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While other Egyptologists such as Champollion and Petrie were famed for their scholarly advances, Carter superseded them in the public imagination with a discovery borne out of perseverance and a bit of luck.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”

The Women of Egypt and Egyptology: ancient, past, and present

In honour of international Women’s Day, an offering of a brief post celebrating the women of Egypt.

Women in Egypt were probably better off than in other ancient cultures, as they could travel and conduct business freely, retain control of their dowries, divorce their husbands, and inherit property, but their lot was still not an equal one and the rudimentary medicine of the age meant childbirth could often spell a death sentence. Nevertheless, there are many inspiring women of the age, not least the dazzlingly influential queens of the New Kingdom. Queen Ahhotep was praised by her son King Ahmose as ‘one who cares for Egypt. She has looked after her (Egypt’s) soldiers; she has guarded her; she has brought back her fugitives, and collected together her deserters. She was awarded the military honour, the golden fly of valour.

Many Eighteenth Dynasty queens used powerful, kingly imagery. For example, Tiye appears as a sphinx at the temple dedicated to her at Sedeinga, Sudan, and Nefertiti is depicted smiting foreign enemies.

As Laurel Ulrich’s oft-quoted saying goes, well-behaved women rarely make history: Cleopatra VII, the famed last queen of ancient Egypt, came to the throne at 18 and was supposed to share power with her 10-year old brother, but instead took control of the country for herself. She was the first member of her Macedonian-Greek ruling family in almost 300 years to actually learn the Egyptian language!

As well as the ancient women who continue to fascinate us today, the achievements of women in Egyptology, both the pioneers of a hundred years ago, and the scholars of today should also be celebrated. Amelia Edwards, author of A Thousand Miles Up the Nile, is justly celebrated as instrumental to the foundation of the Egypt Exploration Society, the Petrie Museum, and the Egyptology chair at University College London. She bequeathed the foundation to UCL as it was the only place in England at the time where degrees were given to women.

But in addition to Amelia, there are many other women (too many in fact to enumerate here), often overlooked, who made significant contributions to the early development of Egyptology. Margaret Murray worked at Manchester Museum, excavated alongside Petrie, was an active suffragette, and was appointed Assistant Professor of Egyptology at UCL in 1924.

Many early Egyptology greats were accompanied to Egypt by their wives who helped run the excavations, as well as recording and drawing finds. Winifred Brunton, wife of Guy Brunton, drew all the illustrations for his publications of sites such as Qau el-Kebir and Badari, and drew the objects found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. She also painted very beautiful reconstructed portraits of Egyptian rulers. Lady Hilda Petrie even joined an all-woman expedition to the tombs of Saqqara.

Today, women in academia are still underrepresented; the higher up, the fewer women. As this study shows, in the US, only 24% of full professors are women and they earn 20% less on average. As such, today on Twitter, I’ve been gathering suggestions of inspiring women Egyptologists from around the world today. This very very short list only beings to scratch the surface, in terms of both individuals and their achievements, and there are so many more scholars I’d like to add, but the exercise has certainly made me think about just how many great women Egyptologists are out there! I hope readers here will share their own suggestions here in the comments.

  • Janet Richards has done great work on Egyptian society and social hierarchy, especially her Society and Death in Ancient Egypt. You can also read about her work at the tomb of Weni the Elder.
  • The work of Dorothea Arnold, curator of Egyptian art at the Met, has influenced our understanding of the Old and Middle Kingdom. You can read her paper Amenemhat I and the Early Twelfth Dynasty here and watch her discuss the tomb of Perneb in an iTunes U video.
  • Yvonne Harpur’s Decoration in Egyptian Tombs of the Old Kingdom is a great achievement and her online Scene-details Database is a very useful tool.
  • Willeke Wendrich & Elizabeth Frood lecture at UCLA & Oxford and edit the online UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, which makes available online introductory but scholarly articles.
  • Julie Anderson of the British Museum excavates at Dangeil in the Sudan & discovered the most southerly royal Egyptian statue yet found.
  • Kate Spence who lectures at Cambridge has excavated at Amarna, and in this video she introduces Akhenaten, his religious revolution, and his new capital at Amarna.
  • Ann Macy Roth is associate professor at New York University and Director the Giza Cemetery Project. Online you can read her book A Cemetery of
    Palace Attendants
    and articleLittle women: gender and hierarchic proportion in Old Kingdom mastaba chapels’.
  • Janine Bourriau, Elisabeth O’Connell, Renee Friedman, Salima Ikram, Patricia Spencer, Gay Robins, Joanne Rowland, Dominique Valbelle, Christina Riggs, Maria Cannata, Angela McDonald, Angela Tooley, Rosalind Janssen, Rita Freed, Denise Doxey, Joyce Tyldesley, Lana Troy, Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Janet H. Johnson, Diana Craig Patch, Catharine H. Roehrig, Patricia Usick, Susanne Woodhouse, Marie Vandenbeusch, Chloe Ragazzolli, Nadine Moeller, Lynn Meskell, Katja Goebs, Sally-Ann Ashton, Hourig Sourouzian, Irene Forstner Mueller, Emily Teeter, Lise Manniche, Fayza Haikal, Ola El Aguizy, Tohfa Handoussa, Zeinab El-Kordy and many many many more

In the meantime, in Egypt itself over the past year, Egyptian women have made some remarkable achievements in striving for equality, but the struggle is ongoing:

In the country’s first election after Mubarak’s ouster, parliament saw very low female representation. Eight women elected and two appointed women make up less than 2 percent of the 508 seats in the People’s Assembly. Considering the proportion of women who applied, the chances weren’t big. In Cairo for example, only 80 women ran compared to 1,010 men. –dailynewsegypt.com

However, today thousands of women marched the streets of Cairo in protest. Presidential hopeful Khaled Ali, who was among the protesters, said everyone should support the demands of Egyptian women. Women are an integral part of Egyptian society and the Egyptian revolution, and so [they have] to be fairly represented in the constitution and constituent assembly, he said, suggesting that women constitute at least 30 percent of the assembly.

This excellent slideshow celebrates some of the many who are striving for women’s rights in Egypt today.

Prominent columnist Mona Eltahawy also joined the march saying that as a feminist, she believes the women’s revolution is the most important revolution.

Women in Egypt have two revolutions; one against an oppressive regime and one against an oppressive society, Eltahawy told Daily News Egypt. Eltahawy added that the large turnout sends a strong message that women are an integral part of the revolution and are demanding their rights. We are here and we are not going anywhere, she said.

‘When belongings are snatched by the deprived…’

Here in the UK these days, most people are preoccupied by the widespread unrest in our cities. Now I don’t write about politics, but I do research and write about social differences in ancient Egypt. I find it interesting to note that the debates we’re having today about criminality, deprivation, & social responsibility can also be found in ancient Egyptian poetry dating back to almost 4000 years ago. Despite the vast inequality in ancient Egyptian society between pharaohs and peasants, despite corporal punishment being commonplace and literacy rare, an Egyptian poet was still able to eloquently question the condemnation of criminal acts by the poor over those of the rich. The poem entitled ‘The Eloquent Peasant’ (the inspiration behind the name of my blog) tells the story of a peasant whose only possessions are stolen by a wealthy official and his subsequent articulate pleas for justice, which move even the pharaoh.

This is the passage that came to mind recently:

A lord of bread should be merciful, whereas might belongs to the deprived,

theft suits one without belongings, when the belongings are snatched by the deprived;

but the bad [are those who] act without want—should it not be blamed? It is self seeking.

Criminal responsibility is a controversial topic. Although one can’t really properly contrast a fictional robbery committed by a government official in ancient Egypt with the rioting of thousands of teenagers in deprived areas, it is fascinating to see that the social issues we struggle with today are the same as those of ancient Egypt. Humans have been around for tens of thousands of years, but human nature has not greatly changed in the past few millennia. Plus ça change…

You can read the rest of ‘The Eloquent Peasant’ in Richard Parkinson’s book of translations of ancient Egyptian poetry, ‘The Tale of Sinuhe’. I’ll be giving a talk on the lives of the rich and poor in ancient Egypt in the Nebamun gallery at the British Museum this Friday, August 10th.

The Pharaohs go north

Siltstone head of Thutmoses III

For the past three and a half months, I’ve been privileged to be working as a trainee curator in the ‘Future Curators’ programme at the British Museum, where I’ve had the opportunity to work on the UK touring exhibition Pharaoh: King of Egypt. Developed in partnership with Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums and the Great North Museum: Hancock, the exhibition explores both the ideals and the realities of ancient Egyptian kingship. The exhibition includes extraordinary objects, such as the sed-festival label of King Den, one of the earliest rulers of Egypt; an Abusir papyrus, a record of temple accounts and one of the oldest surviving papyri; the iconic siltstone head of Thutmoses III; a wooden tomb guardian statue from the tomb of Ramses I; beautiful decorative tiles from royal palaces; a doorjamb from the tomb of General Horemheb before he became king; several Amarna letters with diplomatic correspondence between Akhenaten and foreign powers; and monumental reliefs from the temple at Bubastis and mortuary temple of Montuhotep II at Deir el-Bahri.

King Den jubilee label

It’s been incredible getting to work with British Museum curator Neal Spencer and the rest of the department of the Ancient Egypt & Sudan, as well as the Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums staff, especially at the Great North Museum: Hancock. It’s been a diverse experience, from helping writing objects labels with the curators, sourcing quotations for the walls of the exhibition space to give voice to the ancient Egyptians, and assisting the museum assistants in unpacking, checking, and manoeuvring objects into position. You can read more about the exhibition and the process of installing it in my posts on the British Museum blog, which I will continue to update in the future.

I’m also looking forward to giving a lecture at the Great North Museum on Monday, September 5th entitled ‘Fallen pharaohs: Egypt’s civil war and cultural renaissance’, focussing on the revaluation of the role of the king during the First Intermediate Period and early Middle Kingdom.

Tomorrow, July 16th, 2011, Pharaoh will finally open to the public. I hope that some of you will have the opportunity to visit the exhibition in one of its many venues around the UK or at least explore the objects through the website that we are continuing to develop. Everyone loves to marvel at the extraordinary craftsmanship of the royal monuments of ancient Egypt and the exhibition has no shortage of exquisite jewellery and imposing monuments, but it is fascinating to see them juxtaposed alongside the real-life challenges of ruling the ancient Egyptian civilisation for over 3000 years.

The first visitors enjoying Pharaoh: King of Egypt



Ghost Music: further thoughts on the trumpets of Tutankhamun

A recent BBC Radio 4 programme “Ghost Music”, which I was involved with, resurrected an old recording of even older musical instruments- the 1939 broadcast of trumpets over 3,300 years old, discovered in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian king, Tutankhamun. These instruments are the only two surviving trumpets from ancient Egypt.

The haunting sounds which were produced in the recording have been almost overshadowed by both the infamous story of accidental shattering of the silver trumpet, and the recent theft of the copper or bronze trumpet from the Egyptian Museum and its miraculous recovery.

The shattering of the silver trumpet destroyed hopes of fully understanding its construction, and it was a shock when the one intact trumpet surviving, which could still offer further information to its making, was stolen. Nor had there been the opportunity to undertake scientific analysis of the trumpet’s material; we still do not know its metallic composition and whether it is made of copper or bronze. Thankfully it was found and hopefully will be studied further in the future.

The story of the playing of the trumpet and the disastrous accident that befell the silver trumpet is told in this video:

Various stories have been told about the accident, but it has been said that it occurred when the bandsman, Tappern, attempted to force his modern mouthpiece into the ancient instrument. The use of this modern mouthpiece presumably detracted from the accuracy of the sound produced in the recording, significantly altering their sound from the original. Modern mouthpieces include a semi-spherical cup, which maximizes resonance and enables the playing of a greater range of notes, while the trumpets were originally fitted with just very simple metal rings, purely to make their playing more comfortable rather than produce any effect on the sound.

The trumpets were actually first played several years before the famous BBC recording, by a Professor Kirby, head of the Music department at Johannesburg, when he visited the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Kirby was able to produce three notes but said he doubted whether the highest note was ever used as it required considerable effort, while the bottom note was poor in quality. It is possible that only the middle note was ever used. The trumpet was a military instrument, presumably used not only to rally troops but also communicate. Playing rhythmic patterns on a single note could have served as a military signal. These signals could have been further diversified by using two trumpets of different pitches, which could be why Tutankhamun was equipped with two different trumpets. Trumpeters were referred to using titles such as ‘trumpet speaker’ and ‘caller on the trumpet’.

Kirby suggested that the recording mislead listeners and music critics: ‘What was infinitely worse was that for the broadcast the military trumpeter, finding as I had done that he could get only one good note out of each instrument, fitted his own modern trumpet mouth-piece into each of the ancient instruments in turn, thus completely altering their nature, and enabling him to blow brilliant fanfares quite alien to the sounds head by the Egyptian soldiery of antiquity, and thus misleading listeners-in, including one of the leading London music critics’.

The trumpets were initially discovered in 1922 in the tomb in the Valley of the Kings by Howard Carter. The initial records by Carter made can be read online thanks to the Griffith Institute Archive.

Tutankhamun’s silver trumpet was found in the burial chamber, lying under a calcite lamp wrapped in reeds. The copper or bronze trumpet was found in the antechamber, inside a hinged wooden box in front of the lion couch, which was stuffed full of bows, arrows, walking sticks, as well as the king’s undergarments (!). Confusion prompted by the presence of the military equipment meant that the bronze trumpet was initially identified as a mace.

Tutankhamun’s trumpets are both decorated with a square panel on the bell depicting the royal names in cartouches, and the gods Amun, Re-Harakhti, and Ptah. On the bronze trumpet, these deities are joined by the king. These three gods were among the chief deities in Egypt, but it may also be significant that they were also the figureheads of key army divisions, highlighting the instruments’ military role. Nevertheless, their funerary significance is also apparent. The silver trumpet was originally decorated with a lotus flower design, although this was partly erased to make way for the panel. So were the wooden stoppers for both trumpets. The lotus was a frequent funerary motif, a powerful symbol of rebirth, and as such may have been intended to aid the king’s resurrection.

Howard Carter wrote of finding the silver trumpet in his publication of the tomb: ‘Beneath this unique lamp, wrapped in reeds, was a silver trumpet, which, though tarnished with age, were it blown would still fill the Valley with a resounding blast. Neatly engraved upon it is a whorl of calices and sepals, the prenomen and nomen of Tutankhamun, and representations of the gods Re, Amen, and Ptah. It is not unlikely that these gods may have had some connexion with the division of the field army into three corps or units, each legion under the special patronage of one of these deities’ army divisions such as we well know existed in the reign of Rameses the Great’.

Tutankhamun’s two trumpets are the only ones that have survived from ancient Egypt. Previously, there was also thought to be a trumpet in the Louvre Museum. It too was ‘played’ by a scholar investigating ancient Egyptian trumpets and subjected to various tests, such as an oscilloscope, however it was later revealed to actually be a the lower part of a stand or incense burner! Other instruments are well-known from Egypt though, including harps, single and double flutes and other reed instruments, lutes, lyres, sistra (rattles), and clappers.

The drum was the other key military instrument. A wonderfully engaging late 17th Dynasty text tells of a man named Emhab, who practiced his drumming skills until he was invited to audition against another contestant for a position with the army, beating his rival by drumming seven thousand ‘lengths’ (a ‘length’ is presumably a technical term, possibly referring to a rhythmical phrase). Emhab joined the army and drummed on many royal military campaigns, until he was rewarded by the king himself.

The royal trumpeter who played the king’s trumpets, in either a ceremonial or military context, is unknown to us today. Although the 1939 BBC recording of the trumpets may have been technically inaccurate, it offers a chance to connect with ancient experience, sound, and emotion that has captivated many people. In the past, I’ve written about experimental and experiential archaeology and how much we can learn from ancient practices and experiences, such as playing Egyptian board games, making flint tools, or listening to ancient poetry. The BBC recording may be the only chance we will ever have to hear the sound of ancient Egypt trumpets; the possibility of further damage in sounding the originals is too great, but it may be possible to make accurate replicas one day. However, even if we can never truly replicate the trumpets’ sound again, the Egyptians left us an almost equally moving impression of their wondrous sound. In the tomb of the fan-bearer Ahmose at Amarna, there is a unique representation of a marching army. The scene depicts the figures in the normal ancient Egyptian arrangement of registers (one might say similar to the strips in a comic book), but its key feature is the unusually evocative element of an empty register, stretching out before the lone figure of a trumpeter. Surrounded above and below by marching troops of soldiers, he holds his trumpet to his lips while the empty space before him suggests the loud, clear notes of the blast echoing forth. It is a beautifully poetic use of empty space, symbolizing the powerful but unseen effect of the trumpet’s sound, still resonating across the millennia.

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.