Sunday 10 April 2011

"About 1,000 relics stolen during Egyptian unrest"

A number of newspapers are covering the story:
"Thieves stole around 1,000 relics from Egypt’s museums and archaeological sites after public protests against the country’s government broke out in January [...] Egypt's minister for antiquities Zahi Hawass told Spain’s El Mundo".
Firstly the number of artefacts known to have been stolen from storerooms may (or may not) have been around "a thousand", but the number of items looted from sites is unknown (but "number of items stolen" is not the important statistic, though easier to count than "amount of archaeological information destroyed"). Secondly of course the "uprising and the weeks of unrest thereafter" has not by any means ended yet. Egypt has much political turmoil ahead precipitated by the sequence of events begun in January 2011.

We are faced with the same problem as before, all the information that is coming out of Egypt about any aspect of antiquities and archaeological resource preservation is being filtered by a single person. We note that among the new posts being announced in the revived Ministry of Antiquities, press officer is not one of them. Which is a shame.

While the authorities there persist in their approach that the people out there looting are criminals "looking for gold or mummies and who lack knowledge of the value of the items they stole”, then they are not going to get anywhere with combating the problem.
Hawass told the Spanish daily that the thieves were not organised. “They lived near the archaeological sites where the objects were kept. They would take advantage of the night to enter the archaeological sites and pillage," he said.
I suspect we'd find that the truth is somewhat different if we had access to more information than that which Dr H. is putting out. This is odd because he himself was fighting several organized groups trading Egyptian antiquities before 25th January 2011. Why does he want western journalists to forget this and think the problem suddenly disappeared with Mubarak?

It is also notable that western internet egyptologists, who at the beginning were logging all the reports of looting so the scale of the activity was emerging, seem to have bored of this and are now apparently making only a desultory effort to keep up the service they were doing for the rest of us. Keeping the ongoing development of the problem in the international public eye is the way to help get something done through international co-operation, constant assurances from an office in Cairo that nothing is happening and its all under control is not. What is happening in the fields and sand dunes?

Vignette: Various "Egyptian antiquities", like those that fill the no-questions-asked market.

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