Tuesday 12 April 2011

Harpooning Tutankhamun Statue Recovered

Well, to be honest, for a number of reasons, I was really not expecting this to happen (Mahmoud Kassem, 'Missing King Tutankhamun Statue Returned to Egyptian Museum' Bloomberg, Apr 12, 2011, based on Hawass' press release). I thought some more of the other stuff would turn up, but not the Tutankhamun statue fragments.

Zahi Hawass announced that the missing statue of King Tutankhamun harpooning on a papyrus skiff (JE 60710.1) has been returned to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, along with three other objects lost during the looting at the end of January. It is damaged, a small part of the crown as well as pieces of the legs are missing. The photo also shows damage to the gesso on the leg, arms shoulder and back (mechanical damage or due to damp?). The statue is now restorable however.

I am really happy, these statues were among my favourite items from the tomb, I saw them (or was it their doubles?) in the 1972 Tutankhamun exhibition in London and they made a great impression on me.

The other objects recovered were:
- the trumpet of gilded bronze and wood (JE 62008 - "which is in excellent condition and will be returned to its display immediately"),
- the stolen fan from the same case (JE 62006 "One face is in good condition while the other has been broken into 11 pieces" - one part is still missing) AND...
- one of the ten missing shabti statues of Yuya/Thuya (JE 68984 - which will "be placed on display again immediately").

Nothing is said of the circumstances of the recovery of these items and arrests - that will hopefully follow in the next few hours (?).

In the meanwhile it would seem I was wrong postulating on the basis of the information available before this latest turn of events that the statue fragments were taken by a different group from those that took the Yuya and Thuya stuff (or if I was right they've caught two groups at the same time). So what is the connection between these looted items and the guys who had taken the figures of divinities and jewellery from the other side of the Museum?

There is an excellent but short slideshow in La repubblica.

UPDATE 12/4/2011 (two hours later): This Museum looting story gets weirder by the minute. The last lot were reputedly found when some bloke wandered into Cairo's tourist-tat dealer emporium and offered them the antiquities. That story takes some beating, but what about this? (Nevine El-Aref, 'Missing artifacts from the Egyptian Museum retrieved', Ahram Online, Tuesday 12 Apr 2011):
Salah Abdel Salam, a public relation personal at the MSAA, came upon these objects during his daily trip to work on the Metro. He related that he accidently found an unidentified black bag placed on a chair in the Shubra Metro station. Doubtful that the bag was concealing an explosive, Salah opened it and found the Tutankhamun statue gazing up at him. He took the bag and handed it over to the MSAA. Hawass told reporters that he is calling on all Egyptians to return any objects that they have found. He emphasised that the MSAA will not file any law suit against them but instead will compensate them. “If anyone is afraid of handing over such objects they can put it at the MSAA entrance gate or the Egyptian Museum’s door and we will take care of them,” announced Hawass. He also stated that now, following the return of these objects, the number of missing pieces from the museum has reached 33 objects out of 54.
The Shubra El Kheima metro station (30° 7'25.60"N 31°14'37.00"E) is the furthest from the centre on line 2 (Shubra- El Mounib). The Cairo Metro carries 1.4 million passengers a day. Rather a coincidence that Mr Abdel Salam (apparently) happens to live there and be in the habit of opening unattended luggage on his way to work, and it was he who got to this bag first in the rush hour... (like a 1:1400000 chance that the public relations staff member of the Ministry would be the passenger to take note of this bag). Gosh, what luck eh? It's like one of the tales of a Thousand and One Nights. Why do I have the feeling that there is a fair chance that the next batch of these artefacts to surface are not even going to need any more scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel cover stories, but are just going to be found abandoned in doorways (duh: to get them to the "Egyptian Museum's door", they'd have to go through two bag-checks). Let us recall that this is the way the first of the stolen items returned. So there will be no more arrests then?

More photos here: Four of the Egyptian Museum missing objects were found at a subway station

UPDATE 12/4/2011
The Telegraph seems to be sceptical about the reported manner of recovery of these items ("have been were found "by accident", the government says", "which had apparently been stumbled upon accidentally in an underground metro station") and has an interesting video of the objects being waved around and being stuffed in cotton wool. Note that it is Tarek El-Awadi the Museum director who tells the reporters who found the items and where. Looking the journalist straight in the eye he asserts confidently: "Mr Salah, he's working for the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and he found it by accident in the underground Metro":

Vignette: Looking a bit worse for the experience, but back in the Museum (Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities via Bloomberg). Plan of Museum showing where these items came from, the Tut statue in the long gallery to the right, the fan and trumpet in the case at the top in the middle, the shabti the case at the bottom in the middle.


korekosmu said...

The probabilties are closer to 1:14000000 that a MSAA employee would be the who stumbles upon those objects in a Cairo Metro station . Besides, it is next to impossible for anyone to dare to open such a bag while suspecting the presence of a bomb!

The whole story is so far fetched and rather absurd...

Paul Barford said...

I suppose the odds are shorter that it would be "any" employee of the MSAA or Egyptological Muuseum who opened the bag. But this was not just any employee, but someone engaged to do public relations work - ie get the press in to hear Dr H's pronouncements. The odds of that happening by chance are astronomical.

I suppose if this story is true, it can only mean that a ministerial stash of Red Mercury must be invoked to explain this event.

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