Monday, 14 February 2011

Looting in the Cairo Museum: Update

It appears that two of the items reported as stolen have now been found at the Cairo Museum (report from CNN).
Searchers found a heart scarab and one of 11 missing Shabti statuettes that had been reported missing Sunday, according to a statement from Zahi Hawass, Egypt's minister of antiquities.
He said it appeared thieves threw the scarab outside the museum. The statuette and part of a mummy were found on the ground outside of the museum's display areas, Hawass said.
 See also a report in Greek.

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1 comment:

Euphronios said...

Jonathan Tokeley has said, "There have been numerous "thefts" from Cairo Museum over the last thirty years. Director Sala'h was sacked in the late 'eighties for "losing" 326 pieces, including a 3 metre sphinx, then Dr Nur el Deen, whilst Head of the Antiquities Commission., made a habit of checking items out of the Dashur and Saqqara depots, and losing them in transit to Cairo. He was sacked for shipping container loads of pieces to the the Gulf Emirates. There was also a famous theft, by some Coptic jewellers, who hid themselves in the sarcophagi in the right-hand vestibule until the museum closed.

But in all these cases the pieces were stolen, to be exported, and usually with direct government connivance. Since the Coptic theft, there have been a full platoon of infantry literally sleeping inside the museum all night. I know this, because when I was working with the Commission restorers, there was a scandal whereby the soldiers created the impression of a break-in---hacksawing a window at the back, rearranging some items inside a cabinet, etc---as a means to get their unpopular officer sacked (it worked).

So, first conclusion is that it's not possible to get inside that museum at night without at least a full Major in the army being on the payroll, and most probably---from my extensive experience of the Antiquities police---several generals at headquarters.

Second conclusion, this was not just a theft. Thieves don't also smash things. They care about the objects. My feeling is that it was an Islamic-inspired cash-flow expedition, rather along the lines of Kabul Museum, which was utterly smashed up by the Taliban, except for some saleable items that were used for cash-flow for weapons (including the artillery shells they used on the Bamiyan Buddhas, so the legend has it).

The pieces that were taken were all small and saleable because of the cachet. I imagine they're in Qatar or the Emirates, which is where the main buyers are these days, and where there's no compunction about showing such things to close friends. They're quite blatant.

At least the pieces will be well cared for, and eventually can be sold back to any responsible who takes power in Egypt, if the Muslim Brotherhood don't sweep the board and start smashing things, according to the recent Fatwa.

My main concern would be the possibility of more things being smashed---several solar barques went this time, and another guardian figure, as I understand---, and the fact that there's not a decent "objects restorer" in the whole of Egypt, and they're most unlikely to let us go down and do the work for them..."

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