Sunday, January 30, 2011

Updates as they trickle in

21:15 - Thanks very much to a contact who has been on the phone to the Epigraphic Survey team at Chicago House (Oriental Institute in Luxor) and can confirm that as of a couple of hours ago they are safe. Good news. Although the State Department's official advice is that non-essential people should evacuate it's not clear if the survey people will be trying to leave or not.

17:25 - An update from Zahi Hawass on his website, transferred by fax, shown here in full in case there are difficulties accessing it later on:

On Friday, January 28, 2011, when the protest marches began in Cairo, I heard that a curfew had been issued that started at 6.00pm on Friday evening until 7.00am on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, on that day the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, was not well guarded. About a thousand people began to jump over the wall on the eastern side of the museum into the courtyard. On the western side of the museum, we recently finished something I was very proud of, a beautiful gift shop, restaurant and cafeteria. The people entered the gift shop and stole all the jewellery and escaped; they thought the shop was the museum, thank God! However, ten people entered the museum when they found the fire exit stairs located at the back of it.

As every one knows, the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, is naturally lit and due to the architectural style of it, there are glass windows on its roof. The criminals broke the glass windows and used ropes to get inside, there is a distance of four metres from the ceiling to the ground of the museum. The ten people broke in when I was at home and, although I desperately wanted to go to the museum, I could not leave my house due to the curfew. In the morning, as soon as I woke up, I went directly there. When I arrived, I found out that, the night before, three tourist police officers had stayed there overnight because they were not able to get out before the curfew was put in place. These officers, and many young Egyptians who were also there, helped to stop more people from entering the museum. Thankfully, at 10.00pm on Friday night, the army arrived at the museum and gave additional security assistance.

I found out that one criminal was still at the museum, too. When he had asked the people guarding the museum for water, they took his hands and tied him to the door that lead to the gift shop so that he could not escape! Luckily, the criminals who stole the jewellery from the gift shop did not know where the jewellery inside the museum is kept. They went into the Late Period gallery but, when they found no gold, they broke thirteen vitrines and threw the antiquities on the floor. Then the criminals went to the King Tutankhamun galleries. Thank God they opened only one case! The criminals found a statue of the king on a panther, broke it, and threw it on the floor. I am very thankful that all of the antiquities that were damaged in the museum can be restored, and the tourist police caught all of the criminals that broke into it. On Saturday, the army secured the museum again and guarded it from all sides. I left the museum at 3.00pm on Saturday, 29, 2011.

What is really beautiful is that not all Egyptians were involved in the looting of the museum. A very small number of people tried to break, steal and rob. Sadly, one criminal voice is louder than one hundred voices of peace. The Egyptian people are calling for freedom, not destruction. When I left the museum on Saturday, I was met outside by many Egyptians, who asked if the museum was safe and what they could do to help. The people were happy to see an Egyptian official leave his home and come to Tahrir Square without fear; they loved that I came to the museum.

The curfew started again on Saturday afternoon at 4.00pm, and I was receiving messages all night from my inspectors at Saqqara, Dahsur, and Mit Rahina. The magazines and stores of Abusir were opened, and I could not find anyone to protect the antiquities at the site. At this time I still do not know what has happened at Saqqara, but I expect to hear from the inspectors there soon. East of Qantara in the Sinai, we have a large store containing antiquities from the Port Said Museum. Sadly, a large group, armed with guns and a truck, entered the store, opened the boxes in the magazine and took the precious objects. Other groups attempted to enter the Coptic Museum, Royal Jewellery Museum, National Museum of Alexandria, and El Manial Museum. Luckily, the foresighted employees of the Royal Jewellery Museum moved all of the objects into the basement, and sealed it before leaving.

My heart is broken and my blood is boiling. I feel that everything I have done in the last nine years has been destroyed in one day, but all the inspectors, young archaeologists, and administrators, are calling me from sites and museums all over Egypt to tell me that they will give their life to protect our antiquities. Many young Egyptians are in the streets trying to stop the criminals. Due to the circumstances, this behaviour is not surprising; criminals and people without a conscience will rob their own country. If the lights went off in New York City, or London, even if only for an hour, criminal behaviour will occur. I am very proud that Egyptians want to stop these criminals to protect Egypt and its heritage.

At this time, the Internet has not been restored in Egypt. I had to fax this statement to my colleagues in Italy for it to be uploaded in London on my website.

- Thanks very much to Kate's News from the Valley of the King's blog for an update on the JHU team from the temple of Mut, half of whom have left Luxor with the other half due to leave soon. Protests in Luxor still seem to be relatively low key by comparison with Cairo. If anyone has any other news about personnel in Egypt please let either Kate or I know so that we can let everyone else know. There is a great deal of concern out there.

15:26 - Thanks to an anonymous commenter who pointed me to another German article, this time an interview with Wafaa el-Saddik on Zeist Online (and here in engine-English thanks to Google Translate). Of the Egyptian Museum she says that a total of 13 display cases were smashed, that, as she said earlier, looters have stolen pharaonic jewellry trinkets and that the new extension with the large souvenir shop, which was opened in November 2010, was totally robbed. As with the earlier article she identifies security guards and police as the perpetrators. She suggests that the reason that the security guards turned to theft is because of the seriously low salaries that they earn, unable to buy the basics for their families. She goes on to say that on Saturday morning the Memphis museum and magazine were emptied by thieves. She called the police, but they did not respond so she then alerted the army but by then it was too late. She phoned the museums in Luxor and Aswan but there was nothing happening at either at that time. She identifies that the lack of protection is a great problem but also that none of the museums in Egypt are insured. [Thanks to Daniel and Joris for checking the translation].

15:01 - See Margaret Maitland's Eloquent Peasant blog for a list of all the identified artefacts that have been damaged in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Many of the comments are worth reading too. A really horrific inventory of broken pieces of priceless antiquity. Heartbreaking.

- Thanks to Jane Akshar and her friend Colette for the latest (and just about the only) news from Luxor, via a recording of a phonecall between Colette and Jane, available on Jane's blog. Jane says that on the West Bank (where the mortuary temples and the Valley of the Kings are located) the police have abandoned the monuments so protection is being organized by local people who are taking measures to ensure that the sites are safe. There are no protests on the West Bank. On the East Bank, the main town of Luxor where the temples of Luxor and Karnak are located, there are low key protests being carried out but they are a very different kettle of fish from those in Cairo. Jane, her staff and all her guests are all perfectly safe.

13:18 - Ismail Serageldin, Librarian of Alexandria and Director of the Bibliotheca (the New Library of Alexandria) has released a statement today to say that the library is currently protected on an informal basis:
The library is safe thanks to Egypt’s youth, whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters. I am there daily within the bounds of the curfew hours. However, the Library will be closed to the public for the next few days until the curfew is lifted and events unfold towards an end to the lawlessness and a move towards the resolution of the political issues that triggered the demonstrations.

13:14 - Friends of Fekri Hassan and Geoffrey Tassie (Tass) will be relieved to know that Jo Rowland has spoken to them and that both are well. Thanks Jo - much appreciated.

13:00 - The German newsaper Der Tagesspiegel (thanks Homer) via Google Translate says that the director of the Egyptian Museum, Wafaa el-Saddik, has told one of their journalists that security guards and police officers were responsible for the looting of the Egyptian Museum, apparently in two separate episodes. She is quoted saying that police had removed their jackets so as not to be identified as police officers. A second group of offenders apparently entered from the back of a fire escape through the skylight. El-Saddik goes on to describe how many artefacts were tossed on the floor and are damaged or destroyed, including statues of gods from the treasure of Tutankhamun. Contrary to Hawass's statement yesterday el-Saddik is quoted saying that looters had stolen pharaonic items. The article in the original German is here. UPDATED - Thanks to Joris Van Wetering for looking through the original German article. He says that the article adds that most of damage (objects being broken etc) was done on the first floor (erste stockewerke) and that Pharaonic Jewellery (smuckstucke) has been stolen.

12.40 - The travel agency Thompson (the only UK company to fly direct to Aswan) has cancelled all outgoing flights from the UK to Aswan and Luxor, although empty planes are being sent to pick up returnees. No evacuations have been recommended for either town. Many flights to Cairo have been cancelled as well from the UK (source: The Independent's travel correspondent via BBC News 24). See Simon Calder's travel advice for the current situation in Egypt on The Independent's website, which points out that even where flights are still operating on the Cairo route they are severely disrupted due to requirements to land outside the times of the curfew.

11:45 - The Daily Express (UK tabloid) has reported that the military are protecting the Valley of the Kings but that there has been no move by the UK government to evacuate Luxor.

CNN has reported on two tours and their experiences in Cairo. One tour, which started in Cairo, arrived safely in Luxor where they saw tanks but apparently no signs of trouble. They were transferred to their cruise ship which has sailed south, but the atmoshpere on board is described as "somber".

Reuters has suggested that the protests may have only a short term impact on tourism in Egypt, but I guess that that will depend on the political outcome of the protests.

Television footage of tanks on city streets, burning buildings and running battles between police and protesters will slash tourism levels, although it may only be short-term.

When gunmen killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians at an ancient temple in Luxor in 1997, tourism slumped but picked up fairly quickly and since then has weathered disruptions relatively well.

The September 11, 2001 attacks, the second Palestinian Intifada, and a series of bomb attacks on tourist resorts in Sinai from 2004 to 2006 all led to temporary decreases in tourist arrivals, but the trend over the last decade has been broadly upward.


Anonymous said...

Acording to Wafaa as-Sadik, the museum at memphis has been completely looted.

Reported from german newspaper "ZEIT":

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to point out that Wafaa el-Saddik is a she, not a he.

AliceG said...

OMG. It gets worse and worse. But I did read the comments on that one blog and it now has me thinking. "Staged" The damage to the Cairo museum in the photos that I've seen does not look as bad as it could be. Yes, any damage is bad, but it could have been much worse. If they totally looted the gift shop, they had plenty of time to do a greeat deal more damage. One does wonder now in after thought if it was the protesters. Very well could be a ploy of the government to make those people look worse. Time will tell the whole story.

Daniel Jackson said...

The translation of the 15:26 linked german newspaper article is quite good. No relevant points missing or wrong.

It is really a shame. I am afraid this is not the last bad news from museums and storage rooms. :(

Andie said...

Hi Stephen - yes I knew that and spotted it a bit earlier but thanks very much for picking up on it. I'm having the devil's own time typing because I sliced my right hand index and middle fingers with a broken glass yesterday, right across my finger tips! Apologies to everyone for typos etc.

Daniel, thanks so much for checking the translation.

Alice, recent reports seem very clear that it was not protestors who raided the museum.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing the updates with us.

Boris A. Trivan said...

All is fine in the Amarna dig house. Professor Kemp is there at the moment.

Salima Ikram is well and back in Cairo.

AliceG said...

That makes it even worse in my book! Now I'm really angry. Somebody needs to pay. And I don't mean in money. It was selective damage, looking at it from this point of view. Somebody knew what to damage and what not to damage. Planned and staged. But the mummies! Hope your finger gets better quickly. And don't worry about any typos, just keep typing!

Andie said...

Thanks very much Boris.

Andie said...

Hi Alice, I am very wary about commenting on who did what and why, but recent reports (see the updated post above) suggest that it was security guards from the museum itself and police sought to steal items, and that this was not an organized plan from above but plain old fashioned opportunistic theft. A friend of mine pointed out that the damage inflicted looks as though the looters were actually trying to separate the gold from the other material, presumably to melt down and sell. All of this needs to be confirmed, and in all the chaos I think that confirmation from reliable sources will take some time.

Daniel Jackson said...

More shocking news from antiquity sites:

kat newkirk said...

Please- does anyone have news on the Delta sites, esp. Tell Basta/Bubastis? Thank you,

kat newkirk

kmtscribe said...

Yesterday my brother ...... was able to get in touch by phone with our two nieces.... in Cairo, and they told him that some groups of
revolutionaries are breaking into the homes of Christians in general and Coptic Orthodox CHRISTIANS in particular, vandalizing their homes and killing them.
Europeans are either Christians or Jews; so they kill them too.
Why isn't the media reporting this? Where is Time Magazine? the New York Times? Le Figaro? the Osservatore Romano? Neues Deutschland,? Al Ahram? Shame on
all of you. Wake up, or else Egypt will become like Iran.
Who will ever be able to restore order and justice in Egypt?

kmtscribe said...

The news footage showed the very particular encasing cage of Yuya
on the floor of the Cairo Museum, and the glass case broken.
Were these the two mummies that were desecrated and their heads torn off??

Andie said...

Kat, there are reports that two of the Delta cities have organized major protests, but as far as I can tell neither of them are anywhere near archaeolgical sites, most of which are in rural areas. I promise to let you know the moment I hear of anything new.

The exception in the Delta is, of course, Alexandria where there have been serious problems.

Mel said...

It just makes me feel sick.

Boris A. Trivan said...

Just heard from a friend and she says "I have just spoken to Barry at Amarna, and I'm afraid things are not so good there. Basically, even though Amarna itself seems to be calm and quiet, the security police have ordered the closure of the work and the evacuation of the team, to take place tomorrow. They therefore have no choice but to go to Cairo, where they will keep their heads down until the majority can leave the country."

Anonymous said...

This is sickening.