Rioters destroy two mummies in Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Egypt, egypt, mummy
Rioters broke into Cairo’s famous Egyptian Museum yesterday and destroyed two mummies, Reuters reports.

The head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, got on state television to say that a crowd tried to break into the museum but were fought off by tourist police and regular citizens. While the battle went in front of the entrances, some other rioters broke in through the roof and destroyed the mummies. The ticket office was also ransacked.

It’s unclear at this stage if anything was stolen or if this was a simple act of vandalism. Egyptian fundamentalists have long objected to displays of mummies and ancient religious idols, so the attack may have had a religious motivation. The two mummies were not identified but were referred to as belonging to the Pharaonic period, as opposed to later Greco-Roman mummies.

The museum stands next to the headquarters of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party, which the rioters had set on fire. If I remember correctly, there’s a large open space between the two buildings and so there is little danger of the fire spreading.

[Photo courtesy user Zubro via Wikimedia Commons. This is in the Louvre and is not one of the mummies that was destroyed. You get 100 Archaeology Points if you can tell me another reason this couldn’t be the mummy that was destroyed.]

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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Rome’s Vatican Museums host rare Aboriginal art exhibition

Aboriginal artNo one can ever accuse the Vatican of acting impulsively. In 1925, over 300 artworks and relics were sent to Rome by Aboriginal Australians, for a papal show. Since that time, the items have been squirreled away, despite being one of the world’s finest collections of Aboriginal art and artifacts, according to a recent New York Times article.

Fortunately, these treasures are now on public display, thanks in part to Missionary Ethnological Museum curator Father Nicola Mapelli. Last summer, Mapelli flew to Australia and visited Aboriginal communities to request permission to display the collection. His objective was to “reconnect with a living culture, not to create a museum of dead objects.” His goal is accomplished in the exhibition, “Rituals of Life,” which is focused on northern and Western Australian art from the turn of the 20th century. Despite the fairly contemporary theme of the exhibition, Aboriginal culture is the oldest surviving culture on earth, dating back for what is believed to be over 60,000 years.

The items include ochre paintings done on slate, objects and tools used for hunting, fishing, and gathering, a didgeridoo, and carved funeral poles of a type still used by Tiwi Islanders for pukamani ceremonies. The collection also includes items from Oceania, including Papua New Guinea and Easter Island (Rapa Nui).

The collection was originally sent to Rome because it represents the spiritual meaning everyday objects possess in Aboriginal culture (each clan, or group, believes in different dieties that are usually depicted in a tangible form, such as plants or animals). The items were housed, along with other indigenous artifacts from all over the world, and stored at the Missionary Ethnological Museum, which is part of the Vatican Museums.

“Rituals of Life” is the first exhibition following extensive building renovations and art restoration. The museum will continue to reopen in stages, with the Aboriginal art on display through December, 2011.

For an exhibition audio transcript, image gallery, and video feature from ABC Radio National’s “Encounter,” click here. The Australian series “explores the connections between religion and life.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user testpatern]