Friday, March 04, 2011

The status of Egyptian antiquities today (Zahi Hawass)

A distressing list of problems, the most open official statement to date.

When the revolution began on January 25, 2011, and through its first week, there were only a few reports of looting: at Qantara East in the Sinai, and at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. However, since Mubarak's resignation, looting has increased all over the country, and our antiquities are in grave danger from criminals trying to take advantage of the current situation.

Hawass's report includes the following details:

Looting of museums and storage magazines

There are few details about what items have been removed from these facilities. Hawass reports that site inspectors at each of these locations "are still carefully checking the magazine inventories against their databases to assess the full extent of the damage". He is waiting for the inspectors to finish their work and file their final reports.
  • Fourteen items remain missing from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, following the recovery of four of the original 18 missing items. The Heart Scarab of Yuya, the body of the goddess from the statue of Menkaret carrying Tutankhamun, one of the missing shabtis of Yuya and the statue of Akhenaten as an offering bearer.
  • From the storage magazine in Qantara East in the Sinai several boxes of artefacts were removed of which 292 items have been returned, but there is no indication as to what proprition of the whole this number represents.
  • Magazines in Tell el-Basta and Wadi el-Feiran, near Sharm el-Sheikh, were broken into.
  • The De Morgan magazine of Metropolitan Museum of Art’s expedition in Dahshur, was attacked twice. Looters were able to overpower and tie up the guards.
  • In Abusir, looters broke into the magazine of a Czech expedition. Again, there is no statement about what has been taken.
  • In Giza, the Selim Hassan magazine was broken into by looters carrying guns. There were guards but they surrendered were unarmed and surrendered.
  • Looters have attacked Abydos nearly every night; illegal excavations and trenches, some as deep as five meters, have damaged the site.

Sites and monuments

  • Saqqara was looted several times about ten days ago and the padlocks of many tombs were opened. At the tomb of Hetepka inscribed blocks and parts of the false door were stolen
  • The tomb of Ken-Amun in Tell el-Maskhuta, near Ismailia, was completely destroyed. It is the only known 19thDynasty tomb in Lower Egypt.
  • At Giza the Tomb of Impy, near the Great Sphinx, was broken into and vandals attempted unusuccessfully to destroy other buildings.
  • Looters have attacked Abydos nearly every night; illegal excavations and trenches, some as deep as five meters, have damaged the site
  • Inscribed blocks were also taken from the tomb of Ptahshepses in Abusir.
  • The guards of sites in Nekhen, north of Edfu, caught several thieves.
  • In Aswan archaeologists and site guards prevented looters from stealing a statue of Ramesses II.
  • A site in Northern Sinai was destroyed when looters arrived with a loader.
  • Reports of illegal construction have been reported near the pyramid of Merenre and the Mastaba Fara’un, near Saqqara.
  • Many sites, including Alexandria, Ismailia, Saqqara, Behaira, Sharqia, Abusir and Dahshur, have reported illegal excavations, some of which have taken place at night.

Islamic monuments

  • The police station which protects the recently restored and traffic-free al-Muizz Street (Cairo) was set on fire. Without the police presence, cars have already returned to al-Muizz Street.
  • In Tanta, the Sabeel of Ali Bey Al-Kabir, was broken into and three windows of Msavat metal framework, furniture and the modern iron gate were stolen. Some pieces of the window were found in the possession of street merchants.
  • Near Alexandria, Kom el Nadoura suffered some damage to its doors and furniture.
  • At Al Wekhalit el Jeddawi, in Esna, local people broke in and changed the locks.
  • Khan el-Zeraksha, a recently restored group of villas, was broken into by about 50 armed thugs, who forced the security team to leave. and are still occupying the site.
  • A group broke the door to Wekhalit el Haramin, at Hussein, but those who broke in have now been removed.

Jewish synagogues and Christian churches and monasteries remain safe and undamaged, according to the report.

Hawass concludes:

The antiquities guards and security forces at sites are unarmed and this makes them easy targets for armed looters. The guards and security forces are therefore forced to comply with the criminals’ demands. In addition, the Egyptian police force does not have the capacity to protect every single site, monument and museum in Egypt. The situation looks very difficult today and we are trying our best to ensure the police and army restore full protection to the cultural heritage of the country.

The above report is also summarized on Ahram Online by Nevine El Aref.


Anonymous said...

It's curious that he should give the 'final', but incomplete, list of damage just as he is kicked out of office and the revolution triumphs.

Andie said...

I would be very surprised if he goes for good. A resignation from the government is not a resignation from the SCA. Even though his tenure has expired the current state of affairs may allow a certain amount of latitude.

AliceG said...

He will not go easily. And I'm thinking that he was saying what he was told to say before.

Anonymous said...

What Hawass will do is not the point here. International organization like ONU and UNESCO should have done much more to press the Egyptian government to protect antiquities. The guards are unarmed, police and army are absent. This situation has been going on for more than one month and this is shameful.

Anonymous said...

The truth comes out at last.