Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Wednesday updates re Egypt


21:23 - Thanks to Nick Picardo and others for letting me know that the military are hosing down the museum when small fires (only small ones have been reported) have been caused by molotov cocktails. Although the museum isn't in the best possible place it seems to be relatively safe at the moment, thanks to the army.

21:10 - The latest from the Museum, from the BBC's live feed from reporter John Simpson: "There is still a lot of fighting going around Tahrir Square, particularly alongside the Egyptian National Museum. From where I am standing, I can see people throwing petrol bombs being thrown. From time to time you also hear quick bursts of gunfire, and see tracer rounds fly from one side of the square to the other. I suspect that is coming from soldiers, who are probably trying to dissuade people from coming too close or climbing on their tanks."

21:05 - Thanks to Jan Picton for sending me this link to a list of online resources providing news or issuing statements on the current situation. It was put together by Megaera Lorenz on the Restore + Save Facebook page. There are some useful links in there.

21:00 - The SSEA have released a statement to say that SSEA Vice-President Kei Yamamoto got out of Egypt yesterdayand retired Royal Ontario Museum curator Roberta Shaw is at the Cairo airport being evacuated to Paris.

18:59: The Berkeley Blog looks at the importance of mummies to the history of Egypt and joins the call for the Egyptian heritage to be cared for: "As a historian of collections of human remains in the United States, I was particularly startled by the recent reports of the destruction of mummies in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The long and unusual history of collecting, researching, and displaying mummified remains represents a fascinating component of how scholars and the public have learned about issues such as race and prehistory. Anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians continue to learn much from mummies, and their grotesque desecration should be avoided at all cost, as they represent a priceless piece of our shared global heritage."

18:13 - Another statement from Hawass:

I would like the people of the world to know that today all of the Egyptian monuments are safe. All the archaeological sites in Aswan, such as the Temple of Philae, the Unfinished Obelisk, the Island of Kalabsha, the Tombs of the Nomarchs, and Elephantine Island are completely safe. The temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo are also safe. All of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Tombs of the Nobles, and the temples of Luxor and Karnak are safe. The temples of Dendera, Abydos, the sites in Akhmim, and all sites in Middle Egypt, such as Tuna el-Gebel, Amarna, and Beni Hasan, are safe. All sites in Alexandria are safe. All the mosques, synagogues, and monasteries are safe; nothing has happened to any of them.

The sites of Giza and Saqqara are also safe. Outlaws only broke the padlocks that secure the tombs of Saqqara, and when we went inside to check them we were happy to see that no damage had been done. The most serious offence that occurred was the looting of the storage magazine in Qantara, in the Sinai. On Friday night a group armed with guns entered the magazine and stole some antiquities that were stored in boxes. Yesterday, 288 of these objects were returned. We do not know the full extent of the damage done to this magazine, but we will soon.

All of the museums in Egypt, 24 in total, are safe and unharmed; only the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, was broken into. When I went to the museum on Saturday morning I found out that 70 objects had been broken, but nothing had been stolen. All 70 objects can be restored, and can be safely put back in place.

I would like to tell the world that the situation in Egypt was bad for two days, beginning on Friday. However, all the archaeological sites in the country were protected by Egyptian people of all ages; I am especially proud of the young Egyptians who formed a line around the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, to protect it from outlaws and further break-ins. I would like UNESCO and people around the world not to worry because the sites of Egypt are safe.

17:32 - More news from contributors to EEF: Diana Craig Patch, Associate Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art says that the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Emory University 2011 Feb-March season of the Joint Expedition to Malqata has been cancelled. Also an 11-member team of students researchers and staff affiliated with an archaeology field program of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology have left Amarna. Finally, the PYIFA Expedition Abydos team are to take a charter flight out of Egypt on Thursday.

16:37 - Thanks again to EEF and its contributors for two news items about archaeological teams. Melanie Flossmann-Sch├╝tze (Assistant Director at Tuna el-Gebel) reports that the spring campaign of the join mission of the Institute of Egyptology, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich (Prof. Dr. Dieter Kessler) and the Faculty of Archaeology, Cairo University (Prof. Dr. Abd el-Halim Nur ed-Din) in Tuna el-Gebel has been canceled.
Susanne Bickel reports that the "information" in yesterday's Swiss newspaper NZZ (according to which the site of the Basel team was attacked) was incorrect: "The site (KV 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 37, 40, 59) and the team are ok. Most members of the team have returned to Switzerland, but our field director continues the work, especially to secure the shafts with iron gates. The workmen were allowed back to the Valley yesterday. Other missions in the Kings' Valley continue as well, no damage has occurred until now."

16:32 - From BBC Live:
1610- "Two petrol bombs have landed inside the grounds of the Egyptian Museum, near where pro- and anti-government demonstrators have been involved in violent clashes, according to the AFP news agency."
1614 - "CNN is broadcasting pictures of the stand-off near the back of the Egyptian Museum. There is a small fire in the street, and another in a building opposite. But there is no indication that there is a fire inside the world-famous institution, which was damaged by looters on Friday."

12:52 - Thanks very much to Hans van den Berg for letting me know that the Leiden mission's website has been updated with a statement about the situation at Saqqara:
"Maarten Raven: 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".
Hopefully things will become clearer over the next week or so.

11:16 - There have been reports from various parts of Egypt to say that the Internet is coming back online although some social networking sites are still blocked. Jane Akshar is back online in the west bank of Luxor and says that all is quiet there, with her guests visiting sites and taking boat trips as normal .

10:42 - Timely piece from the Washington Post about how auction houses, museums and other purchasers of antiquities operate : "These days, archaeologists work hard to present themselves as protectors, not plunderers. After unconfirmed reports of widespread looting of artifacts from tombs and storage facilities in Egypt during the uprising there, the archaeology community is on high alert, warning Interpol, border agents, and art dealers and merchants to look out for Egyptian treasures. Despite such efforts, experts say that stolen loot will inevitably surface on eBay, at auction houses and, yes, even in reputable museums. The global system of tracking antiquities is simply too porous, the demand for ancient baubles too high. "

10:32 - Thanks to Joris Van Wetering for sending me a news release (in German) from ICOM (the International Council of Museums) who have created a special unit to deal with the aftermath of looting. A task force of the Council is in the process to list the damages, which hopes to assemble an exact list but only when the country has settled somewhat. Currently, communication with colleagues was on the ground too difficult. Following the period of the assessment there will be an official statement of the Council. Until then leaders in all countries are called upon not to buy art from Egypt.

09:59 - Thanks as usual to EEF for continuing to publish updates from teams in or leaving Egypt, and for those that took the time to email the details to EEF. Today a member of the JHU Mut Temple Project team in Luxor, has confirmed that all members of the team are now safely out of Egypt, and it has been confirmed that the Spanish Mission in Dra Abu el-Naga (Tomb of Djehuty) will be back in Spain by Thursday.
Laurent Bavay (Director of the Belgian mission in Qurna) provided a very useful summary of the situation on the West Bank. He says that since Saturday 29th January missions have been allowed to work but without any workmen and most of the missions stopped their work. Bavay's mission in Qurna (TT 29 - TT 96) ceased its activities on Sunday, the tombs were closed and secured and the team now returned to Europe. The Italian mission under the direction of Francesco Tiradritti (TT 37) has closed and team members, except for Francesco Tiradritti, have left Egypt. He says that as of yesterday, Hourig Sourouzian and the Memnon Collossi team were still working. He describes the West bank in Luxor as calm and says that tourist groups were still visiting tombs in Qurna. Antiquities seem to have escaped looting. Interestingly, contrary to some earlier reports he says that "local authorities remained on duty at all time and made every efforts to ensure the protection of the antiquities (including organizing guards during the nights on the site). General director of the West Bank, Mr. Mustafa Waziri, was himself present at all times, notably taking control of the crossroad leading to the KV and checking every vehicles to secure the valley."

09:50 - I imagine that there will be fewer updates from now on as regards heritage news in Egypt but perhaps a few of the stories from the last few days will be more securely confirmed or modified. I'll start updating the blog with the backlog of normal Egyptology news items tomorrow, but I'll keep giving priority to the current situation wherever I hear anything new.


Anonymous said...

Any news on who is likely to take power after Mubarak?

Andie said...

Hi. There is a lot of speculation at the moment and, if Mubarak is successful in staying in power until September, a lot more time for things to become clearer. Al Jazeera, CNN and the BBC are amongst various news channels covering the possibilities.

Boris A. Trivan said...

News from Amarna (3 hours ago) - Barry and a small portion of the Amarna Project team remains in Amarna despite earlier plans to go back to Cairo today. Whether they will stay in Amarna or not is unclear.

kat newkirk said...

SIS is back online , the first time since last Wed. Both El Ahram Weekly and Daily are back online- the first since last Wed.

Anonymous said...

I heard an unconfirmed rumour that the Egyptian museum of antiquities has caught fire, this is not true, is it?

Andie said...

Hi Anonymous no.2 - No, there has been official confirmation this morning that the museum survived unscathed in spite of small fires within the grounds. All fires were put out with water by the army. I've seen live photos of the museum this morning (Weds 3rd) and it looks fine.