Antiquities Looting During Egypt's Revolution Was Worse Than Feared

Antiquities Looting During Egypt's Revolution Was Worse Than Feared
Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities has issued a revised list of objects stolen from Cairo's Egyptian Museum on January 28, the day that looters broke into the museum. After minimizing the extent of the looting, the government now says that 54 pieces were plundered, 12 of which were later recovered. Many of the looted items are bronze, gold-plated, and limestone statues. A bronze trumpet found in Tutankhamun's tomb is a particularly unfortunate loss, according to the Egyptology blog The Eloquent Peasant.

Zahi Hawass, who left his post as minister of antiquities earlier this month, consistently downplayed the scale of the looting, first claiming that there was none, before revising himself and acknowledging that 18 objects had been stolen, of which four were then recovered. The extent to which Egyptian archaeological sites were looted was also not accurately reported. While assessing looting at sites scattered around the country is a time-consuming process, determining how many items were taken from the Egyptian Museum should have been a much simpler process.

Describing the newest report of losses, the Art Newspaper's Martin Bailey writes that "the perfunctory details of the objects and the poor quality images of the missing items suggests that the museum (the world's most important collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts) has poor records and that its contingency planning for an emergency was woefully inadequate." The antiquities council's report can be downloaded from its Web site, and indeed, some of the images of the looted objects are so poor as to be useless for purposes of identifying them should they appear on the antiquities market.

During a UNESCO conference in Paris last week on preventing trafficking in stolen cultural goods, director Irina Bokova expressed her alarm at the state of Egyptian antiquities and called for "international mobilization" to identify any attempts to sell stolen objects, according to Le Monde. Representatives from UNESCO and the International Council of Museums are in Egypt this week to advise Egyptian authorities. France Desmarais of the Council of Museums told Al Masry Al-Youm that the first step will be to establish a "red list" of looted items that will be sent to Interpol so that it will be accessible throughout the world.

Meanwhile, what is Zahi Hawass up to? He was originally supposed to attend the UNESCO conference last week, but as he is no longer antiquities minister, he instead sent a statement asking for the international community's help in locating stolen artifacts. On his blog, he announces his intention to draw up a list of "all of the objects missing from the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, the objects taken from the storage magazines at Giza, Saqqara, Tell el Fara’in, and Qantara East, and the blocks taken from tombs in Giza, Saqqara, Abusir, and Ismailia." In another post, he adds that he is back at work in his private office and preparing to travel to Boston "for a television interview for a children's program about my adventures in the tomb of Seti."