x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Cairo museum due to reopen after losing 18 objects

A team of experts has been working around the clock to repair 25 artifacts damaged during looters' failed bid to find bigger treasures.

Egypt's minister of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, stands beside artifacts that were damaged in the Egyptian Museum, located near Tahrir Square, in Cairo.
Egypt's minister of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, stands beside artifacts that were damaged in the Egyptian Museum, located near Tahrir Square, in Cairo.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which lost two statues of the boy king Tutankhamun and other major artifacts to looters last month, could be about to re-open, the minister of state for antiquities said.

A gilded wood statue of the 18th Dynasty king Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess and parts of a gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun harpooning were among the items missing from the museum, Zahi Hawass said in a statement.

Mr Hawass said the museum's database department determined that 18 objects were taken during the break-in. The museum contains more than 100,000 Egyptian artefacts. The police and army are questioning people in custody about the thefts, Mr Hawass said.

Also missing, according Mr Hawass, are a limestone statue of Akhenaten holding an offering table, a statue of Queen Nefertiti making offerings, and a sandstone head of a princess from Amarna, an archaeological site in the southern province of Minya. A stone statuette of a scribe from Amarna and eleven wooden shabti statuettes of Yuya, an Egyptian courtier from the 18th Dynasty, which ruled Egypt 3,000 years ago, were taken as well.

Opened in 1858, the museum was relocated in 1990 to its current site at the edge of Tahrir Square, which has been at the centre of the protests that led to the resignation on Friday of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.

Mr Hawass said that when he first heard about the thefts and damage to the museum he was at a loss.

"When I heard that the museum was looted I said, 'This is the end of everything I did for the last 30 years. I have been protecting the monuments, and finally now I see people are destructing and destroying everything'. And I said to myself, this will be awful. But when I went to Cairo Museum on Saturday and I found that the museum was protected by the people, I was so happy to see that."

After the break-in on January 28, dozens of Egyptians formed a human chain around the museum to fend off other looters.

Mr Hawass said he has a team of experts working around the clock to repair 25 artifacts damaged during the looters' failed bid to find bigger treasures.

"Some of the looters entered the museum from the ceiling and they opened showcases. It was dark and they were looking for gold. They threw objects on the ground - 70 in total - but 25 of them were not in a good condition. Therefore, we started the restoration of all these objects," Mr Hawass said.

"I went to the Cairo Museum and I brought all the restorators and we started all the work. In a couple of days we will be able to know that everything is fine. The objects will be restored in two or three days."

Mr Hawass said that important cultural sites such as the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile near Luxor, the Valley of the Queens, the pyramids at Saqqara and all 24 of Egypt's museums were now safe thanks to ordinary people.

"This has happened because of the Egyptians. The opposition and the people who are against the government and the people with the government, they agreed on one thing: the unification of the protection of the Egyptian monuments," he said.

Tutankhamun's treasures were discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings. The best known artefact is the gold funerary mask. The head is covered by a Nemes headcloth with the cobra and vulture emblems on the forehead, eyes and eyelids inlaid with lapis lazuli. Tutankhamun ascended the throne as a boy in 1354 BC and ruled for nine years until he died at around 18. His mummy is at the grave site in Luxor.

Mr Hawass said he believes it will be easy to get the stolen artefacts back, given that "no museum" would buy stolen objects.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg