When the images from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
were first screened I stood gob smacked in front of the TV screen. I know members of the Egyptologist community who broke into tears. The looting and vandalization of archeological relics is a horrible side effect of the anti-governmental protests and
appears wholly disconnected from the ideals keeping the masses on the streets. However, criminals, looters and robbers have seen an opportunity and seized it.
The Egyptian Museum is home to antiques dating back to the Pharaonic Period and even prior to that. The museum exhibits relics from the fourth century BC until the first centuries AD. Among the museum's most treasured collections is the treasure buried in Tutankhamun's grave – the only ancient royal treasure to have survived in its entirety.
Images brought to us by Al Jazeera and comments made by Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, suggest that the robbers who broke into the museum shattered two gold-plated statues from Tutankhamun's treasure. Hawass said that the statues will be returned to the exhibition after extensive restoration work has been performed.
Two mummies were also vandalized by the robbers.
Protestors near Egyptian Museum (Photo: AFP)
In addition, wooden sculptures aged 4,000 years were also damaged. These sculptures were placed in the graves of aristocrats from the Middle Kingdom period in order to serve the dead posthumously. Scientifically, they are very valuable as these are three-dimensional models made by the Egyptians themselves which portray various daily-life scenes from the work of butchers, bakers, carpenters, soldiers and more.
Their uniqueness lies in the wooden material. Wood can only be preserved for long periods of time under very special conditions, such as those found in the Egyptian desert. The world has very little wooden artifacts from such ancient times.
In an interview with the German online magazine Zeit Online Dr. Wafaa El-Sadiq, the Egyptian Museum's former director, said that some of the looters were in fact the museum's guards, whose monthly salary is no more than 35 euros.
Still, if there are some good news it is that the masses themselves protected the museum from being subjected to further damage, even before the army stepped in. Most of the Egyptian people recognize the cultural and national importance of the museum's treasures. One can only hope that as the army guards the museum it shall be safe from further intrusions.
Unfortunately, the museum was not the only establishment to be vandalized and looted. El-Sadiq said that she received reports that the museum in Memphis was looted as well. The museum houses the great sculpture of Ramesses II and a garden of statues.
Other reports came in from Abusir and Sakkara which served as royal burial grounds for the aristocracy in the Old Kingdom period. The robbers dug up graves which were not open to visitors and looted the storehouses.
Egypt has been blessed with many archeological sites which attract many tourists and scientists. Most of the protestors recognize their country's heritage and try to protect the sites, however in the current state of anarchy there are some who try to cash in on the unguarded artifacts.
Scientists, archeologists and Egyptologists have approached the international community in an appeal to monitor the antiquities making their way to various markets in order to restore some of the lost artifacts.