UNESCO; other updates from Dr. Hawass & the Egyptian Museum
UPDATE: 17th Feb, 11:40am: the statue of Akhenaten has been found in Tahrir Square rubbish; a statement from Zahi Hawass clarifying earlier statements
UPDATE: 17th Feb, 1pm: SCA Press Release states false doors stolen from tombs in Saqqara & Abusir and magazines broken into, but other looting attempts thwarted
UPDATE: 18th Feb, 10:45am: Blue Shield report says Memphis Museum not looted, confirms a number of tombs safe; latest update from Dr. Hawass shows Akhenaten statue being returned; videos from inside the Egyptian museum

The nation of Egypt has now embarked on a brave new beginning, achieved through passionate but peaceful demonstrations by people throughout the country. However, amidst scenes of celebration in Tahrir Square, sad news has emerged from the museum that is situated there. The Minister of Antiquities Dr. Zahi Hawass has now released the news that there have indeed been a number of objects stolen from the museum and that De Morgan’s magazine at Dashur has also been looted.

So far, this is the list of stolen objects that has been released (I will add to the photographic record as I am able to):

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

It is extremely sad, as these are extraordinary works of art of great historical significance. These particular objects all relate to a particular period of Egyptian history, roughly 1390-1322 BCE, that has particularly resonated with people over the past century. The tomb of Yuya and Thuja was one of the first great discoveries of an almost intact burial, echoed again by the even greater discovery of the tomb of their great-grandson Tutankhamun. Both significantly advanced our understanding of ancient Egypt. Akhenaten’s religious, political, and artistic revolution changed Egypt forever and continues to fascinate and inspire today.

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.

1. Gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess, photo by Paul Lombardo
1. Gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess, photo by Paul Lombardo
2.     Gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun harpooning. Only the torso and upper limbs of the king are missing, photo by Frank Rytell
2. Gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun harpooning. Only the torso and upper limbs of the king are missing, photo by Frank Rytell
3.     Limestone statue of Akhenaten holding an offering table, Cairo JE 43580, height 35cm, photo by tutincommon
3. Limestone statue of Akhenaten holding an offering table, photo by tutincommon

4. Statue of Nefertiti making offerings, not identified yet

5. Sandstone head of an Amarna princess (potentially one of those pictured), photo by Glenister 1936
5. Sandstone head of an Amarna princess (potentially one of those pictured here), photo by Glenister 1936

Many of the Amarna princess heads are carved in quartzite. There is at least one in red sandstone though, Cairo JE 44871. There is supposedly a photo of it in Borchardt, Ludwig, Ausgrabungen in Tell el Amarna 1912/13, in: Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 52, 1913, pl. 21. I don’t have library access today, but will get look it up tomorrow, unless anyone else can get a hold of it.

6. Stone statuette of a scribe from Amarna (a possible candidate, a statuette of a scribe and the god Thoth
6. Stone statuette of a scribe from Amarna (a possible candidate, a statuette of a scribe and Thoth, 14cm tall
7. Wooden shabti statuettes from Yuya (11 pieces), photo by sergiothirteen
7. Wooden shabti statuettes from Yuya (11 pieces), photo by sergiothirteen

The original publications of the objects from the tomb of Yuya and Tujya seem a bit unclear about Yuya’s heart scarab. A number of scarabs have the name of Tujya inscribed on them and none seem to be mentioned with Yuya’s name. An unattributed scarab from the tomb, Cairo CG 51165, is described in James Quibell’s The Tomb of Yuaa and Thuiu, Catalogue Général du Musée du Caire 51001-51191 (Cairo: IFAO, 1908). The scarab is described thus on page 61 and a photograph is provided, reproduced below, on plate 49:
“51165. Scarab. Green feldspar. Length 0m 114mill. (pl. XLIX).
Scarab of green stone decorated with gold; the base plate is longer than the scarab itself and is carved to represent a heart. The end was pierced for suspension and is broken. There is a second hole through the middle of the plate. On the base is an incised inscription of thirteen lines containing the Heart Chapter (xxxb).
BIBL. : Th. Davis, Tomb of Iouiya, p. 33, pl. XLIII.”

8. Heart Scarab of Yuya(?), photo from Quibell, The Tomb of Yuaa and Thuiu, 1908, pl. 49.
8. Heart Scarab of Yuya(?), photo from Quibell, The Tomb of Yuaa and Thuiu, 1908, pl. 49.

The entry for this scarab is linked in the bibliography to what seems to be a completely different scarab in Theodore Davis’ The Tomb of Iouiya and Touiyou (London, 1907), a scarab is depicted in the painting reproduced here in plate 43 and described on page 33 as: “Scarab-amulet in green beryl with head chipped, and inscribed with the chapter of the Heart from the Book of the Head. It bears the name of Touiyou.”

8. Heart Scarab of Yuya, photo from Davis, 'Tomb of louiya', pl. XLIII
Heart Scarab of Tujya, photo from Davis, 'Tomb of louiya', pl. XLIII

The first scarab seems the much more likely candidate, but I’m still not sure, and I hope that we can clarify this soon. If anyone has suggestions or comments about the identification of these objects, please comment below or email me!

It is still not known what was taken from Dashur. There was previously a report from Nicole Kehrer of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin saying their storage facility was broken into and looted and it sounds like the De Morgan magazine may be different from this.

It is odd that the Akhenaten sculpture was initially announced as being damaged and the Tutankhamun harpooning statue was only briefly mentioned, but both are now known to be stolen. Is it just a coincidence that all of the objects announced as stolen are very famous? Were no other less well-known objects taken? It is possible that there may be more sad news in days to come.

UPDATE: 14th Feb, 4pm:

In a strange but welcome turn of events, Dr. Zahi Hawass announced that Yuya’s heart scarab and one of the shabtis has been found in the grounds of the museum, just a day after the announcement of the theft, which occurred over two weeks ago. The report also states that Dahshur was looted for the second time on Sunday.

It was also announced in Ahram Online that an inventory of the recently looted Dashur magazine revealed eight amulets had been stolen. It is not clear whether the inventory is complete or whether this is the full extent of the theft, but that seems doubtful, especially since it has now been targeted twice.

It is also worth noting that there have been various accounts on Twitter, including photos, of protests going on outside the Cairo offices of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and a new army presence there.

UPDATE: 15th Feb, 11:20pm:

In an interview on CNN, Zahi Hawass stated that in addition to finding Yuya’s heart scarab and one shabti in the grounds of the museum, the goddess section of the statue of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess has also now been found. However, the figure of Tutankhamun remains missing. The video doesn’t allow embedding, so please click here to view.

UNESCO has released a statement from their Director-General Irina Bokova calling for increased vigilance from national and international authorities, art dealers and collectors following the reports of thefts from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and other sites throughout the country.

CBS also featured an interview with Dr. Hawass downplaying the thefts from the museum:

According to Nigel J. Hetherington on the Facebook group Restore + Save the Egyptian Museum, Dr. Hawass made this statement in response to the recent protests at the headquarters of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo:

In light of recent events, I have been meeting with the heads of the sectors of the Ministry of Antiquities with a view to addressing and solving the issues raised by those who have voiced concern outside our building in Zamalek. We want to work with these young people to satisfy their demands, and work out the best way to do so. An announcement will be made on Wednesday concerning this.

Yasmin El Shazly, who works at the Egyptian Museum, posted this statement to the Restore + Save Facebook group, asking for patience with the museum and their ongoing work:

As someone who works for the Egyptian Museum, I have been resisting the urge to respond to all your concerns, since we are still in the process of assessing the damage that happened. All I can say is that you have to understand that we just had a revolution. Most staff members had very limited access to the museum until very recently, since the museum was under the responsibility of the army. It is a very difficult time for all of us, and you cannot imagine the amount of stress we are under. Dr. Zahi was appointed minister in a very critical time. We ask for your patience and cooperation and I assure you that Dr. Zahi Hawass and Dr. Tarek El Awady will provide all the information you want in due time.

UPDATE: 17th Feb, 11:40am:

The New York Times (via Kate) has two articles reporting that the beautiful limestone statue of Akhentaten holding an offering table was found in the rubbish near Tahrir Square by a boy whose uncle was a professor at the University of Cairo. The condition of the statue is not mentioned, but it is a huge relief that it has been found, especially when it could quite easily have been lost amongst the discarded rubbish. Dr. Hawass says: “We are going to look inside all the garbage that they collected from Tahrir Square to find the rest of the objects.”

Dr. Zahi Hawass also released a statement yesterday clarifying the current situation and earlier statements made on his blog. There are also photos of the Tutankhamun panther statue in its damaged state and after its restoration had begun.

UPDATE: 17th Feb, 1pm:

According to Ahram Online, “Sabry Abdel Aziz, head of the Pharaonic Sector of the Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs, reported on Thursday that the tomb of Hetep-Ka, in Saqqara, was broken into, and the false door was stolen along with objects stored in the tomb. In Abusir, a portion of the false door was stolen from the tomb of Re-Hotep. In addition, many magazines also suffered break-ins: magazines in Saqqara, including the one near the pyramid of Teti, and the magazine of Cairo University all had their seals broken. In an attempt to compile full reports of what is missing, a committee to determine what, if anything, is missing from these magazines has been established”. Further looting was prevented in Tell el Basta and a tomb in Lisht, but “there have also been many reports of violations of archaeological sites in the form of the illegal building of houses and digging.”

According to Rossella Lorenzi, a journalist for the Discovery Channel, the SCA press release also stated that all “Pharaonic, Coptic, Islamic, and modern sites would reopen to the public on Sunday, 20 February 2011.”

Here is an image of the false door of Rahotep from Abusir, from which a section has been stolen, illustration from Miroslav Barta’s article ‘The Title Inspector of the Palace during the Egyptian Old Kingdom’ in Archiv Orientalni 67 (1999), 1-20:

rahotep abusir false door

UPDATE: 18th Feb, 10:45am:

Kate at KV64 has posted a Blue Shield report from a number of the sites that had been reported as looted and the news seems fairly positive. I have not had a chance yet to review the report fully or their collection of site photos and would welcome anyone who wants to comment on them. Kate says:

In summary the museum at Memphis has not been looted as previously reported. As suspected, there was widespread digging at Abusir but it was shallow and is not believed to have disturbed the archaeology. The news from Dashur and Saqqara is less good and there has been forced entry into tombs and looting of magazines. The very good news is that tombs and reliefs show no sign of damage, although today’s report from the SCA show that some items stored within tombs were taken. It wasn’t possible to enter every tomb: this was a flying visit and some tombs are bricked up for their protection. As I have said before, over the next few months these will need checking. Nonetheless that tombs which were inspected were undamaged is highly encouraging. That includes the unique Pyramid Texts in the Unas Pyramid which very surprisingly wasn’t even entered by the looters.

Zahi Hawass’ latest blog update shows the Akhenaten statue being returned relatively undamaged, the offering tray having been broken off but found within the museum.

Statue of Akhenaten after its return to the Egyptian Museum, photo by Ahmed Amin)
Statue of Akhenaten after its return to the Egyptian Museum, photo by Ahmed Amin)

Dr. Hawass also confirms the Ministry of Antiquities statements about looting: “At Saqqara, the tomb of Hetepka was broken into, and the false door may have been stolen along with objects stored in the tomb. I have arranged for a committee to visit the tomb this coming Saturday to compare the alleged damage with earlier expedition photos. In Abusir, a portion of the false door was stolen from the tomb of Rahotep. In addition, break-ins have been confirmed at a number of storage magazines: these include ones in Saqqara, including one near the pyramid of Teti, and the magazine of Cairo University. I have created a committee to prepare reports to determine what, if anything, is missing from these magazines.”

A video from the French press agency AFP shows the Mesehti model boat and Nubian soldiers (at the 1:32 mark) and the cartonnage of Tujya (at mark 1:44) have been restored and are already back on display.

Other videos put online after journalists were given a tour of the museum include a BBC video report from inside the museum and a Russian news video showing footage from the museum.

History is in the making, but can we piece it back together again?

UPDATE 5th Feb 3pm: Dr. Salima Ikram states damaged mummies were Late Period fragmentary mummies used to test the CT machine
UPDATE 5th Feb 8:30pm: Dr. Hawass says Saqqara, the Memphis Museum, and all of Egypt’s sites are safe; a National Geographic reporter gives a report direct from Saqqara
UPDATE 6th Feb 1pm: Dr. Ikram confirms more sites as safe; a guide to US seizure laws & Border & Customs protection; Dr. Hawass interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show
UPDATE 6th Feb 8:50pm: an eye-witness report of Saqqara looting from Prof. Philippe Collombert; damaged objects from the museum to be repaired & on display in 5 days
UPDATE 6th Feb 10:20pm: Dr. Hawass’ latest statement, an Amarna statue slightly damaged
UPDATE 7th Feb 10:30am: National Geographic article says only 20-25 objects damaged at museum, including the statue of Tut on a small boat
UPDATE 7th Feb 12pm: a report from an inspector at Saqqara has been posted by the Dutch team
UPDATE 7th Feb 5pm: Dr. Hawass’ latest statement on restoration work at the museum
UPDATE 8th Feb 12pm: WSJ article from the Egyptian Museum; photo of smashed coffin; interview with the museum’s wood conservator
UPDATE 8th Feb 3pm: an emotional interview with the director of the Dutch mission at Saqqara; another update from Dr. Hawass
UPDATE 11th Feb 12:30am: more contradictory reports of looting or lack thereof; more stolen Qantara objects recovered; lots of photos & footage of restoration work in the Egyptian Museum
For the latest updates, check the new blog post

It is hard to believe that only a week has passed since I initially wrote my last post in response to the images of damage at the Egyptian Museum. Over that period of time, many of us who blog about ancient Egypt have been caught up in the panic of trying to assess the antiquities situation despite the difficulties of communication. But it hasn’t been worrying over the antiquities that has kept me up at night. The scenes in Tahrir Square and the streets of Alexandria have never left my mind. On the Berkeley Blog, Rosemary Joyce urges us to keep everything in perspective. I have always loved my time spent in Egypt, visiting the monuments, working on sites, and living with local families on farms and in small villages and getting to know the people, from antiquities inspectors to local shopkeepers. Somehow though, I never quite realised just how much I love the country and the people until these past few days.

No one who has worked in Egypt is surprised by the brave actions of the ordinary Egyptians and SCA officials who have stood guard over their heritage, but their actions are still powerfully inspiring and give great hope to all who have been concerned over the future of Egypt’s past. Finally stories are emerging from Egyptians themselves and they should be celebrated. Ramadan B. Hussein, who works for the Supreme Council of Antiquities, posted his take on the museum break in and the efforts of locals around the country on Facebook (reproduced below). A moving story of locals in Luxor protecting Karnak temple was posted on the Looting Database and conveys their passion. A post from Francesco Tiradritti from the Italian Mission to Luxor also gives an account of the locals protecting Karnak. Also, the youth of Alexandria banded together to protect the great library there. It is terrifying to imagine what the worst case scenario could have been, but it is because of the people of Egypt that it did not come to pass, indeed, could probably never happen because of the love and pride that so many people there feel for their heritage.

But can we now piece history back together again? Can the damage truly be undone, and can we ever recover what has been lost? Some people have been commenting, blaming Egypt for allowing this to happen, but we should also remember the damage done by early archaeologists in their often destructive hunt for valuable antiquities. In my current PhD work, I found that a number of the wooden models I’d wanted to study, similar to those of Meseti’s that were damaged in Cairo, no longer exist. They were housed in the museum at Liverpool, and during World War II they were destroyed by the bombing. All I have to work with is a couple of insufficient photos. Other models that were excavated in the 19th century do not have any recorded location and seem to have vanished without a trace. Objects that are lost are not not only lost in terms of something beautiful to look at, but as a source of knowledge for future generations.

People often think that once a tomb’s been discovered or an artefact’s been found and put in a museum, that’s the goal achieved, it’s purpose fulfilled. Someone must have thoroughly recorded and studied it at some point, right? Not necessarily. Especially with sites excavated in the 19th and early 20th century, so many tombs and artefacts were discovered in a short space of time with less than rigorous recording. Many objects in museums have barely been looked at, let alone been part of a focussed study. Even the treasures of Tutankhamun, which I expect people will assume are some of the best known artefacts from Egypt, many of them have not yet been properly published at all.

And even if objects and sites *have* been looked at in a number of detailed studies, focus of investigation can evolve over time and details that were overlooked in the past can become important for new avenues of understanding. What has happened at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is a reminder to all of us to never take for granted what we already have in the glass cases and storage rooms of our museums. These objects are ripe for study and the stories they can tell us have not yet been exhausted. As tantalising as it is to find the next great discovery hidden in the sands of Egypt, we must not ignore what we already lucky to have.

Usually whatever has been guarded by the sand for up to the past 5000 years is fairly safe there, but as well as museums and excavated tombs being targeted, the reports of widespread illicit diggings going on at Saqqara and perhaps to a lesser extent in the Fayum and elsewhere, suggest that Egypt’s undiscovered heritage is threatened as well. I am constantly surprised by how often I get asked by people, ‘is there still anything left to be discovered in Egypt?’. Considering that millions of people lived and died there for over 3000 years, there is still plenty to be found. A town and temple site excavated over almost a decade would probably uncover less than a 10th of what’s actually beneath the ground. Even if the random diggings of uninformed looters fails to uncover the statues and golden treasures they’re looking for, the potential damage could hurt our understanding of the day-to-day use of the site and how it evolved over time.

One of the sources of the problem with looters right now is sadly a legacy of the early days of European treasure hunting in Egypt and the global obsession with ancient Egyptian gold. Many Egyptians in rural areas believe that modern excavation is still an aim to find gold, rather than a desire to better understand the lives of the ancient Egyptians. Today, our knowledge is better served by finding mud brick walls, seal impressions, scrawled notes on broken pottery sherds, and analysing soil samples. More work needs to be done to educate local populations about local history and the current aims of modern Egyptologists. Some excavation projects already do this, for example the British Museum excavation at Kom Firin shared information about their work through leaflets made available in Arabic. More of this should be encouraged.

We are still waiting for more thorough news from across Egypt- there is reason to be concerned about the situation there but also much reason to be hopeful. My thanks go out to the people of Egypt for their protection of the past, as well as my thoughts and prayers for their future.

CIMG4192 Family photo

gad family
Friends in Egypt
Sunrise in Minya
Sunrise in Minya


UPDATE 5th Feb 3pm:

Dr. Sarah Parcak has posted another update from Dr. Salima Ikram on the Facebook group Restore + Save the Egyptian Museum. Dr. Ikram states that the damaged mummies were Late Period fragmentary mummies used to test the CT machine.

new salima

UPDATE 5th Feb 8:30pm:

Dr. Zahi Hawass has issued another statement on his blog, again reassuring everyone that Saqqara is safe, including the tomb of Maia, and that the Memphis Museum was not looted, which is wonderful news. He also confirms what Dr. Ikram said earlier today that the mummies were not royal but fragmentary ones used for CT scans.

There is also an article from a National Geographic reporter who was given a tour around Saqqara to show that everything there is indeed safe. He was shown the entrance to the tomb of Maia, now bricked up for safety, and was assured that the tomb of Maya is also safe.

UPDATE 6th Feb 1pm:

Dr. Salima Ikram has posted on Facebook:
“I know that the Sohag area is secure. Natrun seems to be fine, and the areas w/in or next to the monasteries are well protected. All the Luxor and south area sites are totally fine.”
“Egyptian museum continues to be secure. Curators and directors working inside. Southern sites secure and being defended by inspectors and guards and villagers, for the most part. Tremendous sense of national pride. Army remains at the Memphite necropoleis to continue to secure it. No new reports of looting there since initial reports. The Egyptian people are standing proud.”

To guard against any potential future problems with illegal antiquities smuggling, Rick St. Hilaire, a cultural heritage lawyer, has written a helpful guide to US Seizure Laws and How to Make a Report to Customs and Border Protection. If you’re in the US and come across anything suspicious, just fill out the secure form at https://apps.cbp.gov/eallegations/. You can also make a report by telephone by calling 1-800-BE-ALERT.

The International Archaeological Community has also issued a statement calling for measures to be taken to protect Egypt’s archaeological heritage.

Dr. Zahi Hawass was on the Andrew Marr show on the BBC this morning. If you’re in the UK, you can watch it on iPlayer here at the 30min mark, otherwise a transcript should be posted sometime soon here. A short summary can be found on the BBC’s live updates page.

An article by ‘Archaeology’ correspondent Mike Elkin, says that a member of the French mission at Saqqara has stated: ‘People were saying that my site in south Saqqara was destroyed, but in reality only two tents were damaged’, although other archaeologists there say ‘added that storage facilities were robbed’. Miriam Seco, director of the excavation of the Temple of Thutmose III in Luxor, says “I’ve been in contact with the curators at the Cairo Museum, and many are sleeping there at night. The army is outside, but they are staying there to protect the antiquities. In Luxor, there were warnings on January 29th and 30th about armed looters so all the Egyptian archaeologists, who live on the East Bank, crossed the river to take turns standing guard with sticks and anything else to protect the sites. Thank god there were no such attacks.” Seco said that missions pressing on with work include Chicago House in Medinet Habu, her excavations at Thutmose III’s temple in Luxor, a French team at Karnak, and the Polish team at Deir el Bahri.

UPDATE 6th Feb 8:50pm:

The Tribune de Geneve has an interview with Prof. Philippe Collombert who reports what he saw first-hand of the looters at Saqqara:

«C’est alors que j’ai vu
une chose inouïe se produire: les pilleurs se sont précipités.
Cent, deux cents jeunes gens de 10 à 15 ans, venus des villages
de Saqqara et d’Aboussir tout proches, ont déferlé par groupes
de dix. Certains étaient armés de pistolets et tiraient en l’air
pour faire partir les ghafirs (les gardiens). Profitant du chaos, ils
espéraient trouver des trésors.» Volant les pelles, pioches et
couffins des archéologues, ils se mettent à creuser frénétiquement
chaque fois qu’ils devinent quelque chose sous le sable. «Ce
sont des jeunes gens sans éducation. Ils pensent trouver là
de l’or, des bijoux, le masque de Toutankhamon…»

In English, via Google Translate:

“Then I saw
something incredible happen: the looters rushed.
Hundred, two hundred young people from 10 to 15 years, from the villages of
Saqqara and Abusir nearby, swept by groups of
ten. Some were armed with pistols and fired into the air
to ghafirs from the (guards). Taking advantage of the chaos, they
hoped to find treasures. “Wheeling shovels, picks and
baskets, they began to dig frantically
Each time they guess something under the sand. “These
are young people without education. They believe they will find
gold, jewelry, the mask of Tutankhamun …

Ahram Online reports that the roughly 70 damaged objects from the Egyptian Museum are due to be repaired soon and back on display.

UPDATE 6th Feb 10:20pm:

Dr. Zahi Hawass’ latest statement, ‘Uninformed Statements and Clarifications’:

On another note, I went to the Egyptian museum today with reporters from the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers.
We reviewed every smashed vitrine. One showcase in the Amarna galleries was smashed; it contained a standing statue of the king carrying an offering tray. While the showcase is badly damaged, the statue sustained very minor damage and is repairable. Another vitrine that was smashed contained one of King Tutankhamun’s walking sticks. The gilded stick is broken into two pieces, and can be restored. The other King Tutankhamun object that was damaged was the wooden statue of the king standing on the back of a panther.

The reference to the statue of Akhenaten carrying an offering tray would suggest that it *might* possibly be this small statue on the left from the Egyptian Museum that has been slightly damaged. Luckily it sounds like the damage is minimal.

Amarna exhibit at the Cairo Museum, photo from the site Egyptian Monuments http://egyptsites.wordpress.com/
Amarna exhibit at the Cairo Museum, photo from the site Egyptian Monuments http://egyptsites.wordpress.com/

UPDATE 7th Feb 10:30am:

A National Geographic article says only 20-25 objects damaged at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo rather than 70, which is great news. Damage to the gilded statue of Tutankhamun on the papyrus skiff is also confirmed.

UPDATE 7th Feb 12pm:

A report from an inspector at Saqqara has been posted on the Dutch team’s website and suggests that, while there has sadly been illicit digging and looting of magazines, there may only be a small amount of damage to the tombs themselves:

From January 29, a lot of people attacked the antiquities area, from Abusir North to Lisht. Although many tombs and magazines were opened, few things were stolen. Some destruction happened, but not too much, because the stupid robbers searched only for gold and precious things and were not interested in limestone blocks. There was a lot of pit digging in the whole area, but generally this caused no problems. The Dutch site is o.k., except that the magazines of pottery, small objects and bones in the tombs of Maya, Horemheb and Ptahemwia were opened. We closed them again, the wall reliefs are o.k, and nothing was stolen or plundered or damaged. We try to save the sites and do some protection, then later we shall arrange some committee to account for the magazines of Saqqara.

The Leiden excavation team who work in the New Kingdom necropolis at Saqqara also posted this statement:

We know from other reports that the local inspectors fought very bravely to protect the site and want to thank them and the Egyptian army for their efforts. Whether indeed no damage was done remains to be seen. The main thing is that the precious reliefs seem to be safe. We suppose that objects in the magazines cannot have escaped damage or destruction, and that there will be some loss of archaeological information. However, most of the remains kept there have already been studied by the expedition and we hope that the losses will be minimal. We shall try to inspect the situation in person as soon as everything has calmed down in Egypt.

UPDATE 7th Feb 5pm:

Dr. Zahi Hawass’ latest update discusses the restoration work on damaged objects at the museum. He mentions ‘a small statue of Akhenaten wearing the blue crown and holding an offering table’, which is likely the statue pictured here above and below, and refers to a ‘New Kingdom coffin’, which ‘can easily be restored’. He assures everyone that the rest of the Tutankhamun objects, apart from the statues, sticks, and fan, and the royal mummies are all safe. Here is a photo of the Akhenaten statue as it looked in its case at the museum:

Photo by sergiothirteen
Photo by sergiothirteen

I have also been wondering whether the travertine calcite (alabaster) object shown in the al Jazeera footage might be one of the lids of Yuya and Tujya’s canopic jars, seen here as displayed in the Egyptian Museum. The shape and the dark lines at the front that would correspond with the eyes seem to fit. This photo shows one of the lids from above. This is very speculative though. Thankfully, whatever it is it doesn’t look damaged in the footage, and hopefully nothing else from that case is either.

UPDATE 8th Feb 12pm:

The interview with the Wall Street Journal mentioned in Dr. Hawass’ blog yesterday is now up. The article by Christopher Rhoads mentions that various amulets have been damaged, as well as Tutankhamun panther statue, his gold fan and gilded stick, and the Akhenaten statue, but there’s still no mention of the late Eleventh Dynasty models of Mesehti from Assyut. Rather bizarrely, it states that over a thousand people broke into the museum, which is nothing like anything we’ve heard elsewhere. Restoration work at the museum is ongoing but there have been some reports of illicit digging. The article refers to how the national antiquities situation is being monitored:

Some young Egyptologists now manage a control room in the antiquities department, responding 24 hours a day to any break-in reports from the country’s 42 museums, and other sites. Each location checks in every three hours.The room has direct lines to the branches of the military and police that have been used 17 times, according to one official. On Monday, there were a handful of reports of unauthorized digging at archaeological sites.

An article by Rossella Lorenzi for Discovery News features an image of the smashed New Kingdom coffin. From the white background with bands, it appears to be early 18th dynasty in date:

There is also an interview with Dr. Nadia Lokma who is working on the restoration of the damaged wooden objects at the museum. She took 8 years to restore a chariot of Tutankhamun and she’s obviously very passionate about her work. It’s wonderful to know that the objects are in good hands:

In the article, Dr. Hawass says of the looting of the museum’s gift shop: “The funny part of the story is that only the books of the gift shop remained untouched. Looters are never interested in books, I guess”.

UPDATE 8th Feb 3pm:

Radio Netherlands has an emotional print interview with Dr. Maarten Raven, the field director for the Dutch mission at Saqqara. Speaking about the illicit digging there, he says:

I’ve always been afraid this would happen. All we can do now is look on and weep.

Another update from Dr. Zahi Hawass mainly discusses a visit with journalists to Giza and plans to reopen the site to tourists. He discusses Saqqara, but not the site as a whole, referring to certain specific tombs as being safe:

I would once again like to say that the rumors claiming that the tombs of Maya, Nefer, and the Two Brothers in Saqqara were recently damaged are not true. The Imhotep Museum and the storage magazines of Saqqara are also safe.

UPDATE 11th Feb 12:30am:

Sorry for the delay in updates everyone- I still have PhD research and teaching to do despite everything! And a huge thank you again for everyone who has contributed comments to the discussion and to what we know about the ongoing situation.

There have been more contradictory, unverified reports of looting or lack thereof, this time in Kharga Museum. Posts from three local Egyptians on Facebook and Twitter suggested attacks on the museum and looting. However, Dr. Salima Ikram says that despite violence in the area and threats to the museum, it had not in fact been looted: “Kharga: police station attacked because police killed 5 people there. Hospitals busy with this there and in Asyut. Apparently all the magazines and museum and Hibis et alli are safe. In the absence of police etc, thieves and robbers are around. Potentially attacking houses and maybe this will extend to antiquities. However, all the inspectors and the people are patrolling the areas trying to keep everyone and everything safe. Will report further in the morning. S”. An article in Ahram Online (via Andie Byrnes) says an official statement denied any damage to the museum.

An article in Al Masry Al Youm says that the museum in Asyut is a target of people’s anger with the government but doesn’t specify what form that anger has taken. There is no direct reference to looting or damage though.

Dr. Hawass has posted again on his blog and states that five more stolen Qantara objects have been recovered. Another National Geographic article again reiterates that the tomb of Maya the treasurer is safe, while the tomb of Maia the wet nurse is completely bricked up.

There are also lots of photos and footage from various sources of the ongoing restoration work in the Egyptian Museum. I will comment further on these in the next day or two. Here are some photos from the BBC.

Video from CNN:

Video from National Geographic: