Reports of damage, and civilians preventing damage, to Egyptian Museum antiquities


Marilyn Terrell of National Geographic points us to the photo above making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook today, and explains:

Citizens linking arms in front of the Egyptian Museum to prevent looters from entering. I found this photo on Twitter, posted by @theplayethic, who also tweeted, "Power memes in #Egypt. Reports of soldiers roaming damaged Cairo museum, armed criminals in suburbs."

Related, BB reader charlesj says,

Margaret Maitland, an Egyptology student at Oxford University, examines Al Jazeera video to assess what has been damaged during rioting at the Cairo Museum. She thinks the damaged objects include items from Tutankahmun's tomb.
Here's a link to Maitland's blog post. I see there's a similar report on MSNBC, with before/after photos of some of the same items.

And BB reader Jack points us to a related NPR report:

Would-be looters broke into Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum, ripping the heads off two mummies and damaging about 10 small artifacts before being caught and detained by soldiers, Egypt's antiquities chief [Zahi Hawass] said Saturday.



  1. This is a very beautiful thing to me. One of the most tragic scenes of the Iraq war(s) for me was a video of the curator of a Baghdad museum weeping and screaming in an uncontrolled manner as his museum was raped of it’s historic wealth by looters.

    I know that will sound odd that of all the tragedy that has occured in the country that that image is the primary image that stands out in my mind. I don’t mean to dismiss the deaths of either the soldiers or civilians involved in the conflict in any way, shape or form. Obviously those loses sadden me.

    We all leave though and we all leave something behind. What was left in the past and recovered and was on display in the Iraqi museums cannot be replaced. Can never be replicated. And were such a significant and major “viewfinder” into the past that the exhibits “total-ness” will never be achieved again for what it was showing.

    We lost such a major part of historical artifacts because of looters in one city… I’m so, so glad that in another its citizens recognize the wealth and significance of them and are willing to protect them and preserve a part of our history.

    As an outsider looking in I can only say “thank you” and I wish you all the best in the quest for true democracy and equal rights.

  2. Violent uprising and repression I can understand- there is comprehensible motive- but what purpose is there in defacing antiquities?

    1. It looks like most of the ones that got taken might have been gilded. For instance, the king on the leopard–the leopard’s body is there, but its ears are gone. If you look at the “before” photo, its ears were gilded and probably easy enough to snap off. People are taking it for the gold. Very sad.

      That being said, good for the citizens bravely protecting their heritage.

    2. The purpose of defacing antiquities is to make the protesters look bad. Its actually thugs that Mubarak’s regime let out of prison in exchange for doing the job. It gives Mubarak something to protect. Many actions in war are not what they seem at first glance, and make no mistake this is a revolution and war, not just protests.

  3. Mob action isn’t rational. Unfortunately.

    The museum is an astonishing place, filled with one of the largest collections of truly irreplaceable historical pieces in the world, and yet most are not identified and are in cases with no atmospheric controls (or no cases at all).

    They were in the process of building a new building to move into, in 2009 when I was there. No telling what will happen now.

  4. Awful. I don’t know why seeing something like this gets to me so much but it does, it really does. Some of this stuff is 4000 years old and now smashed to pieces. It’s on the level of depravity as seeing a mass book booking.

    Chrrrist, what arseholes.

  5. This sucks. We lost a whole mess of stuff during the American sacking of Iraq in 2003 and now this… not a good decades for curators or art fans.

  6. Over and OVER again the Egyptians calling out on landlines from Cairo have identified these “looters” as agents provocateur from the NDP.

    The Army stops these hooligans but is repeatedly forced to release the looters, since they are carrying Police IDs or NDP credentials.

    Why is BB ignoring this?

    1. Can you provide a credible source for that claim?

      Also, in general I see the glass as half-full in this case. It’s clear there is an effort to protect the nation’s history. And that’s a good thing. Because the second you lose sight of your roots—good or bad—you will truly loose your mind.

          1. I’m sending forensic teams over as soon as possible. We’ll dispel these awful rumors once and for all.

  7. From what I’m hearing, the looters who got caught damaging things turned out to be cops in plainclothes.

    1. Yeah.. I have heard similar reports.
      On NPR yesterday there was a woman talking about plainclothes cops starting fires to make it appear as if the protesters had turned violent. It wasn’t inferred either, it was exactly what she said.

      I remember the cops in Canada doing similar things during the G20 protests.

  8. I visited the Egyptian Museum once about 6 or 7 years ago. It fulfilled all my lifelong fantasies about what Egypt is all about. I got to go face to face with the gold mask of “King Tut”, I mean like 8 inches away. I saw so many fantastic things beyond that. Its like a dream to me now.
    Of course, I had to go by a lot of guards with machine guns, and ones asking me if I was carrying any knives (I wasn’t), but it was worth it to get inside.
    I just hope everything will be ok there in Cairo and the rest of the country. I loved it there.
    The world needs Egypt.

    1. I found the fragiles most interesting. “Oh, look. There’s our bathroom wastebasket.” “Hey, it’s 6,000 years old.”

      1. Antinous, sometimes you boggle my mind with your cynicism. If there were any “our bathroom wastebasket is 6000 years old” people there when I was there, I refused to credit their existence.

        Don’t you please ruin my memory of that place. (I know you are my friend, and maybe you are just kidding).

        1. Dude,

          There are multi-thousand year old baskets there that are made exactly like what you buy at Cost Plus today. That’s not cynicism.

  9. “I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn’t believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny—‘The sky is falling.’ I’ve never seen anything like it! And here is a country that’s being liberated, here are people who are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they’re free. It’s just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country! Do I think those words are unrepresentative? Yes.”

    “Let me say one other thing,” he adds. “The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think: ‘My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?’”

    “Freedom is untidy and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. ”

  10. Reliable sources: Robert Fisk* in the Independent. Many reports on AlJazeera, which is providing the best television news coverage available.

    At any rate, I am busy right now gathering and indexing all of the reports of looting and vandalism by “thugs” carrying police ID or Interior Ministry ID. I’m also trying to locate all of the articles I’ve read earlier that state that the Interior Ministry, under orders from Mubarak or Suleiman, has released and armed convicts to loot, vandalize and rape.

    The intention, which I’m sure you’ve heard or read in main-stream news sources, is to create a state of fear in citizens and suggest that HE, Hosni Mubarak, was the ONLY man strong enough to keep the Egyptian citizenry safe from “these predators.”

    He’s acting like a petulant, spoiled, dangerous, 82-year-old child: “If I can’t have it! I’m going to pay my minions to burn it down.” Hitler employed a similar technique once he finally realized that he was going to lose the war. Bastards.


    Different topic:

    Great article from Jack Shenker of the Guardian.

    He was rolled up by security police and beaten repeatedly, robbed, beaten again, then packed into a van with another 47 men. One of them turned out to be Noor Ayman Nour, journalist and the son of the prominent dissident politician, Ayman Nour. Ultimately, his presence secured their release, but only because his father and a group of friends managed to track the van as it drove away from the IM.

    But one should just read the article. It’s very interesting and sheds some light on how the security police have been behaving.

    There’s also a very short audio interview that Shenker conducted while they were in the back of the van.

    Sorry for any typoes. Compiling, and watching AlJazeera and talking to Egyptian friends, and reading lots.

  11. I think we need a new Internet Law:

    “In a discussion about Authoritarian governments, no matter what they do, somebody is always going to try to defend their actions and try to claim the blame is not theirs.”

    Or something like that.

    But it’s a very good thing to see the Egyptians defend their heritage.

  12. *sigh*

    It could have been so much worse, yet it is still a sad thing to have happen. I salute those risking themselves to protect their heritage.

  13. Awesome. Maybe with the restructuring/revolution Zahi Hawass will stop raping their collective history. That bloated ass gets over paid/news coverage/a new house every time they find a new pottery shard and it’s filmed for Discovery Channel. Still sad the rest of the populus lost some irreplaceble bits of their past, but man I can’t stomach Hawass anymore.

  14. Based on what I’ve read most recently, it was a group of 9 people, one of whom was caught by one of the night guards. Damage done, some gold tips gone, but no antiquity actually stolen.

    The jewelry in the gift shop, however, is now history. *snort*

    Other museums attempted, without success.

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