UPDATE 3rd March 11pm: unsubstantiated, leaked list of objects missing from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (EDITED)
UPDATE 6th March 2pm: Dr. Hawass on his resignation; magazine in Tell el Fara’in robbed as Qantara East’s antiquities moved to Cairo for safekeeping; a petition urging protection of sites; a new Minister of Culture & Antiquities?
UPDATE 7th March 11:20pm: Egypt to keep separate Ministry of Antiquities after protests by archaeologists; more on the new Minister of Culture and potential Minister of Antiquities; sign a petition urging the protection of sites in Egypt
UPDATE 9th March 11am: detailed photographic list of missing Egyptian objects
UPDATE 7th March 2:15pm: open letter from Egyptian archaeologists petitions the Prime Minster to protect sites
UPDATE 7th March 10pm: CNN video from the Egyptian Museum; protestors and activists being held in the museum
Today, tragic confirmation came of the extensive looting that has been feared since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, but was consistently downplayed by the Ministry of Antiquities. Dr. Zahi Hawass has now released a long list of magazines, archaeological sites, tombs, objects, and Islamic sites that have been looted, damaged, illicitly dug, or destroyed. Some sites, such as Saqqara, are said to have been attacked repeatedly.
However, what role Dr. Hawass will play in further attempts to protect the antiquities under threat is now uncertain since the Minister of Antiquities has now resigned from his post along with the rest of the Egyptian cabinet. In a telephone interview with the New York Times’ Kate Taylor, ‘Hawass said he was happy that he had made the â€œright decisionâ€ in resigning and lashed out at colleagues who have criticized him, including one who has accused him of smuggling antiquities’. There is still debate about whether Dr. Hawass will continue to hold the position of head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. My understanding was that the SCA had become the Ministry of Antiquities rather than being created as a separate entity, meaning it would no longer exist nor have a Secretary General.
In the early days of the revolution, someone asked me what my worst fears for the antiquities were. I hadnâ€™t dared think about it too much, but the image that first sprang into my head was that of blank walls: hacked out, ragged, blank walls of tombs, their once exquisite reliefs completely destroyed. Sadly that is now the horrible fate of the tomb of Kenamun at Tell el Maskhuta, a unique example of a Ramesside tomb in Lower Egypt, and one that has not yet been published. Rossella Lorenzi, reporting on the discovery of the tomb, described it as ‘beautifully decorated, the tomb features scenes from the Book of the Dead, culminating with the famous vignettes from Chapter 125, which depict the critical judgment ceremonyâ€¦ Other important scenes in the tomb include a depiction of the goddess Hathor in the shape of a cow, as she emerges from the Delta marshes, as well as a scene of the four sons of Horus’. It was a fairly recent discovery of an SCA excavation announced only just last year. Hopefully the excavators will have more unpublished data that can be released in future, but the extent of the tomb’s study will have been relatively limited compared to others that have been known and visited for many years by numerous scholars.
A scene from the now destroyed tomb of Kenamun
And that is one of the things that I fear for most now, for that which we may never even know we have lost: the archaeology and objects that have never been properly recorded before being destroyed forever. Illicit digging at at least eight different sites across the country may prove in the end to be the worst casualty. According to Hawass, ‘looters have attacked Abydos nearly every night; illegal excavations and trenches, some as deep as five meters, have damaged the site’.
As of yet, there is very little information on what has been taken, apart from the objects already cited from the Egyptian Museum and the tombs of Hetepka and Ptahshepses at Saqqara and Abusir. As it has been confirmed that we are dealing with a potentially extensive number of unknown objects, it may prove even more important now to place government-enforced restrictions on the movement and trade of Egyptian antiquities.
Hawass says that the guards at the Selim Hassan magazine in Saqqara were forced to surrender to armed robbers, suggesting increasingly violent attacks at sites with insufficient protection. Whether army involvement in site protection could be boosted enough to deal with the situation is uncertain, as Dr. Hawass himself has despaired of protecting the sites, and the army is now heavily involved in governance, not just their usual military role. There is now a petition on Facebook urging the transitional government to provide improved site security. Perhaps even the numerous unemployed archaeologists who were recently involved in protests outside the Ministry of Antiquities could be recruited in protection efforts. Whether outside help will be called in from international organizations such as UNESCO or Blue Shield remains to be seen.
According to Sarah Parcak on the Restore + Save Facebook group, ‘Blue Shield, UNESCO, the Carabinieri, etc have all offered their help, publicly and privately…They are all waiting and standing by to give whatever assistance is needed. Until that happens, they can only stand by’. Whatever action is taken by the transitional Egyptian government clearly cannot come too soon.
Many of the Egyptian people have made an outstanding effort in recent days to protect their cultural heritage, freely and willingly putting themselves in dangerous situations to stand between would-be looters, sometimes armed, and threatened archaeological sites and museums. A revolution anywhere in the world would be sure to destabilize cultural protection measures, and the old regime certainly contributed to the conditions that have prompted looting, such as poverty, lack of education, and lack of disaster planning. Any outside assistance need not detract from Egyptâ€™s achievements. The huge changes happening in Egypt today, brought about by its brave citizensâ€™ desire for freedom to create a better world for themselves and their country, will hopefully be the best way to safeguard its heritage in the future.
In the New York Times, the director of the Metropolitan Museum, Thomas P. Campbell, expressed alarm about continuing looting, calling it â€œa grave and tragic emergency”, saying:
The world cannot sit by and permit unchecked anarchy to jeopardize the cultural heritage of one of the worldâ€™s oldest, greatest and most inspiring civilizations. We echo the voices of all concerned citizens of the globe in imploring Egyptâ€™s new government authorities, in building the nationâ€™s future, to protect its precious past. Action needs to be taken immediately
A scene in the now destroyed tomb of Kenamun depicting the judgement scene from the Book of the Dead Spell 125
UPDATE 3rd March 11pm:
Judith H. Dobrzynski has posted a leaked list of objects missing from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo submitted by a supposedly reliable source from inside the museum (and I have also heard from other channels that the source is trustworthy).
**EDIT: An anonymous comment below argues that the anonymous source is not reliable. I did not receive the information firsthand myself, thus I cannot judge the veracity of any claims made by either side as to the source and their reliability or bias, but in the absence of any other information from the museum for the past few weeks, the list still seems worth noting.
UPDATE 6th March 2pm:
Dr. Zahi Hawass has commented on his resignation on his blog, which he says was prompted by an inability to protect the sites and allegations of wrongdoing by ‘crooks’, and he also outlines the conditions under which he would be willing to return. Andie Byrnes of Egyptology News has compiled and commented on an excellent collection of articles and interviews with Dr. Hawass, which I recommend reading.
In response to Hawass’ resignation, Karl von Habsburg, the president of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield said: â€œI am terrified by the idea that this might be a sign to potential looters that now that last element of control is gone, and now we have a free hand to continue looting”.
Indeed, there has been more looting in the past couple of days, with Al Masry Al Youm reporting that a magazine in Tell el Fara’in (ancient Buto) was robbed in violent attack by 40 armed men. For more on the site of Tell el Fara’in, German Archaeological Institute website has a good summary of the history of the ancient site and modern excavations there.
However, there is also some indication of efforts to prevent against further looting. Ahram Online reports that the antiquities collection in the magazine at Qantara East, for fear of further looting, has been moved to the basement of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
This petition urges Egypt’s transitional government to provide protection for the sites, magazines, and antiquities.
On Facebook, Nicole Hansen and Nigel Hetherington are reporting from Egypt, that Emad Abu Ghazi has been appointed as the new Minister of Tourism and Antiquities. Ahram Online has tweeted that he is the new Minister of Culture. An article in the United Arab Emirates newspaper the National, has some good background information on Abu Ghazi, who does not seem to have a background in antiquities but is in favour of the revolution and reform:
Emad Abou Ghazi has been general secretary of the Higher Council of Culture since 2009. Born in 1955, he studied history at Cairo University and received a master’s degree in medieval documents. Since 1983 he has been an assistant professor at Cairo University.
UPDATE 7th March 11:20pm:
Protests held today by archaeologists, professors, and students were able to convince the new Prime Minister of Egypt’s transitional government, Essam Sharaf, to keep a separate Ministry of Antiquities rather than reinstating it as a sub-division of the Ministry of Culture. Egyptologist Nicole Hansen reported on the protests from Cairo on the Restore + Save Facebook group:
We archaeologists gathered at the Egyptian Museum at 10 a.m. and then marched to the Council of Ministers and stayed outside protesting until the Prime Minister came down at about 1:30 p.m. and promised us the Ministry of Antiquities would stay an independent ministry.
Having a separate Ministry should give antiquities officials more control over their own department with a separate revenue stream reserved for development and protection of the country’s antiquities rather than potentially having it re-diverted to other cultural institutions.
As for who will lead the newly restored Ministry of Antiquities after Dr. Zahi Hawass’ resignation, earlier today on the Restore + Save Facebook group, Sarah Parcak reported that she had heard a rumour from a high ranking SCA official that it would probably be Dr. Mohamed Abdel Maksoud, and journalist Jo Marchant said that she had heard the same also. Dr. Abdel Maksoud is currently Head of the Central Administration of Lower Egyptian Antiquities. He has conducted excavations at a number of sites, such as the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty military town at Tell Dafna, a Ptolemaic site at Kom el Dikka, and a Sinai fortress town. Dr. Sabri Abdel Aziz, Head of the Pharaonic Sector, had also been mentioned as a possible candidate. Now, Sarah Parcak has noted:
The SCA is holding a referendum and electing the new Minister of Antiquities/Head of SCA on Friday March 18th. On the list are: Dr Nur al Din, Dr Ali radwan, Dr Sabry al Aziz, Dr. Ala Shahine, Dr. Mamdouh Amr, Dr mamdouh Amaty on the list—there are 7 in total. Arabic readers—FYI:
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Two contenders for the position of Minister of Antiquities, Sabri Abdel Aziz and Mohamed Abdel Maksoud, photo by the Egypt Exploration Society
Also worth noting, Ahram Online has an article with more information on Egypt’s the newly appointed Minister of Culture Abou Ghazi:
A statement of prominent intellectuals confirmed that Abou-Ghazi is â€œa true intellectual who is involved with the current affairs of his country, in addition to being highly respected among all intellectuals inside and outside Egypt, and who is capable of regaining Egyptâ€™s cultural role in the region.â€ Supporters of Abou-Ghazi spoke of his patriotic stances, referring to â€œhis articles that reflected a strong stance towards freedom and democracy”, and considering him “a son of the Egyptian patriotic movement who never hesitated to pay with his own freedom, where he was subject to prison because of his political ideals”.
Dr. Zahi Hawass has updated his blog with more on the illegal building & farming happening on a number of archaeological sites.
The Arab Archeologists Union says its funds are at the disposal of the Egyptian government for the protection of antiquities.
You can sign a petition here, urging Egypt’s transitional government to provide adequate protection for the sites and antiquities.
On a slightly different, but timely note, tomorrow is International Women’s Day and in Egypt, a Million Woman March is being organized to take place in Cairo‘s Tahrir Square. The Petrie Museum in London is also holding an event in honour of International Women’s day in the form of a show about Amelia Edwards, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the Egypt Exploration Fund, and essentially founded the Petrie Museum and Britain’s first professorship in Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at UCL. (I’ll be attending, so if you’re there too, come and say hi!)
UPDATE 7th March 11am:
Just a quick update to note that the Penn Cultural Heritage Center has compiled an amazing and detailed list with accompanying photographs of the antiquities currently known to be missing from Egypt. Their efforts are hugely appreciated and I hope this list can be widely and efficiently disseminated.
UPDATE 7th March 2:15pm:
In an SCA press release, an open letter from Dr. Tarek El Awadi, Director of the Egyptian Museum, and other archaeologists in Egypt, urges the Prime Minister of the interim Egyptian government to prioritize the deployment of police protection to sites and magazines around the country:
Open Letter to His Excellency, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf
We hope that your tenure in office continues smoothly and would like to
ask a favour of you that affects not only us, but all Egyptians and indeed
people worldwide. Would you please make it a top priority of your
government to return police to archaeological sites so as to put an end to
the illegal excavations, the looting of storehouses and tombs, and illegal
construction on governmental archaeological land. The desecration of
archaeological sites and monuments is not only a huge loss for the people
of Egypt on a national, economic, and human level, but is also a loss to
all of humanity and to science.
Below are just a few signatures of scholars and individuals who support
this request. We very much hope that you will take immediate steps to
save Egypt’s heritage for posterity.
On the behalf of all archaeologists and Egyptologists
Dr. Tarek El Awadi Director of the Egyptian Museum
[List of names not attached]
UPDATE 7th March 10pm:
A new video from CNN shows scenes of empty cases in Egyptian Museum, but also some of the damaged objects that have had restoration work done and are back on display. It is worth noting that the video claims that one of the four canopic jars belonging to Thuja is missing, however a photo of the original display clearly shows that only three jars were in the case in the first place. We know that that particular case was broken into and disturbed, as one of the canopic lids was pictured in the Al Jazeera footage lying on the ground, however the three jars are still there undamaged. Nevertheless, the gilded canopic chest that was originally in the same case appears to be no longer on display and I sincerely hope it is in conservation but hasn’t been too damaged!
Tweets from a number of different accounts on Twitter suggest that protestors in Tahrir Square are still being arrested, detained at the Egyptian Museum, and possibly even beaten. During the early days of the revolution, the museum was occupied by the army and reportedly used for detention and torture. It is a horrifying state of affairs that a place intended for knowledge and enlightenment is being used to stifle voices supporting it.