Tutankhamun statue and other artifacts stolen from Egyptian Museum, Zahi Hawass reports

TutankhamunThe Head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass, has posted some sad news on his blog. During the recent political upheaval in Cairo the Egyptian Museum was broken into and some artifacts were stolen. We reported earlier that two mummies were damaged but nothing was stolen. Now that the museum staff have been able to do an inventory it appears that during that incident the intruders also took some artifacts.

The most famous is a gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess, shown here. Another Tutankhamun statue was damaged. Several other priceless artifacts are also missing. A complete list can be found here. Dr. Hawass writes that 70 artifacts were knocked over or damaged.

Dr. Hawass also reports a storeroom near the pyramid at Dashur was broken into. There were attempted break-ins at a few other museums as well. No word yet on any missing artifacts.

The Egyptian Museum is on Tahrir Square where the Cairo protests were centered. Dr. Hawass and museum employees have been sleeping in the museum to protect it. On several occasions during the past weeks many protesters made a human barrier to protect the building. Sadly, the thieves took advantage of the confusion on the street level to break in through the roof.

The BBC reports that previous reports of damaged mummies appear to be incorrect and were the result of confusion over a couple of skulls that had been taken from their cases. Also, a group of suspects have been arrested and are being questioned in relation to the break in. The museum remains closed for an indefinite period.

Germany and Egypt fight over bust of Nefertiti: will Zahi Hawass’s crusade ever end?

Egypt, egyptYou win some, you lose some.

Zahi Hawass is a man who is used to getting his way. The head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has been fighting to repatriate stolen Egyptian artifacts for years, and more often than not he wins.

This time, though, he’s suffered a setback. He’s trying to get the Neues Museum in Berlin to return the famous bust of Nefertiti. He claims it was stolen by a German archaeologist a century ago who covered it with clay to hide its true value. Museum officials told the BBC it was legally exported and that it’s too delicate to move anyway.

The bust is the centerpiece of the Neues Museum’s amazing display of Egyptian artifacts, one of the best collections in the world. Nefertiti was the wife of the mysterious pharaoh Akhenaten, who put the Sun god Aten above all others in the Egyptian pantheon. Vengeful priests erased his name from monuments after his death in 1338 BC.

This won’t be the last battle in the war for Nefertiti. Dr. Hawass’s predecessors have been trying to get the bust back since 1930. What really needs to be done is for museums, governments, and archaeologists to get together and come up with a binding agreement on how to deal with these issues. Perhaps a neutral International Antiquities Court could be set up via the UN? At the moment Dr. Hawass has little power to force Germany or any other country to return artifacts, other than threats (which worked with the Louvre) or constant badgering. With a proper system in place, Dr. Hawass could get a good night’s sleep.

But having seen the inner workings of far too many museums and academic departments, I don’t hold out much hope for an amicable agreement. Too many people are trying to cling to their little bit of turf.

[Photo courtesy Philip Pikart]

Egypt changes stance: King Tut’s tomb will stay open (for now)

Egypt, egypt
The famous tomb of King Tutankhamun in Egypt will remain open for the time being, the chief of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass announced.

While earlier this week he stated that it and two other tombs in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor would close by the end of the year, now he’s saying that they’ll close at some undetermined time in the future.

Egypt plans to build a Valley of the Replicas to show off exact duplicates of King Tut’s tomb and those of Seti I and Queen Nefertari. These and other tombs are suffering damage due to the large numbers of people passing through. The extra humidity from their breath is causing mold to grow and is damaging the ancient paintings that adorn the walls. The number of visitors to Tutankhamun’s tomb has already been limited to 1,000 a day, down from a peak of 6,000 a day.

Once the Valley of the Replicas is open, and there’s no set date for that yet, King Tut’s tomb will close to everyone except those paying an extra fee that will probably run into the thousands of dollars. The pharaoh’s mummy will remain in its tomb.

[Photo courtesy user Kounosu via Wikimedia Commons]

Egypt to close Tutankhamun’s tomb

Tutankhamun, egypt, Egypt
The Valley of the Kings is one of the highlights of any trip to Egypt. In this hot, dusty ravine are some of the most remarkable tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs. Paintings adorn their walls, showing the soul’s journey through the afterlife and the gods and goddesses described in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Now the most popular of those tombs is going to close. Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, has announced he will close Tutankhamun’s tomb by the end of the year. Two others will also close. The brilliant paintings that make the tombs so attractive were preserved because the tombs were sealed. With thousands of people passing through every day, the tombs have become hotter and more humid. Paint is flaking off and mold is growing in some parts, as you can see from the above photo. It’s sad, but to save the tombs they have to be shut from public view.

Dr. Hawass has commissioned an exact replica of King Tut’s tomb so that visitors will get an idea what the original looked like.

[Photo courtesy user Hajor via Wikimedia Commons]

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More Roman heritage from Mérida, Spain

Roman, Spain, MéridaIn the Extremaduran city of Mérida, it feels like at any moment you’re going to turn a corner and meet an ancient Roman. Sometimes that almost happens.

This fellow was at the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, a world-class museum featuring Roman statues, mosaics, and other artifacts. Built by the famous architect Rafael Moneo Vallés, it looks like an old Roman basilica, with lofty arches, wide corridors, and lots of natural light. This allows each artifact to have plenty of space so it can be viewed from all angles. My five-year-old son loved this place. With the crowds dispersed in such a large area, he didn’t have to keep close to my side all the time. He could wander at will (within my sight, of course) and examine the chariot races on the mosaics all by himself. He also liked the basement, which included a Roman road and several crypts.

While the museum is one of the best I’ve seen, the whole city is actually a museum. Behind a cafe I saw spare chairs stacked under a Roman arch. The local church incorporates parts of a temple to Mars. The main pedestrian bridge across the Rio Guadiana, dating to about 25 BC, is the longest surviving Roman bridge in the world.

Last time I talked about the Roman theater and amphitheater at Mérida. These are the two most popular sights in town, but perhaps more impressive is the Casa del Mitreo. This Roman mansion is located near the subterranean temple of Mithras, a mystery religion that was the main competitor with Christianity for the hearts and minds of the Romans in the late Empire. It’s not clear if the house was actually associated with the temple, but a beautiful, complex mosaic on the library floor suggests it was. It shows the divine principles of sky, earth, and sea in a vast interconnected group. These aren’t gods, but ideas, such as Copiae, the riches of the sea; Aestas, the summer; and Chaos. The whole mansion has been excavated and protected under a modern roof, so you can stroll around on a modern walkway and look down the bedrooms, patios, and wall paintings. My wife voted this the best attraction in town. Near the house is a rather spooky Roman graveyard.

%Gallery-112140% On the edge of town you can see one of the best preserved Roman hippodromes in the world. Chariot races were even more popular than gladiator fights or plays. Like the theater this was an institution that the early Christians disapproved of. But like the Mérida theater, it got a major face lift courtesy of the early Christian emperors in the years 337-340 AD. It took some time for the Christians to enforce their strict morality on the Roman populace. Walking along the 440 meter (481 yard) long racetrack you can easily imagine cheering crowds and crashing chariots. Thirty thousand people could be seated here. Nearby are the remains of one of Mérida’s two aqueducts.

Mérida protected the crossing of the Guadiana river, and so even after the Roman Empire crumbled it was an important spot. The Visigoths, a Germanic tribe, built an imposing city wall and fortress here. Little of that period remains, but the next rulers of Mérida, the Moors, built a sprawling fortress called the Alcazaba next to the bridge. When we visited we had the place pretty much to ourselves. My son got to walk the ramparts and look out over the river, imagining what it would have been like to live in those times. He especially liked exploring the dark tunnels under the main tower, which lead to a cistern that provided the soldiers with water. The upper story of this same tower was once a mosque.

“Fun for the whole family” is a horrible travel writing cliché, but it does apply to Mérida! While the modern town isn’t much to look at, it’s full of ancient surprises. The food and wine are great too. More on that in another post.

Don’t miss the rest of my series on Exploring Extremadura, Spain’s historic southwest

Coming up next: The Visigoths: Spain’s forgotten conquerors!