Friday, March 4, 2011

The Showmans Responsibilities

With the appearance that the head of Egypt's antiquities service Dr. Zahi Hawass is calling it quits during the greatest crises of his career the immediate question becomes, what is Dr. Hawass' responsibility for the current wave of looting and damage to the Cairo museum?

The issue of the national museum being robbed is entirely different from gangs overwhelming guards at desert archaeological sites but the cause may be exactly the same. A couple of years ago the issue with Dr. Hawass was tourists bribing guards in the valley of kings so that the tourists could take pictures.

The ability to bribe employees of the antiquities service acknowledged at that time by Dr. Hawass is still in play but is this the source of the attack on the Cairo museum. The so called "inside job" must be taken seriously especially if workers are underpaid and/or a worker is experiencing a financial crises these things happen in museums all over the world. Chances are that only the most desperate of employees would engage in such activity.

There are among reports that many more objects are missing from the Cairo museums inventory including a report of a case which contains an extremely rare middle kingdom turquoise glazed hippopotamus, apparently everything but the hippopotamus has been stolen from the case. Interesting I found an auction record for a Sotheby's auction in London in July of  1990, a hippo with excellent provenance sold for just under a million dollars(1).

If the report about the hippo in the Cairo museum is true than it may point to objects being chosen by someone for their sale value with Cairo's hippo too famous and rare to sell even without its provenance? The same may be true of the limestone statuette of Akhenaten perhaps removed from the museum by an ignorant person who only outside the museum was made aware of the fame of that statuette and quickly discarded it?

The broken objects may be the result of ignorant people looking for treasure that is not to say that all the looters were amateurs but some were probably indeed professionals. Professionals who perhaps made the call before hand that the hippo was to be left untouched while the rest of the endearing figurines in the case were to be stolen?

With the exception of the blood covered broken display case the rest of the breakage may also be a smoke screen to allow the robbers time to get away with their loot? It is now more than a month since the robbery of the Cairo museum and still a full report on the missing objects is still not out and even though Zahi Hawass has reported 18 objects in question stolen he has still not released pictures of most of those objects?

With the robbers now having a five week head start it would seem that very little can be done to retrieve what is missing especially based on information provided by Dr Hawass. We can only hope that Yuya's shabti's and the figure of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess did not end up on the fires in Tahrir square. Too famous and too incriminating to be in possession of?

The complaint for years of the Cairo museum, which is one of the worlds most important and most visited museums, are the disintegrating artifacts without climate controlled cases. Why is this and where has the museums income gone? Now people are entering the museum through the skylights and I am pretty sure that whoever injured them self falling on a glass display case did not think they had landed in the gift shop?

So many contradictory statements by Dr. Hawass clearly shows his mind was on his reputation and perhaps the fear that the public would find out the truth about his management or mismanagement of Egypt's antiquities resources? Today is a dark day for Egypt's heritage but the day has been in works for many years and certainly Dr Zahi Hawass is indeed responsible for the robbery and mismanagement of the Cairo museum!

I am left to wonder how truthful an accounting can be of the museum when the report is to be handed over to the man who is most responsible for the condition it is in today?

(1) Minerva, Volume 1 number 7, September 1990 pg. 36, fig.9

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