Monday, 2 May 2011

More Museum Confusion (Part 1): "it's quite simple really" - Well, no, no its not...

The sorry saga of the mixup over what objects went missing from the Egyptian Museum and what has come back continues. A while ago we were told in an SCA press release (repeated by a number of newspapers as well as included on the blog of the present Minister Dr Hawass) that the shabti JE 68984 had returned to the Museum, having been found in a big black bag at the Shubra metro station by a Ministry official on his way to work (NB, Dr Hawass has now changed the number on his blog, cf the original SCA news briefing) .

I wrote about this, but then compared the photo given in the press reports with that on the Museum's list of missing objects and found that JE 68984 when photographed before the theft had no split in it, whereas the recovered one does. My conclusion was that the thieves had not looked after the objects properly and I was concerned about the condition of the rest. Vincent Brown then looked more carefully and found that there had been a mixup, the shabti that had been recovered was JE 68982 and not 68984. I wrote a text suggesting that when there are only four items to check off an illustrated list of thirty or so (and the Ministry published a photo of the Museum's director and a commission of other guys doing exactly this), it should not be so difficult to have got the identity correct and suggested that this - taken with other features - was symptomatic of an organizational shambles.

Last night Cairo based Egyptologist Nicole Hansen put a text up on the Facebook page about the Museum, relaying - so it would seem - a message from Yasmin El-Shazly head of documentation there. I am going to cite it in full but in two parts, the first here (the second - because of the unrelated subject matter - I will answer in a post below). Part one reads as follows:
I saw Yasmin el-Shazly tonight and found out there is a very reasonable explanation for the shabti mixup. The press release about the return of the shabti was written by someone who hadn't seen the shabti, nor who worked at the museum. They... just selected any photo to illustrate the story. Just like you see many news stories illustrated by file photos that have nothing to do directly with the story itself. This was a news release, not an academic paper.

Phew. The press release was written by somebody who did not know what on earth they were writing about? How is this supposed to deflect the comments I made about the disorganization in the release of information? But what we are now being told makes no sense at all. The press release came from the office of the Minister. We have photos of the four retrieved objects being displayed in the ministry. The objects returned were all photographed, somewhere, by Rania Galal. There is a photograph of all four of them laid out together on a white background on Hawass' blog. The little vignette here is blown up from that photo. Though its fuzzy I think it can be seen that the object has the split down the front that characterises JE 68982 and not 68984. JE 68982 was clearly the object that was lying on Zahi Hawass' desk on March 12th. JE 68982 is the shabti which is illustrated in the newspaper articles, NOT because somebody took a stock photo at random from an archive, but because this was the object photographed along with the other three by Rania Galal. I really do not see how Yasmin El-Shazly (was she there at the Ministry when the press release was written?) can claim otherwise.

The photograph was of the object that was retrieved, but in the press release - written by somebody entrusted by the Ministry or maybe museum, for some reason the object was called "JE 68984". Here is that number used by Discovery News, Egyptology News, Luxor Times, and so on and so on, it's not just me that is making this up. The mistaken information comes from an official Egyptian news source and I really do not see why there has to be a long international discussion about the fact that the shabti was wrongly identified. What however is clear is that the whole point of publishing lists of stolen artefacts is so that they can be correctly identified.
Here is a photo by Rania Galal, taken in (I think) Zahi Hawass' office, showing Dr Tarek Al Awady, the Egyptian Museum's current director picking up the shabti with the second (horizontal format) version of the missing objects list on his knee. After this he is quoted in many newspaper articles giving the incorrect identification of the recovered shabti, telling the world that it was shabti JE 68984 that was returned when in fact it was JE 68982 that was returned:
The second returned object is one of the 10 missing shabtis of Yuya and Tjuya (JE 68984). It is still in very good condition; it does not require restoration and will be placed on display again immediately, stated Dr. Tarek El-Awady, Director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.”
If this is the case, why, if there was a mixup of photos in Hawass' office, was the Director of the museum also giving the same wrong information to the press? Could he not read his own notes?

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