Saturday 29 January 2011

More Information on Cairo Museum

The Hindustani times reporting on the events of the night Saturday to Sunday reports:
Thousands of protesters defied the curfew for the second night and Cairo's central Tahrir (Liberation) Square remained filled with protesters. Troops and armoured vehicles have been deployed across the city to guard key government buildings, and major tourist and archaeological sites. Despite heavy security presence, at least two looters managed to get into Cairo's museum of antiquities and damaged some of the exhibits. Thieves broke into the Arab International Bank and several cafes and eateries. To protect their property from looters, residents of the city set up committees armed with guns, clubs and knives.
It is not clear at this stage if this is a garbled reference to the looting of Friday night. It seems likely that this is the case, and it is citing earlier preliminary statements by Hawass that "two men" were involved in the attempted theft of items on Friday.

Meanwhile more details are emerging about Friday's attack and again are reported in updates to Veken Gueyikian and Hrag Vartanian's stunning coverage 'Breaking: Images of Egyptian Museum Damage [UPDATE 34] King Tut Objects Damaged?' in their Hyperallergic blog.

UPDATE 31: Sat. Jan 29 6:17pm EST: We can’t verify this yet but we have seen something similar to this echoing around the web for a few hours now. If this is true, this may seal the fate of the NDP and spark more anger from the Egyptian people. via HistoryOftheAncientWorld:

Germany’s ZDF television has reported that a high-ranking member of the ruling National Democratic Party was involved in the attack on the museum, which holds some of the country’s most important historical artifacts, including the King Tutankhamun exhibit.

Can anyone confirm?

One of our commenters corroborates the blog we linked to & said ZDFTV did say that an NDP official was involved:

I can confirm: german TV ZDF reports acording to eyewitnesses that high NDP officials have been involved in looting the museum last night. Anyone in cairo to confirm this?

There is a presumption that Farouk Hosny, Minister of Culture is one of those government ministers who lost their posts on Saturday (though his rather nice website is still active, understandably in the circumstances, it has not been updated to cover the most recent events). If that is the case, perhaps the people responsible were in some way directly subordinate to him and felt that their days as part of the ruling elite were numbered. This is pure speculation and we can only hope more information will emerge.

Then later on Saturday the story took a new disquieting turn. It was what some people had been suspecting all along. That golden ostrich feather fan looked familiar. Margaret Maitland's blog The Eloquent Peasant seems to be the origin of this new aspect of the story. Here I quote Gueyikian and Vartanian's summary:
UPDATE 33: Sat. Jan 29 7:37pm EST: King Tut Objects Damaged?
The Eloquent Peasant Egyptopologist blog has done some fascinating detective work and been trying to figure out what was exactly damaged. Her suggestions for the damaged pieces in the TV footage that has been making the rounds is quite convincing. Here are two juxtapositions between artifact photos and screenshots from Al-Jazeera, check her blog for more. I researched the titles and dates of the object here and here. If this research is true than at least some of the damaged objects are part of the world-renowned King Tut stash:

Left, Ritual Figures of King Tut Hunting a Hippopotamus; Right, Ritual Figures of King Tut Astride a Panther — Both objects date from around the time of the death of Tutankhamun, in 1324 BC. They were discovered, along with the rest of the treasures of Tut's tomb, in 1922. (images via TheEloquentPeasant)
After Gueyikian and Vartanian's post, the original The Eloquent Peasant blog post was updated with the information that a third Tutankhamun statue was visible as having been broken in this disaster - this is worrying because reports state that when captured the robbers were found with two statues, where is the third? The dark coloured statue lying near the broken base in the video seems not to be one of the Tutankhamun ones (a MK tomb model?). What else was broken and taken that is not in the Al-Jazeera video?

Update: good coverage of Maitland's detective work by of MSNBC: "Were Tut's treasures damaged?". This contains a quote in the update, Zahi Hawass says: "They tried to attack and rob from the showcases of King Tut, but they failed," Hawass is further quoted as saying.
"These people are criminals, they are not true Egyptians. The nine men were caught carrying skulls and two statues, one of which was broken. But the army are now guarding the museum and all the museums are now safe."
I wish I could be so optimistic.

See also Kate Phizackerley's Latest on the Museums in Egypt

Update: Sunday, in the absence of other information, the Hyperallergic blog is reporting that one of the damaged mummies was probably that of Tuya based on the evidence of a fragment of mummy covering seen on the floor of the Al-Jazeera video. This was one of the better preserved 'royal' mummies excavated from the tomb (designated KV 46) in 1905 by James Quibell and Theodore M. Davis. It contained one of the most complete and beautifully made sets of funerary equipment then known, the tomb having not been emptied in the 21st dynasty like most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. (UPDATE: in coming days this proved to be not the case, though no explanation of the mummy covering being on the floor outside a case has yet emerged - Tuesday 1st)

Also Sunday evening Zahi Hawass gives a slightly different account of Friday night's events in the museum. Possibly the discrepancies between his varying statements throughout the day reflect difficulties even he had in the chaos in getting reliable information about what had happened the previous night.

There is a useful plan of the position of the damage and looting in the Cairo Museum on the Ancient Egypt Online blog.

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