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In honour of international Womenâ€™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 desertersâ€™. She was awarded the military honour, â€˜the golden fly of valourâ€™.
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 â€˜A Thousand Miles Up the Nileâ€™, 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.Â As such, today on Twitter, Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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.
Janine Bourriau, Elisabeth Oâ€™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, Â Janet H. Johnson, Diana Craig Patch, Catharine H. Roehrig, Patricia Usick, Susanne Woodhouse, Marie Vandenbeusch, Chloe Ragazzolli,Â 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 countryâ€™s first election after Mubarakâ€™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 Peopleâ€™s Assembly. Considering the proportion of women who applied, the chances werenâ€™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.Â â€œWomen 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,â€ 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 womenâ€™s rights in Egypt today.
Prominent columnist Mona Eltahawy also joined the march saying that as a feminist, she believes â€œthe womenâ€™s revolution is the most important revolution.â€
â€œWomen in Egypt have two revolutions; one against an oppressive regime and one against an oppressive society,â€ Eltahawy told Daily News Egypt.Â Eltahawy added that the large turnout sends a strong message that women are an integral part of the revolution and are demanding their rights. â€œWe are here and we are not going anywhere,â€ she said.
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 wantâ€”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 Ã§a 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.
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,Â 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
A recent BBC Radio 4 programme â€˜Ghost Musicâ€™, 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 trumpetâ€™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 â€˜trumpet speakerâ€™ and â€˜caller on the trumpetâ€™.
Kirby suggested that the recording mislead listeners and music critics: â€˜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 criticsâ€™.
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.
Tutankhamunâ€™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 kingâ€™s undergarments (!). Confusion prompted by the presence of the military equipment meant that the bronze trumpet was initially identified as a mace.
Tutankhamunâ€™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 instrumentsâ€™ 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 kingâ€™s resurrection.
Howard Carter wrote of finding the silver trumpet in his publication of the tomb: â€˜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 deitiesâ€”army divisions such as we well know existed in the reign of Rameses the Great.â€™
Tutankhamunâ€™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 â€˜playedâ€™ 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 â€˜lengthsâ€™ (a â€˜lengthâ€™ 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, Iâ€™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 trumpetsâ€™ 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 trumpetâ€™s sound, still resonating across the millennia.
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.
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.
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 22.214.171.124). 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’.
Today, tragic confirmation came of the extensive looting that has been feared since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, but was consistently downplayed by the Ministry of Antiquities. Dr. Zahi Hawass has now released a long list of magazines, archaeological sites, tombs, objects, and Islamic sites that have been looted, damaged, illicitly dug, or destroyed. Some sites, such as Saqqara, are said to have been attacked repeatedly.
However, what role Dr. Hawass will play in further attempts to protect the antiquities under threat is now uncertain since the Minister of Antiquities has now resigned from his post along with the rest of the Egyptian cabinet. In a telephone interview with the New York Times’ Kate Taylor, ‘Hawass said he was happy that he had made the â€œright decisionâ€ in resigning and lashed out at colleagues who have criticized him, including one who has accused him of smuggling antiquities’. There is still debate about whether Dr. Hawass will continue to hold the position of head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. My understanding was that the SCA had become the Ministry of Antiquities rather than being created as a separate entity, meaning it would no longer exist nor have a Secretary General.
In the early days of the revolution, someone asked me what my worst fears for the antiquities were. I hadnâ€™t dared think about it too much, but the image that first sprang into my head was that of blank walls: hacked out, ragged, blank walls of tombs, their once exquisite reliefs completely destroyed. Sadly that is now the horrible fate of the tomb of Kenamun at Tell el Maskhuta, a unique example of a Ramesside tomb in Lower Egypt, and one that has not yet been published. Rossella Lorenzi, reporting on the discovery of the tomb, described it as ‘beautifully decorated, the tomb features scenes from the Book of the Dead, culminating with the famous vignettes from Chapter 125, which depict the critical judgment ceremonyâ€¦ Other important scenes in the tomb include a depiction of the goddess Hathor in the shape of a cow, as she emerges from the Delta marshes, as well as a scene of the four sons of Horus’. It was a fairly recent discovery of an SCA excavation announced only just last year. Hopefully the excavators will have more unpublished data that can be released in future, but the extent of the tomb’s study will have been relatively limited compared to others that have been known and visited for many years by numerous scholars.
A scene from the now destroyed tomb of Kenamun
And that is one of the things that I fear for most now, for that which we may never even know we have lost: the archaeology and objects that have never been properly recorded before being destroyed forever. Illicit digging at at least eight different sites across the country may prove in the end to be the worst casualty. According to Hawass, ‘looters have attacked Abydos nearly every night; illegal excavations and trenches, some as deep as five meters, have damaged the site’.
As of yet, there is very little information on what has been taken, apart from the objects already cited from the Egyptian Museum and the tombs of Hetepka and Ptahshepses at Saqqara and Abusir. As it has been confirmed that we are dealing with a potentially extensive number of unknown objects, it may prove even more important now to place government-enforced restrictions on the movement and trade of Egyptian antiquities.
Hawass says that the guards at the Selim Hassan magazine in Saqqara were forced to surrender to armed robbers, suggesting increasingly violent attacks at sites with insufficient protection. Whether army involvement in site protection could be boosted enough to deal with the situation is uncertain, as Dr. Hawass himself has despaired of protecting the sites, and the army is now heavily involved in governance, not just their usual military role. There is now a petition on Facebook urging the transitional government to provide improved site security. Perhaps even the numerous unemployed archaeologists who were recently involved in protests outside the Ministry of Antiquities could be recruited in protection efforts. Whether outside help will be called in from international organizations such as UNESCO or Blue Shield remains to be seen.
According to Sarah Parcak on the Restore + Save Facebook group, ‘Blue Shield, UNESCO, the Carabinieri, etc have all offered their help, publicly and privately…They are all waiting and standing by to give whatever assistance is needed. Until that happens, they can only stand by’. Whatever action is taken by the transitional Egyptian government clearly cannot come too soon.
Many of the Egyptian people have made an outstanding effort in recent days to protect their cultural heritage, freely and willingly putting themselves in dangerous situations to stand between would-be looters, sometimes armed, and threatened archaeological sites and museums. A revolution anywhere in the world would be sure to destabilize cultural protection measures, and the old regime certainly contributed to the conditions that have prompted looting, such as poverty, lack of education, and lack of disaster planning. Any outside assistance need not detract from Egyptâ€™s achievements. The huge changes happening in Egypt today, brought about by its brave citizensâ€™ desire for freedom to create a better world for themselves and their country, will hopefully be the best way to safeguard its heritage in the future.
In the New York Times, the director of the Metropolitan Museum, Thomas P. Campbell, expressed alarm about continuing looting, calling it â€œa grave and tragic emergency”, saying:
The world cannot sit by and permit unchecked anarchy to jeopardize the cultural heritage of one of the worldâ€™s oldest, greatest and most inspiring civilizations. We echo the voices of all concerned citizens of the globe in imploring Egyptâ€™s new government authorities, in building the nationâ€™s future, to protect its precious past. Action needs to be taken immediately
A scene in the now destroyed tomb of Kenamun depicting the judgement scene from the Book of the Dead Spell 125
UPDATE 3rd March 11pm:
Judith H. Dobrzynski has posted a leaked list of objects missing from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo submitted by a supposedly reliable source from inside the museum (and I have also heard from other channels that the source is trustworthy).
**EDIT: An anonymous comment below argues that the anonymous source is not reliable. I did not receive the information firsthand myself, thus I cannot judge the veracity of any claims made by either side as to the source and their reliability or bias, but in the absence of any other information from the museum for the past few weeks, the list still seems worth noting.
In response to Hawass’ resignation, Karl von Habsburg, the president of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield said: â€œI am terrified by the idea that this might be a sign to potential looters that now that last element of control is gone, and now we have a free hand to continue looting”.
Indeed, there has been more looting in the past couple of days, with Al Masry Al Youm reporting that a magazine in Tell el Fara’in (ancient Buto) was robbed in violent attack by 40 armed men. For more on the site of Tell el Fara’in, German Archaeological Institute website has a good summary of the history of the ancient site and modern excavations there.
However, there is also some indication of efforts to prevent against further looting. Ahram Online reports that the antiquities collection in the magazine at Qantara East, for fear of further looting, has been moved to the basement of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
This petition urges Egypt’s transitional government to provide protection for the sites, magazines, and antiquities.
On Facebook, Nicole Hansen and Nigel Hetherington are reporting from Egypt, that Emad Abu Ghazi has been appointed as the new Minister of Tourism and Antiquities. Ahram Online has tweeted that he is the new Minister of Culture. An article in the United Arab Emirates newspaper the National, has some good background information on Abu Ghazi, who does not seem to have a background in antiquities but is in favour of the revolution and reform:
Emad Abou Ghazi has been general secretary of the Higher Council of Culture since 2009. Born in 1955, he studied history at Cairo University and received a master’s degree in medieval documents. Since 1983 he has been an assistant professor at Cairo University.
UPDATE 7th March 11:20pm:
Protests held today by archaeologists, professors, and students were able to convince the new Prime Minister of Egypt’s transitional government, Essam Sharaf, to keep a separate Ministry of Antiquities rather than reinstating it as a sub-division of the Ministry of Culture. Egyptologist Nicole Hansen reported on the protests from Cairo on the Restore + Save Facebook group:
We archaeologists gathered at the Egyptian Museum at 10 a.m. and then marched to the Council of Ministers and stayed outside protesting until the Prime Minister came down at about 1:30 p.m. and promised us the Ministry of Antiquities would stay an independent ministry.
Having a separate Ministry should give antiquities officials more control over their own department with a separate revenue stream reserved for development and protection of the country’s antiquities rather than potentially having it re-diverted to other cultural institutions.
The SCA is holding a referendum and electing the new Minister of Antiquities/Head of SCA on Friday March 18th. On the list are: Dr Nur al Din, Dr Ali radwan, Dr Sabry al Aziz, Dr. Ala Shahine, Dr. Mamdouh Amr, Dr mamdouh Amaty on the list—there are 7 in total. Arabic readers—FYI:
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Two contenders for the position of Minister of Antiquities, Sabri Abdel Aziz and Mohamed Abdel Maksoud, photo by the Egypt Exploration Society
A statement of prominent intellectuals confirmed that Abou-Ghazi is â€œa true intellectual who is involved with the current affairs of his country, in addition to being highly respected among all intellectuals inside and outside Egypt, and who is capable of regaining Egyptâ€™s cultural role in the region.â€ Supporters of Abou-Ghazi spoke of his patriotic stances, referring to â€œhis articles that reflected a strong stance towards freedom and democracy”, and considering him “a son of the Egyptian patriotic movement who never hesitated to pay with his own freedom, where he was subject to prison because of his political ideals”.
Dr. Zahi Hawass has updated his blog with more on the illegal building & farming happening on a number of archaeological sites.
You can sign a petition here, urging Egypt’s transitional government to provide adequate protection for the sites and antiquities.
On a slightly different, but timely note, tomorrow is International Women’s Day and in Egypt, a Million Woman March is being organized to take place in Cairo‘s Tahrir Square. The Petrie Museum in London is also holding an event in honour of International Women’s day in the form of a show about Amelia Edwards, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the Egypt Exploration Fund, and essentially founded the Petrie Museum and Britain’s first professorship in Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at UCL. (I’ll be attending, so if you’re there too, come and say hi!)
UPDATE 7th March 11am:
Just a quick update to note that the Penn Cultural Heritage Center has compiled an amazing and detailed list with accompanying photographs of the antiquities currently known to be missing from Egypt. Their efforts are hugely appreciated and I hope this list can be widely and efficiently disseminated.
UPDATE 7th March 2:15pm:
In an SCA press release, an open letter from Dr. Tarek El Awadi, Director of the Egyptian Museum, and other archaeologists in Egypt, urges the Prime Minister of the interim Egyptian government to prioritize the deployment of police protection to sites and magazines around the country:
Open Letter to His Excellency, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf
We hope that your tenure in office continues smoothly and would like to
ask a favour of you that affects not only us, but all Egyptians and indeed
people worldwide. Would you please make it a top priority of your
government to return police to archaeological sites so as to put an end to
the illegal excavations, the looting of storehouses and tombs, and illegal
construction on governmental archaeological land. The desecration of
archaeological sites and monuments is not only a huge loss for the people
of Egypt on a national, economic, and human level, but is also a loss to
all of humanity and to science.
Below are just a few signatures of scholars and individuals who support
this request. We very much hope that you will take immediate steps to
save Egypt’s heritage for posterity.
On the behalf of all archaeologists and Egyptologists
Dr. Tarek El Awadi Director of the Egyptian Museum
[List of names not attached]
UPDATE 7th March 10pm:
A new video from CNN shows scenes of empty cases in Egyptian Museum, but also some of the damaged objects that have had restoration work done and are back on display. It is worth noting that the video claims that one of the four canopic jars belonging to Thuja is missing, however a photo of the original display clearly shows that only three jars were in the case in the first place. We know that that particular case was broken into and disturbed, as one of the canopic lids was pictured in the Al Jazeera footage lying on the ground, however the three jars are still there undamaged. Nevertheless, the gilded canopic chest that was originally in the same case appears to be no longer on display and I sincerely hope it is in conservation but hasn’t been too damaged!
Tweets from a number of differentaccounts 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.
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.
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…
RÃ¼hli 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 HladÃk, 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.
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 Egyptâ€™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’.
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
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, photo by tutincommon
4. Statue of Nefertiti making offerings, not identified yet
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 Thoth, 14cm tall
7. Wooden shabti statuettes from Yuya (11 pieces), photo by sergiothirteen
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.”
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:
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: â€œWe are going to look inside all the garbage that they collected from Tahrir Square to find the rest of the objects.â€
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:
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)
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.
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.
Friends in Egypt
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.
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.
“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.
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 Tutankhamunâ€™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/
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
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.
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: â€œThe funny part of the story is that only the books of the gift shop remained untouched. Looters are never interested in books, I guessâ€.
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:
Iâ€™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.
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 thesesites. 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 astride a 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
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.
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.
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.
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 youTube
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 BÃ¡rta, 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: â€œMme 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.
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, 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.
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.
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.