News

Former Egyptian Museum Dir Says Looting Inside Job, Memphis Mus Looted [UPDATE 40] Damaged Mummy ID’d, Sinai Antiquities Robbed

by Hrag Vartanian on January 30, 2011

FOR EARLIER UPDATES, PHOTOS & NEWS, VISIT PART 1 (UPDATES 1-23) and PART 2 (UPDATES 24-34).

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UPDATE 35: Sun Jan 30, 10:29am EST: Protests at Tahrir Square continue and Al-Jazeera is reporting that army helicopters and hovering over the square, jets are flying low over downtown Cairo, and there are more armored vehicles in the area. I’ve created a composite image of the scene Sunday in Tahrir Square in context of the National Museum. But now for the bigger news …

Wafaa Al-Saddik, former director of the Egyptian Museum. (via zeit.de)

In a shocking development, the former director of the Egyptian Museum, Wafaa el-Saddik, in an interview published on German publication Zeit Online has said that the individuals responsible for the looting at the National Museum included the institution’s own guards, the fire danger at the NDP headquarters is now over after two days, and the most shocking revelation that the Memphis Museum in Memphis, Egypt, has been completely looted.

First, regarding the looters at the National Museum:

El-Saddik: Those were the guardians of the museum, our own people. Some have apparently by the police before their coats pulled out not to be recognizable as policemen. A second group of offenders is then entered from the back of a fire escape through the skylight. The destruction gave it all on the first floor, where there is also the treasure of Tutankhamun.

And the Memphis Museum:

Question: Are there other museums in Egypt affected?

El-Saddik: The Museum in Memphis, and his magazines were robbed on Saturday morning completely. The leaders there have called me in desperation and prayed: “Save us, do something.” I first called the police, but did not respond. I’ve alerted an Army General, I know. But it was too late. With the museums in Luxor and Aswan I was on the phone, there is nothing happening. The biggest problem is the lack of protection of our museums at all. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo and all museums in Egypt are not insured. I have asked for many years that this happens – without any success.

And why does she believe the guards, who protect some of the most valuable objects in our global heritage, did it?

El-Saddik: They are paid very poorly. I wrote the fingers crooked and asking for more money for these people. All for free. A security guard earns about 250 Egyptian pounds, or 35 € a month. We have about 160 security guards plus several dozen police officers who are basically conscripts in police uniforms. These policemen earn even less …

Translations via Google Translate, hat tip commenter Daniel Jackson

A view of the sculpture garden at the Memphis Museum (image via flickr.com/davidbolton)

For those who may not know, the Memphis Museum is a small institution roughly 24 km south of Cairo dominated by a colossal limestone statue of Rameses II (view from lower level, view from balcony).

There is also a sculpture garden and other smaller objects at the Museum. It is not currently know the extent of the looting and whether the looters were able to steal major objects or simply those in display cases and other more portable items.

For more info about the Museum visit, egyptsites.wordpress.com. Also, there’s a view of the entrance to the Memphis Museum here.

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UPDATE 36: Sun Jan 30, 12:15pm EST: Danny Ramadan, who is preparing a report for Hyperallergic, has been tweeting some photos from Sunday’s activity in Tahrir Square and Cairo. This photo show a tank with the National Museum in the background. You can also see the burned out husk of the NDP headquarters to the left of the Museum.

Here is another view of the burned out NDP headquarters that was a threat to the National Museum on Friday and Saturday. The image below is via @Farrah3m, though I don’t believe this is her own photo (her twitpic stream appears to be a curated mix of camera photos and news agency pics):

Also, by now almost all world governments are telling their citizen to avoid Egypt and they are working to get their own citizens out.

As an aside, it is also worth noting that Al-Jazeera is reporting that today there have been a lot of women taking part in the protests, more so than on Friday and Saturday. The reporter says that most of the signs are now in English, indicating that the protesters are targeting their voices at the outside world and foreign governments.

The only troubling development is the emergence of visible signs of the Muslim Brotherhood in the protests and if Mohamed El Baradei, the opposition leader forms a new government, that the Brotherhood would undoubtedly be part of the new administration. The Muslim Brotherhood is officially banned in Egypt. It is a powerful Islamic movement that would like to reinstate the historic Islamic Caliphate, and instill Qur’anic law in Egypt and other Muslim-majority countries. More info on the Brotherhood on Wikipedia.

Not an UPDATE but an aside: 1:08pm EST: The Metropolitan Museum is announcing that their director Tom Campbell was interviewed for the AP story yesterday but there isn’t any new information in the links.

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UPDATE 37: Sun Jan 30, 1:55pm EST: A number of Spanish-language blogs are hypothesizing on the identity of one of the mummies that was damaged at the National Museum.

A commenter tipped me off that ushebtisegipcios.blogia.com is suggesting that one of the two damaged mummies may have been that of Tjuya (sometimes transliterated as Thuya or Thuyu), and if so it dates to the New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty.

According to Wikipedia, Tjuya is:

… an Egyptian noblewoman, and the mother of queen Tiye, wife of pharaoh Amenhotep III. She is the grandmother of Akhenaten, and great grandmother of Tutankhamun.

The visual evidence is compelling but I haven’t been able to identify the source of the lower black & white image. The top image is obviously a screenshot from an Al-Jazeera broadcast. You can find more information about Tjuya’s mummy over at the Theban Royal Mummy Project site

Tjuya’s mummy mask is one of the highlights of the National Museum’s mummy collection. There is another Spanish-language blog post on vintage69.blogspot.com.

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UPDATE 38: Sun Jan 30, 2:50pm EST: Dr. Zahi Hawass, chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, has taken to his own blog to outline the circumstances of the looting a few days ago. He writes:

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.

… 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 …

But he does reveal that there has been looting elsewhere in Egypt [emphasis mine]:

… 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.

As we’ve said before. I would take any statement by Hawass with a grain of salt, as he is part of the current troubled administration of Egypt.

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UPDATE 39: Sun Jan 30, 3:04pm EST: The Lede blog at the New York Times has collected some of the protest signs taken by Cairo blogger Issandr El Amrani, better known as @arabist in the blogosphere.

But the best “sign,” which almost looks like performance art, was captured by @ghorab:

The back of the paper bag is written in Arabic and I’ve sent it to a few people to help me translate it. I’ll post that as soon as I get a translation back. Ok, here it is:

No identity without a free country

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UPDATE 40: Sun Jan 30, 5:49pm EST: The Egyptology News blog has some good information regarding the various ancient sites and the safety of the archeological teams in Egypt. They are doing a good job of updating their site periodically but here are some highlights.

Interior of the Bibliotheca Alexandria (the New Library of Alexandria) (image via flickr.com/moreno)

The Librarian of Alexandria and Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (the New Library of Alexandria) has released a statement that reads:

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.

And about some major archeological sites:

… 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.

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I’M CALLING IT QUITS TONIGHT BUT TUNE IN TOMORROW (MONDAY) MORNING AT 8AM EST, AS WE’LL BE PUBLISHING A FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT OF A JOURNALIST IN CAIRO’S TAHRIR SQUARE WITH TONS OF PHOTOS.

HERE IT IS.

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