On Howard Carter’s birthday: recent research on Tutankhamun and the restoration of his damaged artefacts

As most of you’ll have noticed from the Google doodle posted today, May 9th 2012 is the 138th birthday of Howard Carter, the archaeologist celebrated for discovering the tomb of Tutankhamun. While many know him for that achievement, his original training was as an artist and some of his most notable work may actually be the incredible artistic records he produced, some of which may be viewed here.

While other Egyptologists such as Champollion and Petrie were famed for their scholarly advances, Carter superseded them in the public imagination with a discovery borne out of perseverance and a bit of luck. The discovery undeniably advanced our understanding of ancient Egypt massively overnight, and the vast range of objects in such a hastily assembled, minor king’s tomb is but a hint of what would have been discovered in the tombs of the greatest kings of the New Kingdom. The discovery has inspired future generations of Egyptologists and archaeologists, and the objects themselves have contributed to our understanding of everything from ancient Egyptian flora and clothing to boats and furniture.

Recording and removing the objects from the tomb took Carter 10 years, and with this sheer volume of objects, the finds are still being published today. It has been estimated that if publication continues at the present rate, it will be another 200 years before thorough records and studies of the finds are made! Luckily the Griffith Institute Archives in Oxford, which I’ve written about previously more fully here, has digitized the thousands of record cards, photographs, and diaries from the excavation and made them publicly available online. This important endeavour has taken fifteen years and I highly recommend exploring the site if you haven’t already!

It may be that the populist appeal of the tomb’s treasures and often sensationalist slant to the endless media interest have put off some scholars from working more on the Tutankhamun objects. Nevertheless, research continues today on the objects, and in addition to Joyce Tyldesley’s recently published general interest book, publications in the past few years include works on the various chairs and seating furniture found in the tomb, Tutankhamun’s footwear, and DNA testing performed on his mummy. Further research on the chariots found in Tutankhamun’s tomb will be presented at the First International Chariot Conference in December later this year.

Despite these advances, last year, the legacy of Carter’s discovery was threatened by the looting of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The following video of a powerpoint presentation from the second seminar of the World Wide Archaeology Commission in cooperation with the Egyptian Museum shows which museum cases were broken into and, using before and after photos, demonstrates the extent of the damage to the objects, the restoration process, and the final result. Although some of the stolen Tutankhamun objects were recovered, many remain missing today.

Archaeology is fundamentally a destructive process and it is only through keeping thorough records that we can hope to make sense of what we discover about our past. Howard Carter’s initial involvement in Lord Carnarvon’s search for Tutankhamun resulted from his recommendation as an assistant to ensure proper archaeological recording. The best way to protect and preserve the objects of Tutankhamun’s tomb for the future is to continue to pursue their careful study and publication and share our knowledge with all.

Reports of Looting in El Hibeh

Update March 12th: The El Hibeh expedition has put together a press release and the looting was featured on Egyptian television last night on Al Qahera Al Youm.

Update March 10th: Excavator of the site Carol Redmount is posting to a newly founded Facebook group ‘Save El Hibeh Egypt’. For those without Facebook access, Glenn Mayer has posted her appeal in the comments on this page.

This Egyptian news video (click here to view) reports on looting in El Hibeh. Photographs of ransacked tombs and scattered human remains are shown from the 7.20 mark. These heartbreaking images bear witness to a heartless attack on Egyptian history and human dignity. An article about the looting has also been posted to alwafd.org and Glenn Meyer has provided a translation of the Arabic:

While political parties are wrestling to reformulate the constitution and members of parliament are competing to gain as much media attention as they can. While politicians are busy attacking / defending the Military Council and economists are concerned about the bad financial situation of the country. While the Ministry of Interior is busy with the battle over whether to allow beards or not, while other activists are jostling to impose their opinions in the media throughout Egypt and while the elite are busy with these cases, there is a mafia is devoted to looting antiquities what the ancient Egyptian civilization left us. They are no longer practicing their crimes in darkness, but in the middle of the day with bulldozers while the Ministry of Antiquities and the police are in silent!!

Because the Bulldozer has no heart and the mafia has no conscience, they have destroyed priceless antiquities, demolished temples that were beacons for the world, desecrated tombs and looted mummies leaving them in open air.

Horrible information has emerged about crimes that these antiquities mafia are committing in many areas in Egypt such as in Abu Sir, Abu Rawash, Sakkara and Beni Suef etc. Tonnes of Egypt’s antiquities have been stolen in the last couple of months, much of it transferred by trucks to hiding places controlled by this mafia.

The Egyptian soil still contains much that excavations continue to find, these excavations are conducted by specialized people under the protection of the state with the support of officials. Police have withdrawn from all the antiquities sites leaving them to thieves who do what they like.

It is unbelievable what is happening now to our history, you can just go to el Heba, Feshn office, Beni Suef and you would see an example of this wonder.

El Heba contains an exceptional collection of antiquities extending from the Pharaonic dynasties to the Coptic and Islamic Periods. Antiquities that provide information about three consecutive periods of Egypt’s history.

Because of is very dry environment, the pharaohs chose el-Hiba to establish a Pharaonic archives center where they kept copies of papyrus documents, laws and stories. King Sishonk constructed a large temple similar to the temple of Karnak and sealed his name on every single stone.

Ancient factories were built around the temple and workers built their houses around these factories. They built two huge cemeteries at the east and west sides of the city and surrounded it with fence to protect it.

When the Coptic era started in Egypt, the place became a unique area containing many Coptic antiquities and the same happened during the Islamic Period.

In short, El Hiba is an example of a rare location that contains antiquities from three different eras, Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic. When this city was discovered in 1896 by the Egyptian Egyptologist, Mr. Ahmed Kamal, this was a great discovery.

Foreign missions started to come to this area with the hope of uncovering the antiquities while local police provided a specialist protection to this site.

As soon as the Egyptian revolution started and the police withdrew, the police left the area to the looters to find these priceless treasures. The leader of the El Hiba mafia is a man called Abou Atia, who escaped an execution order. He has got hold of a bulldozer and hired tens of men equipped with guns and dynamite and are currently digging el Hiba looking for antiquities and gold within the tombs.

However, Abou Atia’s gang took different kind of antiquities from el Hiba, some of these have been moved to private magazines in order to be sold. Tens of tombs were robbed, some mummies and sarcophagi were kept in places and others were left in the open air, small statues and some golden pieces were also stolen from the tombs.

Abu Atia’s gang has been looking for antiquities for a year now, they have dug 400 holes in the 2km city, the depth of some of these holes is more than 15 meters.

Because of this mafia, the beautiful and the important city of Hiba has turned into a battle field that our predecessors’ skulls and bones scattered all over the ground. The whole area is covered by holes that these looters have made, the temple, most of the houses and tombs dated to 1700 B.C. are now demolished.

So the Ministry of State for Antiquities has found no one to protect them and it looks as though the Ministry believes that their only possibility is to protect the Egyptian Museum.

Sadly, foreign missions are more concern about Egyptian history / antiquities than the Egyptians themselves. Are we waiting to ask the international community to interfere to save out heritage after we failed in protect it?

I met with Dr. Carol Redmount, specialist in Egyptian antiquities and a Professor at Berkeley, California and I asked her about what she observed after the latest security chaos. Sadly she said that the condition of the Egyptian antiquities is painful after the Egyptian authorities left it with no protection against the looters. She said, I live in Egypt many months every year and I visited all the antiquities sites in Delta and I have a passion for them that I feel they become part of me.

Q.  Did you visit El-Hiba in Beni Suef?

A.  I did, and I spent many years there excavating from 2001 -2007 under Egyptian supervision and I returned back in 2009.

Q.  How did you see this area?

A. It is a complete antique city, very beautiful and the only one that
tells how the regular Egyptians used to live in the Pharaonic time because most of the habitants were regular people, farmers or workers.

Q. Did you know what happened to this area in the past months?

A. Unfortunately I knew, some people called me and told me about these crimes happened in Al Heba, then I called the people at the inspectorate office and informed them.

Q. What did they say?

A. We are so upset

Q. Just upset?

A. No, they said they tried to protect the city and they informed the police and asked for help

Q. What was the police answer?

A. Nothing

There is only one meaning to what the antiquities expert said, this is that the Egyptian authorities protect the Egyptian mafia.

I express one phrase to these people who are protecting this mafia, that Dr. Andy Daily, an American Professor of History said to me I love Egyptian history and every Egyptian must feel shame of what’s happening to the Egyptian antiquities from this mafia. We really need to feel shame.

Continue reading “Reports of Looting in El Hibeh”

SCA releases final list of objects missing from the Egyptian Museum

UPDATE 17th March 12pm: 12 of the objects missing from the Egyptian Museum recovered?; 27 objects missing from the Tell El-Faraein storehouse; Ahram Online says no new Minister of Antiquities has been chosen; a BBC eyewitness report on looting in Abydos
UPDATE 30th March 10:40am: Dr. Hawass reappointed as Minister of Antiquities; 5 more objects recovered; more news of illegal building at Dashur & Abusir, and UNESCO’s visit

A total of 54 objects make up the list of objects missing from the museum in Cairo, which can be downloaded from the SCA website in PDF format. Sadly the objects include, in addition to those already announced, a number of Amarna statuettes, a fan and trumpet of Tutankhamun’s, sixteen Late Period bronze statuettes, and eight pieces of jewellery.

Two trumpets were discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb, one of silver, and one of gilded bronze. In an experiment to attempt playing them, the fragile silver trumpet was shattered but later restored. The bronze trumpet survived, but it is now missing from the Egyptian Museum. On youTube, you can listen to the remarkable BBC recording of the sounding of trumpets, and hear T.G.H. James read an account of the story behind the recording.

In other news, Dr. Zahi Hawass has posted his in absentia address to the UNESCO convention against illicit trafficking of cultural property. The event celebrated the anniversary of UNESCO’s ‘Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Currently ratified by 120 States, it marked the first international recognition of the fact that cultural goods are not goods like any others’. The event was intended ‘to review the history of the Convention, appraise its achievements, its strong points and its weaknesses’. Dr. Hawass was due to speak at the event, but did not attend, instead sending his remarks:

In these dark days, when some of our most important sites are suffering from the depredations of the looters and opportunists who are taking advantage of the current power vacuum, we call upon the international community for help. The antiquities department has issued lists of antiquities known to be missing from the Egyptian Museum and from storage magazines that have been robbed; we call upon you to help us circulate these lists and watch out for these pieces should they appear on the black market. As we struggle to restore order to our sites, we call upon you for ideas and support, which we will welcome gladly.

Le Parisien reported on the convention and notes comments from Gihane Zaki, Director General of the Nubia Fund at the SCA, on protecting the sites, and states that the UN will be sending a fact-finding mission to Egypt (see here for an English Google translation of the article):

“Nous avons besoin d’une intervention d’urgence pour protéger le patrimoine, un peu comme cela s’était fait dans les années 1960 au moment de la construction du barrage” d’Assouan, a estimé l’archéologue égyptienne Gihane Zaki, directrice générale du Fonds nubien auprès du ministère égyptien de la Culture. L’action de l’Unesco et la mobilisation internationale avaient à l’époque permis de “sauver ces trésors”, a-t-elle noté. A ses yeux, “il faut aussi sensibiliser les gens, notamment les gardiens des sites, qui peuvent ne pas être assez formés ou même parfois contribuer aux vols”.

“Récemment, un chauffeur de taxi m’a dit que maintenant qu’il n’y avait plus d’argent, l’imam de la mosquée voisine leur avait affirmé que c’était permis de vendre des antiquités si on en trouvait”, a raconté Mme Zaki. L’archéologue est très inquiète car dans certaines régions, “les gens habitent sur des antiquités. Ils fouillent de père en fils”. Certains peuvent “profiter de cette période chaotique et d’insécurité pour sortir le maximum d’objets”, a-t-elle ajouté.

Plusieurs sites importants ont été pillés. Le 5 mars, un groupe armé de quarante personnes s’en est pris à un site du nord de l’Egypte, blessant une partie des membres du personnel, a indiqué Francesco Bandarin, sous-directeur général pour la culture à l’Unesco.
L’agence de l’ONU va envoyer une mission spéciale en Egypte en fin de semaine pour faire le point et ramener des informations, a-t-il indiqué.

The new Minister of Antiquities is reported to be Dr. Alaa Shaheen, the Dean of the Faculty of Archaeology at Cairo University. He has made a statement saying that protecting museums and addressing the problems of recent archaeology graduates will be his priorities. His personal website can be visited here.

Kate Phizackerley at News from the Valley of the Kings has reported on a number of recent incidents of alleged looting and thwarted attempts.

UPDATE 17th March 12pm:

Luxor Times is reporting that 12 of the objects stolen from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo have been recovered after the thieves were caught by police and armed forces trying to sell the items.

The objects are 7 statues, 5 bronze statues and 1 limestone statue beside 5 necklaces, one is golden and the others are made of faience and coloured glass.

Ahram Online reports that the Ministry of Antiquities has released the results of an inventory carried out at the Tell El-Faraein storehouse in Kafrul Sheikh in the Delta and 27 objects are known to be missing:

He explained that the missing objects included 20 bronze coins from the Roman and Islamic eras, a limestone relief engraved with a Greco text, a statue inscribed with a hieroglyphic text and four clay pots.

The storehouse at Tel El-Faraein was looted last week, when an armed gang tied up its guards and succeeded in entering the storehouses. Some of the ministry guards escaped, and caught four gang members red-handed. A list has been sent to the prosecutor for investigation.

The article also states ‘The office of minister of state for antiquities affairs is still vacant as no one has been appointed to succeed Hawass’, suggesting that reports of Dr. Alaa Shaheen accepting the post may be incorrect.

Today on the programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent‘ on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service, Christine Finn reports from Abydos on witnessing the damage done by the extensive illicit digging ongoing there and interviews a number of locals. It will be live on the World Service and online at 16:32 GMT this afternoon and again on Radio 4 on Saturday at 11:30 GMT. It is not available online yet, but should soon be uploaded to BBC iPlayer here.

Also, further information on the UNESCO missions to Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya can be found here.

UPDATE 30th March 10:40am:

According to the Egyptian cabinet on Twitter, Dr. Zahi Hawass has been reappointed Minister of Antiquities by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.

Ahram Online reports that a further five objects have been recovered of those missing from the Cairo Museum. The objects found are the bronze seated statue of Bastet (CG 38998), the bronze seated Osiris (JE 17914), the bronze statue of Neith (JE 30324), the bronze sceptre of Ankhusiri (JE 91488), and one of the two missing bronze Apis bulls, sadly damaged (most likely TR Dr. Zahi Hawass tells about how they were reportedly found after attempts to sell the objects in the famous market in Cairo, Khan el-Khalili:

These five pieces were found yesterday with three of the criminals who broke into the museum. They took the five objects to Khan el-Khalili in order to sell them. A man at the bazaar told the criminals that he would pay 1500LE for the pieces. The looters said that the pieces were from the museum and worth much more than that price. After this, the man informed the police who apprehended the criminals. The five objects are bronze pieces dating to the Late Period: a scepter, a statue of an Apis Bull, a seated statue of Bastet, a statue of Neith, and a statue of Osiris. There are 37 objects still missing from the museum, but I am confident that they will be found soon.

Dr. Hawass also has news about further unauthorized building on ancient sites at Dashur and Abusir, with Ahram Online reporting that the UNESCO delegation were ‘upset’ by what they had seen. Apparently there reports state that there have been ‘500 encroachments during the past two months’.

Egypt’s Antiquities Officially Under Attack as Dr. Zahi Hawass resigns

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 “right decision” 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 hadn’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 ceremony… 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
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 Egypt’s achievements. The huge changes happening in Egypt today, brought about by its brave citizens’ 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 “a grave and tragic emergency”, saying:

The world cannot sit by and permit unchecked anarchy to jeopardize the cultural heritage of one of the world’s oldest, greatest and most inspiring civilizations. We echo the voices of all concerned citizens of the globe in imploring Egypt’s new government authorities, in building the nation’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 Ch 125
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: “I 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:
1-د.علاء شاهين
2-د.عبد الحليم نور الدين
3-د.صبري عبد العزيز
5-د.حسن سليم
6-د.ممدوح الدماطي
7-د.علي رضوان

Sabri Abdel Aziz and Mohamed Abdel Maksoud, photo by the Egypt Exploration Society
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 “a 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 Egypt’s cultural role in the region.” Supporters of Abou-Ghazi spoke of his patriotic stances, referring to “his 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

Your Excellency,

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.


Concerned Egyptologists/Archaeologists
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.

museum dentention 1

museum detention 2

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:

Statues of Tutankhamun damaged at the Egyptian Museum

For the latest updates, see the new blog post.
UPDATE Jan 30th, 12pm: the mummies of Tutankhamun’s great-grandparents damaged?
UPDATE Jan 30th, 2pm: golden fan of Tut damaged, Dr. Zahi Hawass confirms damage to at least one Tut statue
UPDATE Jan 30th, 4:30pm: confirmation of theft from the former director of the Egyptian Museum; Memphis Museum also looted
UPDATE Jan 30th, 5:30pm: statement from Dr. Zahi Hawass posted on his blog
UPDATE Jan 31st, 11am: at least two of Tutankhamun’s gilded statues safe
UPDATE Jan 31st, 1:40pm: new photo showing damaged mummy heads, Hawass appointed Minister of Antiquities
UPDATE Jan 31st, 2:50pm: damaged mummies very unlikely to be Yuya & Tjuya
UPDATE Jan 31st, 3:50pm: raw footage used by Al Jazeera shows Tut figure from panther statue still in the museum
UPDATE Jan 31st, 11:20pm: various reports about extensive damage or lack thereof at Saqqara & Abusir from an Egyptian antiquities inspector, Professor Miroslav Bárta, & Dr. Hawass
UPDATE Feb 1st, 12:45am: two new photos of damage from the Egyptian Museum
UPDATE Feb 1st, 9:40pm: another update from Dr. Hawass and further worrying reports suggesting damage/looting at Saqqara & Abusir
UPDATE Feb 2nd, 12:45am: Facebook group Egyptologists for Egypt says reliefs from the tomb of Maia at Saqqara hacked out EDITED-Maia or Maya?
UPDATE Feb 2nd, 11pm: further suggestions of looting at Saqqara; Salima Ikram trying to assess the situation on the ground
UPDATE Feb 3rd, 9:20am: Salima Ikram reporting from Saqqara
UPDATE Feb 3rd, 4pm: another statement from Dr. Zahi Hawass, photos from the museum, including one of the mummies
UPDATE Feb 4th, 1am: an update from the Dutch team at Saqqara says Abusir & Saqqara looted, a report of pharaonic statues seized in Algeria
UPDATE Feb 4th, 11:50pm: more reports of Saqqara & Abusir under attack, Dr. Hawass says untrue; a report from the Fayum; and supposedly looted statues in Algeria are fakes
UPDATE Feb 5th: for the latest updates, see the new blog post

Devastating footage from Al Jazeera posted on Twitter and Flickr now shows significant damage and destruction in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Some of these images can be found at these sites. The footage appears to show wooden statues from the tomb of Tutankhamun with the gilded figure of the king ripped from the smashed bases. Images below show the statues in their original state, and their current condition:

Gilded statue of Tutankhamun hunting on a papyrus skiff
Gilded statue of Tutankhamun hunting on a papyrus skiff
Gilded statue of Tutankhamun astride a panther

Tut boat
tut panther

Middle Kingdom models of daily life and their have been smashed. The damage on the famous army of Mehseti doesn’t seem to be too severe thankfully, but other beautiful models are broken and strewn on the floor.

Soldiers of Mehseti, Asyut, 11th dynasty
Soldiers of Mehseti, Asyut, 11th dynasty

assiut soldiers

model boat

It is an incredibly sad state of affairs as we await news of the full extent of this destruction of history.
UPDATE: I’ve now identified the smashed wooden boat as also belonging to the tomb of Meseti at Asyut (Cairo 4918). It’s one of the largest model boats in existence, measuring over 1.5 metres, and it dates to approximately 2000BC, so over it’s 4000 years old. Very sad.
Here’s a photo of it from it’s original publication back in 1913, but you can also follow this link to see a photo of it as it looked in the museum.
meseti boat
UPDATE: Watching the actual video footage of the museum from Al Jazeera, I regret to say that I think you can spot at the 1 minute mark (see a screen capture and the video itself below), footage of another destroyed statue of Tutankhamun, one of the two statues depicted below (photos care of the Griffith Institute Archive‘s Tutankhamun collection). Amendment, Jan 31st: it appears that these gilded sandaled feet also belong to the panther statue. See update from Jan 31st, 11am below for further info.
For a colour photo of these statues, see these photos from the blog of Richard Seaman.
Tut feet 2

ANOTHER UPDATE, 30th Jan 12pm:
In the comments, Tamakazura has correctly identified the gilded open work cartonnage case shown on Al Jazeera as belonging to Tjuya, mother of the great Queen Tiye and great-grandmother of Tutankhamun. Below you can compare a photo from The Complete Valley of the Kings, p. 176 and the still from Al Jazeera. 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. Aiden Dodson has been able to confirm that the case was displayed separately from Tjuya, so her mummy has not been damaged. 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. I hope that the incredible burial assemblage found with them, one of the most celebrated discoveries in Egyptology, has not suffered also.

Also, in this Al Jazeera report, Dr. Zahi Hawass, comments on the damage at the museum:

UPDATE, 30th Jan 2pm:
The gold fan head featured in the Al Jazeera footage appears to be a fan belonging to Tutankhamun. Here is a photo from the original excavations courtesy of the Griffith Institute- the fan in question is on the far left- and a screen shot of the fan lying in the museum. At least it appears that only the shaft has been broken off and the decoration has been left intact.

Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, has confirmed damage to at least one statue of Tutankhamun. I fear it may be more, but I hope that Dr. Hawass is correct that the damage is minimal. At least his comments are reassuring about the current security situation at the museum, as well as some inspiring words for the Egyptians who attempted to protect the museum.

UPDATE, 30th Jan 4:30pm:
Zeit Online (in German and translated into English) has posted an interview with Wafaa el-Saddik, the director of the Egyptian Museum up until very recently, who says that 13 cases have been smashed, some objects have definitely been stolen, the looting of the museum was an inside job by guards and police, and that the museum in Memphis has also been looted.
UPDATE, 30th Jan 5:30pm: Dr. Zahi Hawass has posted a statement on his own blog. He confirms the destruction of one of the Tutankhamun panther statues. I should also clarify concerning the Tutankhamun statues that have been smashed, that each of them belongs to a pair of statues, and one can only hope that the statues’ twins have survived the damage. See below for images from the wonderful Griffith Institute of the statues as they were found in situ in the Valley of the Kings:

I should also mention that this Al Jazeera screen capture shows a soldier uprooted from the great model army of Meseti, from Asyut, which I mentioned above. At least four of these figures appear to have been torn from the 4000 year old model.

UPDATE, 31st Jan 11am:

In the comments, Mellady mentions that two of the gilded Tutankhamun statues, which are mentioned above shown wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt (the ones *not* on the papyrus boat or the panther), are probably still on tour in the USA with the ‘Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs’ tour. You can see photos of the statues in questions on at these exhibition links. The exhibition was just in New York until January 17th, 2011, and it’s due to open again in St. Paul, Minnesota on February 18th, 2011. If you factor in the time needed to move the objects and set up the new exhibition space, they must be in one of those cities. I have contacted the exhibition organisers to see if I can confirm this. This would suggest that the broken sandalled feet shown in the Al Jazeera footage belong to the figure of Tutankhamun from the panther statue.

Other objects shown in the footage but difficult to specifically identify appear to include a smashed shabti figurine, a bronze statuette of the Apis bull, a travertine calcite (alabaster) vessel, faience jewellery, and a faience hippo figurine from Lisht. The large wooden statue shown in the screen capture below comes from the Meseti boat model. Another model figure shown in the footag, kneeling and armless, also appears to be from the same model.

There are worrying reports of archaeological sites and museums around the country being targeted but no concrete information as of yet. Nevertheless, I am still inspired and awed by the valiant efforts of ordinary Egyptian citizens taking a stand to protect the heritage of which they are so proud. For whatever damage has been done, it’s possible that it could have been much worse without their help. My focus on this site is on the artefacts because that is what I’m best able to comment on, but my thoughts are with the Egyptian people.
mehseti man

UPDATE, 31st Jan 1:40pm:

Via Kate Phizackerley: there is now a photo, purportedly from the Associated Press, showing two damaged mummy heads, posted on this site. I’m not sure about the source of this photo, but the mummies don’t look particularly like Yuya or Tjuya. It’s possible that severe damage has may them harder to identify, or we could be dealing with different individuals. Also, Dr. Zahi Hawass has reportedly been appointed to the new government position of Minister of Antiquities, and Gaber Asfour has been named Minister of Culture.

UPDATE, 31st Jan 2:50pm:
According to Egyptologist Aidan Dodson, the damaged mummies are very unlikely to be Yuya and Tjuya: ‘the gold mummy-cover of Tjuiu was not actually on her body any more… Both mummies were inside their coffins – the photo of Tjuiu shown earlier was from an old display of 1910.’
UPDATE, 31st Jan 3:50pm:
Raw video footage that has emerged on youTubeis no longer on youTube showing more images than first seen on Al Jazeera, including the gilded figure of Tutankhamun from the panther statue, lying in another case at the 0:50 mark. This confirms that the statue was not removed from the museum at the time of damage.

UPDATE Jan 31st, 11:20pm:
There are a number of reports out there, from various people such as an Egyptian antiquities inspector and Professor Miroslav Bárta, suggesting that there may have been a fair amount of damage at Saqqara & Abusir. However, we don’t have much concrete information yet. Dr. Hawass has stated that while tombs have indeed been broken into, nothing has been taken damaged. Vincent Brown’s Talking Pyramids site has a very good compilation of all these reports. In terms of following future stories about the archaeological situation in Egypt, Kate Phizackerley has set up a database of information on sites and museums.

UPDATE Feb 1st, 12:45am:
In the comments, Nicko kindly directed me to some new AP photos of damage in the Egyptian Museum. The two new images appear to show a smashed and emptied case in the foreground with a few gilded canes and sticks lying on top. In the background, you can see the display of chariots and off to the right, the huge golden shrines of Tutankhamun. National Geographic now has a higher resolution version of one of the photos, which shows that Tut’s gold fan mentioned above is also lying on top of the case. A large number of staff, canes, and sticks were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, shown in the following photos from the Griffith Institute Archive, and it is possible that some these are shown in the images.

I would also like to thank everyone who has contributed to the discussion in the comments and I’m sorry I haven’t had the time to reply to all your remarks!

UPDATE Feb 1st, 9:40pm:

Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, released another statement earlier today stating that 288 objects stolen from the magazine in Qantara have been returned. [Considering the magazine reportedly contained 3000 objects, this may not be the best news] He says that 70 objects in the Egyptian Museum suffered damage, including the Tutankhamun panther statue, but it should be possible to repair them. He notes that most of the damage was done because the looters couldn’t see what they were doing in the dark. He says that all other museums and sites are now safe, being guarded by the army and also local Egyptians.

An excellent article at The Art of Counting has reports from a number of Egyptologists. The article states that Maarten Raven, an Egyptologist at the Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, says that the Dutch excavation projects at Saqqara have been looted and destroyed. Richard Wilkinson at the University of Arizona says that the army and neighbourhood watch groups are protecting sites on the west bank at Luxor. Carol Redmount at Berkeley states: “Mme Nadia visited El Hibeh today and said the site has been looted, but should be okay from now on as they are expecting guards to be in place. I also heard that Ihnasya el Medinah had been hit. The Beni Suef Museum is safe.”

UAE newspaper the National also has varying reports about possible damage at Abusir and Saqqara. A rather sensationalist article in the British tabloid the Sun has reported extensive damage at Abusir and in the magazine in Qantara. Overall, there are very worrying reports, especially from Saqqara and Abusir, but also reassurance about many other sites.

Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director Peter Bouckaert is reported to have stated that some of the looters at the Egyptian Museum and elsewhere were found to have been carrying police identification cards. A further approximate 50 individuals have been detained by the army trying to break into the museum.

UPDATE Feb 2nd, 12:45am:

The Facebook group Egyptologists for Egypt has posted the following information: ‘From our Senior Guide. A Sakkara inspector told him that in the last few days Sakkara has been ransacked. Maia is destroyed and even the reliefs in the burial chamber have been hacked out. There is mass digging around the Unas area in particular. The inspector could not get as far as the Teti area as he was threatened with guns but the mastabas will have suffered the same fate. A black day (via P.Allingham).’

This information does not make it clear whether the tomb referred to is that of Maia, wet nurse of Tutankhamun, or that of Maya, the Overseer of the Treasury and Overseer of Works under Tutankhamun. I originally assumed because of the spelling that it was more likely to refer to the lady Maia, but I should stress that with very little information so far, we cannot really be sure. Because of the comments on the damage by the Dutch Mission it seems more likely that Maya’s tomb is the one that has been hit. I’m posting information about both tombs below until we can get any further news. Either way, if the reports are true, then it seems that artefacts from that particular period of Egyptian history have suffered especially.

Dr. Maarten Raven, the Field Director of the Dutch Mission, has posted this statement: ‘There are various reports circulating on the internet about widespread looting in Saqqara and Abusir. However, we would like to stress that so far we have not been able to obtain any confirmation of this, except the following. On Saturday 29 January our restoration architect in Cairo told us that his contractor at Saqqara confirmed the looting in Saqqara. On Sunday 30 January the SCA Director of Saqqara told us that the site of the Dutch expedition has been involved in the looting. He would or could not give further details, and that is still the current situation. We have so far been unable to establish direct contact with people who know more.’
I suggest following the Egyptological Looting Database for further updates on the Saqqara.

The tomb of Maya and his wife Merit was originally discovered by Lepsius in 1843 and then lost until its rediscovery in 1986 by a joint mission of the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden and the EES. Maya served under both Tutankhamun and Horemheb.

The tomb of Maya, Overseer of the Treasury, from the Dutch Excavations
The tomb of Maya, Overseer of the Treasury, from the Dutch Excavations

Maia was the wet nurse of Tutankhamun and a high ranking woman. Her tomb was discovered at Saqqara in 1997 by Alain Zivie and the French Mission (info in English). The following video shows scenes from the tomb of Maia with Alain Zivie.

A relief from the tomb depicting Maia and the young Tutankhamun
Photo of a tomb relief depicting Maia and the young Tutankhamun

UPDATE Feb 2nd, 11pm:

No further news of sites being attacked today, hopefully this is a good sign, but there have been a few note-worthy posts on the Facebook group Restore + save the Egyptian Museum, which I’d recommend following for updates directly from Egyptologists, some relayed from the field. I’m posting screen captures of them below: another report of Saqqara looting, a pledge by Dr. Salima Ikram in Egypt to gather further info about sites, and an impassioned plea from Tahrir Square by a member of the group. Also, the IAE has posted this statement and Dr. Mark Lehner, director of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project, is still planning to head out to Egypt next week.
sarah saqqara

UPDATE Feb 3rd, 9:20am:

Peter Allingham reports on behalf of Dr. Salima Ikram from Saqqara, again from the very helpful Facebook group Restore + save the Egyptian Museum:
salima 2

Update: Feb 3rd, 4pm:

Dr. Zahi Hawass has posted another statement reassuring everyone about the safety and security of the museum and other sites, and has uploaded photos from the museum showing the heavy security in place. Dr. Hawass also expresses his frustration with reports of damage elsewhere, which he insists is not true, including Saqqara. I hope he will understand that the only reason everyone is concerned about possible damage is because of our love for Egypt and its incredible antiquities. The photos on Dr. Hawass’ site also include a new image of one of the damaged mummies’ heads (still unidentified) and the broken vitrine with the fan and canes.

Update: Feb 4th, 1am:

A news update from the Dutch excavation team at Saqqara:
‘Thursday 3 February 14:00 – A reliable source in Cairo (who had this directly from one of the SCA inspectors at Saqqara) confirmed that the Czech magazine at Abusir and the Cairo University magazine at Saqqara have been looted. No confirmation could be had about private tombs. Apparently doors have been forcibly opened but whether reliefs have been taken is not clear. The inspectors themselves have not yet had access to all parts of the site.’

A story from the Times of Algeria posted by Kate says that two pharonic statues were found in the possession of four individuals who have now been arrested. There are no images or further details so the identification of the statues might not necessarily be accurate.

Update: Feb 4th, 11:50pm:

Two reports from CultureGrrl and Science said to be from unnamed Egyptologists say that there has been a lot of damage in Saqqara and Abusir, while another statement from Dr. Zahi Hawass says that the reports are untrue.

A report from the Hungarian team at Lahun says there has been some illicit digging in the Fayum area but an attempted looting of Karanis magazine was stopped by the SCA and local Egyptians.

The story from Algeria yesterday about smuggled stolen Egyptian statues being found turns out only to involve fakes, which is apparent from the new photo that has been posted.

Echoes from the past, fears for the future

Meidum geese, from the mastaba of Nefermaat & Itet, approx. 2600BC
Meidum geese, from the mastaba of Nefermaat & Itet, approx. 2600BC

the Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All

from the poem The Prophecy of Neferti,
With all of the ongoing change happening in Egypt right now, there is the danger that what has existed there for millennia could be lost in just a moment. The people have been fearlessly standing up and making their voices heard, but the fire and chaos in Cairo is threatening the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. Reports coming in via Twitter told of the protestors forming an incredible human chain around the museum to protect it until the army could come to take over. Now tweets are reporting Al Jazeera showing scenes of looting within the museum. The sad news has come of Dr. Zahi Hawass confirming damage and the destruction of at least two mummies. With the continuing upheaval, I am fearful for both the people and the vast repository of beauty, wisdom, history, and monumental human achievement concentrated in that one building. Many know the museum as the home of Tutankhamun’s treasures, the single greatest collection of burial goods from ancient Egypt, including not only the gold mask, but everything from chariots to underwear. But the museum holds so much more.

To any student of Egyptology who visits for the first time, the experience is mind boggling. Object after object is a masterpiece, telling fabulous stories of the birth of civilization, genius architects, powerful kings, master artists, great generals, eloquent writers, and the ordinary people who lived and died on the banks of the Nile. From the serene beauty of the statues of King Menkaure or the dazzling treasures of Tutankhamun’s grandparents, to the delicate perfection of the painting of the Meidum geese or the exquisite Middle Kingdom jewellery, copied by Art Deco jewellers.

Papyrus Boulaq 18 records the day-to-day working of an ancient Egyptian palace, including the wages that were paid, while the actual beautifully decorated floors from the palace at Amarna, on which Akhenaten and Nefertiti would have walked, are also preserved in the museum.
The magnificent models from the tomb of Meketre come from another time of transition in Egyptian history. Meketre served the king who managed to reunite the country after its first long period of decentralization. The enormous wooden model depicting cattle stocktaking is absolutely unique in ancient Egypt. The amount of detail in this, and other models, give us insight into daily life, ancient technology, and social relations. Even the bodies of the pharaohs themselves lie in state in the museum, like Ramesses III, who battled invasions by the Sea Peoples and whose wife, son, and officials conspired to assassinate him.
What I am possibly most afraid for though is all the unknown, undocumented treasures that lie buried in the basement of the museum. Most museums only have a few percent of their entire collections on display, but in the Egyptian Museum the number of artefacts in storage is so vast that no one entirely knows what’s down there. There are often stories of amazing artefacts being ‘rediscovered’. The first 30 seconds of the video below gives just a glimpse of the labyrinth of objects that lies below the museum. If anything were to happen to these pieces, not only would they be lost to future generations, but the potential knowledge they offer would never come to light. Their destruction would be complete, as if they had never existed.
For now, my thoughts are with the people of Egypt, both the modern and the ancient, but I am consoled by the thought that if Ramesses the Great, who may have been up to 90 years old when he died, has managed to survive for over 3000 years with even his hair dye still intact, then perhaps it will take quite a lot more before this particular old man goes anywhere…
I shall show you the land in catastrophe,
what should not happen, happening:
arms of war will be taken up,
and the land will live by uproar….
To the heart, spoken words seem like fire;
what comes from the mouth cannot be endured.
Shrunk is the land–many its controllers.
It is bare–its taxes are great.
Little is the grain–large is the measure,
and it is poured out in rising amounts.
The Sungod separates Himself from mankind.
He will rise when it is time,
but no one knows when midday occurs, no one can distinguish His shadow
~from the poem ‘The Prophecy of Neferti’, written over 3500 years ago
With all of the ongoing change happening in Egypt right now, there is the danger that what has existed there for millennia could be lost in just a moment. While the people have been fearlessly standing up and making their voices heard, the fire and chaos in Cairo has been threatening the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. Reports coming in via Twitter told of the protestors forming an incredible human chain around the museum to protect it until the army could come to take over. Now tragic reports have come in from Dr. Zahi Hawass himself of some damage by looters and the destruction of at least two mummies. With the continuing upheaval, I am fearful for both the people of Egypt and the vast repository of beauty, wisdom, history, and monumental human achievement concentrated in that one building. Many know the museum as the home of Tutankhamun’s treasures, the single greatest collection of burial goods from ancient Egypt, including not only the gold mask, but everything from chariots to underwear. But the museum holds so much more.
To any student of Egyptology who visits for the first time, the experience is mind boggling. Object after object is a masterpiece, telling fabulous stories of the birth of civilization, genius architects, powerful kings, master artists, great generals, eloquent writers, and the ordinary people who lived and died on the banks of the Nile. From the serene beauty of the statues of King Menkaure or the dazzling treasures of Tutankhamun’s grandparents, to the delicate perfection of the painting of the Meidum geese or the exquisite Middle Kingdom jewellery, copied by Art Deco jewellers.
Statue of Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh and pyramid builder Menkaure
Statue of Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh and pyramid builder Menkaure
Meidum geese, from the mastaba of Nefermaat & Itet, approx. 2600BC
Meidum geese, from the mastaba of Nefermaat & Itet, approx. 2600BC
Papyrus Boulaq 18 records the day-to-day working of an ancient Egyptian palace, including the wages that were paid, while the actual beautifully decorated floors from the palace at Amarna, on which Akhenaten and Nefertiti would have walked, are also preserved in the museum.
The magnificent models from the tomb of Meketre come from another time of transition in Egyptian history. Meketre served the king who managed to reunite the country after its first long period of decentralization. The enormous wooden model depicting cattle stocktaking is absolutely unique in ancient Egypt. The amount of detail in this, and other models, give us insight into daily life, ancient technology, and social relations.
Cattle count model of Meketre
Cattle count model of Meketre
Weaving model of Meketre
Weaving model of Meketre
Even the bodies of the pharaohs themselves lie in state in the museum, like Ramesses III, who battled invasions by the Sea Peoples and whose wife, son, and officials conspired to assassinate him.
What I am possibly most afraid for though is all the unknown, undocumented treasures that lie buried in the basement of the museum. Most museums only have a few percent of their entire collections on display, but in the Egyptian Museum the number of artefacts in storage is so vast that no one entirely knows what’s down there. There are often stories of amazing artefacts being ‘rediscovered’. The first 30 seconds of the video below gives just a glimpse of the labyrinth of objects that lies below the museum. If anything were to happen to these pieces, not only would they be lost to future generations, but the potential knowledge they offer would never come to light. Their destruction would be complete, as if they had never existed.
For now, my thoughts are with the people of Egypt, both the modern and the ancient. I am watching with baited breath for further news of the fate of the objects kept in the museum, a repository of the country’s history and a monument to human achievement. My hopes are buoyed only by the thought that if Ramesses the Great, who may have been up to 90 years old when he died, has managed to survive for over 3000 years with even his hair dye still intact, then hopefully this particular henna’d old man is not going anywhere…