Sunday, 27 March 2011

Five more objects are back to the Egyptian Museum

The Luxor Times is reporting that five more objects are back to the Egyptian Museum
The objects are 4 bronze statues of four gods and goddess including Bastet, Apis, Neith and Osiris besides the Bronze Top of a Sceptre in the Shape of the Goddess Hat-Mehit Wearing a Fish Headdress (Lates Nilotica). They are all in good condition except Apis statue which is broken into pieces but can be restored and put back on display.
This is a bit odd, because the sceptre with the goddess wearing a fish was in the previous list of recovered items (page 3 of 12). Several other versions of the story say the broken figurine was a "ram". Fortunately the corresponding Al-Ahram story has a photograph.

This clearly shows that the object retrieved is the other sceptre in the updated list of missing items ("Inscribed Bronze Sceptre of Ankhusiri", Dynasty 30, page 38/42 from vitrine K in room 19). Also from vitrine K was the Osiris (note the difference in state between the Al-Ahram photo and that of the Cairo Museum 'missing' list, page 3/42). The otherf three objects were also from Room 19, Centre E, vitrine Z, the bastet figure (page 1/42 of the 'missing' list), the neith figure (page 9/42 of the 'missing' list) and the Apis bull (page 40/42 of the list).

This brings the number of items known to be still missing from the Egyptian Museum collection to 37. Dr Tarek El Awady, the Egyptian Museum director is quoted as saying: “the fruitful co-operation between the Armed Forces and the Police to retrieve the stolen objects give us hope that the stolen objects are still in the country and all authorities will do their best to bring it back to where it belongs” and he promised a special exhibition when the last missing object is retrieved showing the story of looting and how the objects came back. I'd like them to show the rope which it is claimed they used to get in and a demonstration of how they passed through the window panes of the skylight without dislodging the dirt up there.

Before we rejoice too much about this, it should be noted that all these items came from the same place as the previously-recovered twelve items. All this probably means is that the guys in custody are revealing where they stashed some of the other items they took, or perhaps led the police to another member of the same looting gang who broke into the cases in Room 19 and then Room 6. This does not necessarily get us anywhere near the identification and apprehension of the people who were active in the other two parts of the Museum (the other end of the second floor and the Amarna gallery). These objects are probably going to be much harder to retrieve than these seventeen. But let us not give up hope, I believe the Egyptian authorities "have ways" of getting information from their prisoners which may yet prove to be effective...
Hat-tip to Christine Fößmeier for drawing attention to the Al-Ahram article

[Egyptian Museum: I know you are reading this. Can the next version of the objects missing' list - you ARE going to make one, aren't you? - actually have a TITLE (did they not teach you that at university?) and DATE incorporated in the document and have the pages properly numbered please? Alternatively, give the missing objects serial numbers please]

UPDATE: 28th March.
Here's a version of this story from Zahi Hawass' blog:
These five pieces were found yesterday with three of the criminals who broke into the museum. They took the five objects to Khan el-Khalili in order to sell them. A man at the bazaar told the criminals that he would pay 1500LE for the pieces. The looters said that the pieces were from the museum and worth much more than that price. After this, the man informed the police who apprehended the criminals.
So they have another three looters in custody (making at least seven)? Anyone who knows what the Khan el-Khalili market looks like will wonder how informing the police and the arrest of these men looked in practice. Was this really how it was, or were these objects retrieved as a result of information received from the men already in custody? All very puzzling.

UPDATE 31.03.2011
It seems I owe Dr Hawass an apology. The list of newly-recovered items has been published, and right at the bottom of the form is the information "The object was confiscated by the army and police from a dealer on 27/03/2011, while he was trying to sell it". It looks like the story of the police looking for this guy in the urban warren of the Khan el-Khalili after a tip-off (which I admit I doubted) might be true after all, if so it would suggest that a member or members of the original gang who had looted the cases in Room 19 on the first floor of the Museum were still at large after the 'sting' ten days earlier and had decided to get rid of the stolen goods. How many other people have already done so without the purchaser alarming the police? So have the Egyptian police really got now another three looters in their hands? (Making seven in total?). If I am right in suggesting these people were just a splinter of the original group, how many people were in there on that night?

Another innovation in the latest list is that the Museum is now adding the information where the recovered item physically is in the Museum ("It was moved to R4 (the conservation lab) on 28/03/2011"). Good for them.

Sadly the corresponding updated list of items still missing still has no title or date of revision, or page/object numbers incorporated. Its just a loose sheaf of pages. Since this is the third version (and who knows how many more mutations this list will undergo before the year is out?) it is now getting very difficult to refer to them (which Osiris on which page of which version of the list are we talking about?).

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