14 Feb 2011

Fears over security of Egyptian artefacts

As the extent of the looting at the Egyptian Museum is revealed fears increase that historic sites across Egypt could be targeted.

Artefact looting fears continue across Egypt

As the political fallout from the Egyptian protests unravel so too does the effect they have had on cultural landmarks across the country.

It is now clear that the break-in at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo during the protests was far more serious than first reported. Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), initially reported that only two items had been stolen during the raid with 70 other artefacts damaged, but repairable.

However, on Saturday Mr Hawass admitted on his website that the theft amounted to many more historical pieces. Amongst the pieces stolen were statues of Nefertiti and Tutankhamun. He also admitted to The New York Times that further attempts to loot historical sites across the country, had been reported. In The Sinai Peninsula armed Bedouin looters had stolen 288 objects from a museum storage site. Mr Hawass said that these items had all been recovered.

The most ancient of all Egyptian tombs, in Saqqara, were also targeted but again assurances were given that nothing had been looted from the site and that the pyramids at Giza, the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens were all safe despite the breakdown of security forces following Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.

Items stolen from The Egyptian Museum, Cairo

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

However it was reported on Monday that a number of the stolen pieces including the precious Heart Scarab of Yuya had been recovered after a search of the exterior of the museum. Pictures were released to international press showing the extent of the damage caused. Mr Hawass also wanted to put to rest fears that the famous gold mask of Tutankhamun was missing.

Despite his attempts to calm concerns over the safety of Egypts antiquities, reports on Twitter claimed on Monday that hundreds of protesters were lining up outside the SCA calling for Zahi Hawass to step down, with army representatives and tanks guarding the building.

Concerns have been voiced all over the world about the security and protection of historical Egyptian artefacts and sites. A spokesperson for the British Museum told Channel 4 News: “The British Museum deplores the reported thefts and destruction which have taken place in Egypt’s museums and ancient sites during the current period of unrest.

“The Egyptian Museum in Cairo houses artefacts of unique importance to world heritage. It is a matter of the greatest concern that these irreplaceable objects should be fully protected to ensure their safety and survival for future generations.”

Fears have been voiced by the archaeology community that SCA officials are not present at sites across the country meaning further looting could occur.