Update on Egyptian antiquities

10. March 2011 13:18

Gilded King Tut statue spear fishing from reed boat

Here's an update on the fast-moving situation regarding Egyptian antiquities. I wrote on Monday about the resignation of Zahi Hawass, Egypt's top antiquities official. I reported that the new prime minister Essam Sharaf had dissolved the newly-created Department of Antiquities and restored the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), under the ministry of culture. The head of the SCA's Lower Egypt division, Mohammed Abdel Maksoud, seemed to have been chosen as its new head.

Well, as I was writing that, hundreds of archaeologists were marching on government to protest that decision. In response, Sharaf agreed to make the SCA independent, in other words it will be under the direct supervision of the cabinet, rather than part of the culture ministry.

The last I heard is that the SCA will be choosing its new head/minister in a referendum on 18 March, from the following list of candidates:


1-د.علاء شاهين Dr. Ala Shahine

2-د.عبد الحليم نور الدين Dr Abd el Halim Nur al Din
3-د.صبري عبد العزيز Dr Sabry al Aziz (was Hawass's no. 2)

4-د.محمودعمر Dr. Mamdouh Amr
5-د.حسن سليم Dr. Hassan Selim, professor at Ain Shams University
6-د.ممدوح الدماطي Dr Mamdouh AlDamaty, former director of the Cairo Museum
7-د.علي رضوان Dr Ali Radwan, former professor at Cairo University

But perhaps it has all changed again by now!

Blogs like Margaret Maitland's Eloquent Peasant have continued to follow the latest on the looting situation. She links to this document, compiled by the Penn Cultural Heritage Centre, which details the antiquities currently known to be missing fom Egypt (including the lovely statue of Tutankhamun spear fishing, pictured). On 7 March, Tarek El Awadi, director of the Egyptian Museum, and other archaeologists in Egypt released an open letter to Sharaf urging him to make it a top priority to return police to archaeological sites to protect them against looters.

Meanwhile a group of Egyptologists based in the UK and Egypt has posted on the New Statesman's culture blog, complaining about the "racism and intolerance" that they say characterises many of the reactions abroad to the safeguarding of Egypt's antiquities following the revolution. The authors point out that many Egyptians have fought hard to protect these sites. They write: "Egypt can secure its heritage in its own way within its own borders, and has all the experts it needs in conservation and historical knowledge. Outside pressure needs to end."

They argue that the international community should examine its own role in supporting the international black market in stolen antiquities. The authors propose that Western governments should end practices that promote looting, for example making it illegal to sell or buy undocumented antiquities. They also say that requests from Egypt for the return of antiquities should be honoured, and that all countries should support a shift towards Egyptian archaeology that is done by Egyptians in Egypt.