Friday, 23 November 2012

News of Three More Antiquity Busts in Egypt, Hooray... er.....

Kate Phizackerley drew attention ('More Items Stolen Items Recovered') to a news item written by Al Masry Al Youm reporting "the recovery of more items stolen from the Egyptian Museum along with others allegedly stolen from archaeological sites" See 08/11/2012

This is one of those infuriating products of Egyptian journalism which  makes very little sense. "Security services seized on Thursday stolen artifacts in Cairo, Giza and Sharqiya". So far, so good.Then we find a bit about affluent southeastern Cairo suburb Maadi which, taken on its own, makes sense:  

Four people are suspected of attempting to sell artifacts stolen from the Egyptian Museum out of an apartment in Maadi. Two suspects were arrested for possessing a stone bust and 28 golden pieces, which are not believed to be authentic artifacts. One of them reportedly admitted to planning to sell the objects.

 A third suspect was also arrested for possession of stolen artifacts, which he said he had acquired from a fourth person, who allegedly stole them from the museum. 

A bit short on details, a "stone bust" (one of the missing Amarna pieces?) and 28 "golden pieces". But 28 "golden pieces are not listed as missing from the Museum collection as a result of the 28th January 2011 robbery. What could be being referred to here however are items stolen from the Museum's shop which was looted then. This would explain how even before a commission is mentioned tyo examine the "authenticity" it is said that the items (gold+statue or just gold?) are not ancient. The next item seems to be a wholly unrelated event:
In Giza, investigations indicated that suspects hid artifacts found by archaeological missions operating in the Berket Khaled area in Badrashein and planned to sell them. 

Giza is of course the western suburb of Cairo. Badreshein is the town just outside Cairo on the south (opposite Helwan) next to the site of the ancient capital Memphis (but I am not sure what site in the region Birket Khaled is, maybe somebody can help). Certainly looting still seems to be going on at Sakkara just across the valley. Then there seems to have been a third piece of information thrown in for good measure:
Police said they arrested a person with a criminal record in Sharqiya who possessed five medium-sized statues and a base for another, but its authenticity is also doubted.
"Also?", also like the other statues, or also like the "golden pieces"? Sharqiya is the name of a governate in the Delta to the NNE of Cairo.

On this blog mention has been made several times of announcements of supposed artefact seizures in these same regions, when information is available it looks likely that what has been seized are common tourist pieces misidentified by over-zealous (or vindictive) police. This is a suspicion that is reinforced by a total absence of any followup story, just a veil of silence. My bet is that of these three good news stories, only the second has, maybe, a chance of being the real thing.

Meanwhile objects stolen from archaeological stores and a major museum collection remain in circulation, sites are being looted, sites are being built on with no mitigation, and the authorities try to pretend everything is under control by announcing "artefact seizures" for effect.

Its a bit like an Egyptian version of having a Portable Antiquities Scheme to paper over the cracks of the erosion of the archaeological record being caused by British artefact hunters.

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