Saturday 12 February 2011

Cairo Museum Looting: One Looter was looking for "Red Mercury", the Rest...

So despite all the attempts to play down the news of the looting of the museum, it now turns out (Zahi Hawass, 'Sad News') that thieves got away with several items. As I earlier suspected one of the Tutankhamun figures is missing, in fact two were taken. The missing items known at present are listed below. Dr Hawass gives a list on his blog, without the museum accession numbers which makes it difficult to identify which of a number of objects that could fall under the same description (numbers 4.5.6) he is talking about. Dorothy King on her blog has attempted to provide pictures of all of the missing objects, though it still is not clear which items are actually meant in some cases, so for now I reserve judgement and refer readers to her efforts, UPDATE 13th Feb: The Eloquent Peasant blog owner has found some much clearer and more attractive photos of the missing items):

1. STOLEN: Gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess (photo below),

2. STOLEN: The upper part of the gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun harpooning - broken off at the legs, it seems that it is not just the "torso and upper limbs" missing. (photo below),

3. STOLEN: Limestone statue of Akhenaten holding an offering table (photo below),

4. STOLEN: "Statue of Nefertiti making offerings"

5. STOLEN: "Sandstone head of an Amarna princess",

6. STOLEN: "Stone statuette of a scribe from Amarna",

7-17 Eleven wooden shabti statuettes of Yuya, since I have seen the second newspaper report today saying "eight objects" were stolen, let's do this properly:
7. STOLEN: wooden shabti statuette of Yuya ,
8. STOLEN: wooden shabti statuette of Yuya,
9. STOLEN: wooden shabti statuette of Yuya,
10. STOLEN: wooden shabti statuette of Yuya,
11. STOLEN: wooden shabti statuette of Yuya,
12. STOLEN: wooden shabti statuette of Yuya,
13. STOLEN: wooden shabti statuette of Yuya,
14. STOLEN: wooden shabti statuette of Yuya,
15. STOLEN: wooden shabti statuette of Yuya,
16. STOLEN: wooden shabti statuette of Yuya,
17. STOLEN: wooden shabti statuette of Yuya,
(the cultural property "internationalists" will delight in pointing out no doubt that the others are "safe" in New York - here's the Cairo ones) [UPDATE 14/2/11: one of these shabtis was found a day later lying outside the Museum].

(Photos from William Max Miller's The Treasures of Yuya and Tuyu website)

18. STOLEN: Heart Scarab of Yuya (oddly enough I cannot find a good photo of that online, I guess now it's been stolen, there's not much hope that there ever will be now). [UPDATE: Eloquent Peasant attempts to untangle the identity of this object, see her account here UPDATE 14/2/11: this scarab was found a day later lying outside the Museum].

Several people are suggesting this may not close the list of missing items. I fear their pessimism might turn out to be well-founded.

What is clear is that this missing material is not just any old rubbish, but 18 collectables (more than will fit into one knapsack) which will fetch top dollar from some unscrupulous collector who may have ordered their taking and already have them in his hands. The scattering of the other objects on the museum floor (by somebody acting as a decoy?) may have been deliberate in order to slow down the process of assessing what was missing, allowing time for the stolen items to disappear into the murky world of the no-questions-asked antiquities market. Hawass announces:
An investigation has begun to search for the people who have taken these objects, and the police and army plan to follow up with the criminals already in custody.
("begun"?). How about also investigating why - according to Hawass - there were only three museum guards in the place, and how it is possible that, according to reports, the thieves had AN HOUR to do what they had come into the museum to do, when the sound of the smashing glass would have been echoing around the Museum loudly enough to hear above the noise of the mob outside. The head of the SCA and Minister of Antiquities had been gleefully telling the world how "ignorant" the thieves had been, even though it must have been obvious that the upper part of the harpooning figure was not among the pieces collected together for conservation more than a week ago, despite the fact that the Akhenaton statue was mentioned as "damaged" in an earlier communique. The varying conflicting messages given out concerning this break-in has given the people who have these priceless antiquities in their hands a full two weeks to get them out of the country, very probably facilitated by the general chaos at the main exit airports. It is clear that there needs to be a wider enquiry into the manner in which this crisis was managed and the precise circumstances surrounding this theft, arguably one of the biggest and most audacious art heists of all time.

Who (that is a plural by the way) is responsible for the criminal lack of security in the museum that night and the subsequent concealment of the information about what was initially suspected as missing?

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