Egypt's Treasures: Assessing the Damage
Concern about Egypt’s priceless antiquities continues to grow, and Egyptologists around the world are issuing high-alert statements about the risk of Egyptian antiquities being smuggled abroad.
“It would be a wonderful gesture if people who are in the antiquity business do not buy any Egyptian artifact at the moment, particularly if they look Old Kingdom antiquities or if they appear to come from the Memphite Necropolis of the New Kingdom,” Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, told Discovery News in a phone interview from Cairo.
According to Ikram, a leading expert on animal mummies, the Egyptian National Museum is safe at the moment, thanks to the Egyptian people who have bravely defended their national treasures.
“The people and the army are united and helping one another. The people are doing astonishing things, taking responsibility for the maintenance of the areas themselves,” Ikram said.
Meanwhile, holding together on social networks, the Egyptologist’s community is trying to assess the damage at the Egyptian National Museum by scrutinizing the footage shot just after looters broke into the building on Friday.
Watching the footage, experts have been able to produce a map of the museum rooms where looting and vandalism took place, showing that the attack occurred on three sides.
** Egypt’s Tombs, Temples Under Siege**
According to a faxed statement by Zahi Hawass, who on Monday has been appointed Minister of State Antiquities in the new government named by President Hosni Mubarak, 13 Late Period cases where smashed, and several antiquities were thrown on the floor.
“Then the criminals went to the King Tutankhamun galleries. Thank God they opened only one case! The criminals found a statue of the king on a panther, broke it, and threw it on the floor,” Hawass said.
He added that all of the antiquities that were damaged can be restored.
Some experts fear that the Late Period cases mentioned by Hawass, and not shown in the footage, could belong to the collection of precious jewels and gold known as the Treasure of Tanis.
“So far it’s only speculation. As for the items shown in the footage, some objects are very difficult to identify because of the poor quality of the images combined with the fact that they don’t appear to be ‘unique’ objects,” Margaret Maitland, a doctoral candidate in Egyptology at the University of Oxford, told Discovery News.
In her blog, Maitland has identified several damaged objects, including a large wooden boat from the tomb of Meseti at Asyut.
Dating to approximately 2000 B.C., the over 4,000-year-old artifact is one of the largest model boats in existence.
“A figure shown in the footage, kneeling and armless, also appears to be from the model boat. Other objects appear to be a smashed shabti figurine, a bronze statuette of the Apis bull, a travertine calcite (alabaster) vessel, faience jewelry, and a faience hippo figurine from Lisht,” Maitland said.
Much mystery remains around the beheaded mummies.
** Tut Family Mummies Damaged in Riots?**
Speculation has arisen that they could belong to Yuya and Tjuya, which recent DNA tests identified as King Tut’s great-grandparents.
“These were the only two mummies that were easily accessible. However, I have not been able to see the damaged mummies, so I can’t make any statement at the moment,” Ikram said.
Speculation about King Tut’s great-grandparents losing their heads in the Egyptian revolution abounded because of the the gilded, open-work cartonnage case shown on the museum floor on Al Jazeera footage.
“We know that it belonged to Tjuya,” said Maitland.
But according to Egyptologist Aidan Dodson at the University of Bristol, U.K., the gold mummy-cover was not actually on Tjuya’s body any more, and both mummies were inside their coffins.
“A picture of a damaged mummy, with a her head lying on the floor and bones scattered around, is circulating on the internet, but identification is difficult, although it’s unlikely it belongs to Tjuya,” Maitland said.
According to Swiss anatomist and paleopathologist Frank Rühli, the mummy’s violation is intolerable from an ethical point of view.
“The damage also appear to be very serious," Rühli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich and one of the world’s top mummy experts, told Discovery News.
Photo: The Egyptian Museum (Courtesy Kristoferb/Wikimedia Commons