Saturday 12 May 2012

Egypt Turmoil and Confusion over Looting

Hamza Hendawi's article 'In Egypt turmoil, thieves hunt pharaonic treasures', Associated Press 12th May 2012 contains some odd information.
The night of Jan. 28, thieves broke into the Egyptian Museum, located on the edge of Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the anti-regime uprising and scene of some of the bloodiest clashes between protesters and Mubarak's hated police. The robbers made off with 51 pieces that were on display — of which 29 have since been recovered. The most valuable stolen piece, a statue of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, was found by a 16-year-old protester and his family returned it to the museum, the antiquities ministry said at the time.
 Well, leaving aside the question of whether the museum really was "broken into", wouldn't it be nice just as we come up to the elections, if the Museum could produce an updated and reliable account of what is today known about the number of missing items. Originally it was reported that 54 items were missing. Two turned out not to be, which means 52. So why is Hendawi writing of 51? Has something else turned up safe in the stores? As for "22" missing, I make it 30 (with the confusion over the number of Tutankhamun fans taken unresolved). So again, have the Museum, on the basis of an out-of-date version of the "Missing Objects" list prepared a year ago for Hawass got the world's police forces and customs officers out looking for eight objects which are no longer missing. What the blazes is going on?
I do not think I covered this earlier:
Soon after Mubarak's Feb, 11, 2011 ouster, the officials said, a Jordanian man was caught trying to smuggle as many as 3,753 artifacts out of Egypt. These, they said, included 48 ancient Egyptian statutes, Roman Age coins and 45 pieces of jewelry dating from the Medieval years of the Islamic era.
But I reported on this, inasfar as reliable information was emerging at the time, but here's a brief account to jog memories about how some stuff has been coming onto the market:
The months that followed [the fall of Mubarak] saw a rash of break-ins at antiquity storehouses around the country. "At the end, it's a question of security," said Ahmed Mustafa, who until December headed a government department tasked with recovering stolen artifacts. "The robberies of the warehouses took place in broad daylight by armed thieves. Some were raided twice," said Mustafa, who now lectures on archaeology at a private Cairo college. One of the largest warehouse [sic] thefts took place a year ago in the Sinai city of Qantara, from which roughly 800 artifacts were stolen or damaged by thieves. The pieces, according to regional antiquities chief Mohammed Abdel-Maqsoud, were mostly clay pots, bronze coins and spears dating back to pharaonic and Islamic items. Nearly 300 of these have been recovered, he said. Now that security has been beefed up at most warehouses [sic], thieves have turned to digging.
We remember that a full list of the items missing was going to be compiled from the inventories of the robbed storehouses, but it has gone eerily quiet about that issue now over a year later. Where are those lists? Anyone seen them? Any idea when they will be available to dealers and collectors so they can spot the appearance of illegal items on the market?


Dorothy King said...

Yup, well said.

I'll add another mummy to Loot Busters later, which went missing before the big looting of the museum and was reported stolen to Interpol. It's getting rather confusing who stolen what from where, but there is a very simple solution for museums and collectors - don't buy stuff without solid provenances.

Paul Barford said...

And shun dealers who stock items when they cannot give them solid provenances.

Dorothy King said...

I can understand a small object loosing it's provenance, being 're-discovered' by children or grand-children and being sold at auction without a provenance.

There are also sellers who don't want their name attached to items so people don't know they need to sell and might be having money problems.

But major pieces don't just appear out of some shoe box ... there are so many academics who've done catalogues of types, that if items are not in them one has to question the item and where on earth it came from.

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