Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Uprising and Archaeology in Egypt

A February 3 story in Science Insider reports looting by around 200 people in Saqqara. The tomb of Maya, King Tut's wet nurse, has been "completely destroyed." Things may get worse. According to the story, looting in the area is out of control.

Saqqara is just south of Cairo, and is the City of the Dead--a huge, ancient cemetary. Parts of it are 5,000 years old. Saqqara contains pyramids, most famously the Step Pyramid of Djoser, but is not the site of The Pyramids--that's Giza. That's the Step Pyramid at right, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In his blog, Secretary-General Zahi Hawass denies that this happened. He says he has phone contact with every museum and site in the country. Dr. Hawass acknowleges two incidents: a break-in at the Egyptian Museam and at a Sinai storage facility where six boxes were taken.

At the Museum, he says 70 objects were damaged but can be repaired. Hawass claims that media reports of two mummies being damaged are incorrect; actually two unidentified skulls were damaged. He even posts a picture of a mummified head.

His Feb. 7 post details some of the harm done, such as the gold being stripped from a walking stick, part of King Tutankhamun's collection.

As for the Sinai breakin, according to Hawass all 288 objects stolen have been returned.

This is apolitical. Looting tombs and museums does not support either side. I appreciate that news is confused during such chaotic times and that rumors sometime get reported as news. OTOH, anyone who's ever seen Dr. Hawass on TV knows he has a. . . um. . . very unique, take-charge type of personality. I hope he's not exaggerating and that indeed, there's been no looting at Saqqara and all stolen objects have been returned.

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