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One-Armed Tut: Hawass Issues Detailed Report on Damage at Egyptian Museum CLARIFIED

Statue of of Tutankhamun standing on a panther, Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Restorer working on the statue (Tut’s left arm is severed.)
Photo: Stephanie Sakoutis (published on Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass’ website

On a momentous day when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has reportedly ceded all power to the country’s military and the future role of his cabinet ministers is, at best, unclear, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass (who said he attended yesterday’s long cabinet meeting) has at last posted on his website a detailed, candid account of damage to specific objects at the Egyptian Museum, where a break-in occurred on Jan. 28.

Contradicting much of what Hawass had stated previously on his website, his latest report casts new doubt upon the reliability of his previous assertions regarding damage (or lack thereof) to the museum’s objects and the country’s archaeological sites.

In his Feb. 6 post, Hawass had declared that both the Tut-panther statue (above) and a damaged gilded walking stick were “taken out of their showcase and were dropped on the floor after the thieves realized that they were not made of gold.”

Today, he tells us more:

The [Tut-panther]
statue seems to have been used to smash other showcases, and
unfortunately the left arm, holding the staff, has been broken off. The
panther is broken at the legs, and its tail and right ear have also been
broken. Much of the gilding from the statue has also been broken off.

In the same Feb. 6 statement, Hawass also unequivocally declared:

examined all of the royal mummies last week and then reexamined them
again today; I am happy to report that they all are safe and untouched,
including those of Akhenaten’s family members.

But in today’s statement, we learn that the mummy bands of Thuya, grandmother of Akhenaten, were, in fact, damaged. [See clarification just below.] Hawass (who doesn’t mention Thuya’s Akhenaten connection) elaborates:

Thuya and her
husband Yuya were the parents of Queen Tiye and the great-grandparents
of Tutankhamun [whose father, unmentioned by Hawass, was Akhenaten]. Thuya’s mummy bands are gilded cartonnage, and
thankfully, only one section was damaged. The upper part of one god was
broken off the open work of the bands, but luckily no other damage was
sustained. This object can be restored very quickly.

[CLARIFICATION: Margaret Maitland of the Eloquent Peasant blog informs me: “I should just point out that the damaged mummy bands are separate from the mummy, so the statement about the mummies being safe is probably true.”]

Other damaged objects, he reported today, include “statues and shabtis belonging to Yuya and Thuya and some dating to the Late Period,” as well as “the pieces belonging to a wooden boat model and pieces from the model troop of Nubian archers, both dating to the Middle Kingdom”:

Damaged Middle Kingdom boat model
Photo: Stephanie Sakoutis (published on Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass’ website)

While Hawass assures us that the damaged objects “can be restored,” we don’t yet know to what extent the restorations will be able to return the objects to a good approximation of their pre-vandalized states.

Having previously stated that “nothing was stolen from the museum” during the break-in, Hawass now reveals that he has asked Tarek El Awady, director of the Egyptian Museum, and Yasmin el Shazly,
its head of documentation, “to do a final check of the objects in the museum and the
conservation lab against the database and prepare a report for me on
Sunday. This report will confirm whether or not any objects have been
taken from the museum
[emphasis added].

Having previously stated that “nine criminals” had broken into the museum, he now admits:

are not clear on exactly how many of the criminals actually entered
into the museum, but 10 people have been in custody since 28
January. One of these ten criminals was actually captured inside of the

He also indicated less certainty than he had previously expressed regarding the status of antiquities sites:

received a report from the chief of the tourist police that criminals
had entered the storage magazine in Tuna el-Gebel. This report indicated
that two mummies, dating to the Roman Period, were missing. However,
the curator has also sent me a report saying that nothing actually
happened at the magazine. I hope to receive further information on this
matter very soon.

He had previously stated:

All sites in Middle Egypt, such as Tuna el-Gebel [emphasis added], Amarna, and Beni Hasan, are safe.

Perhaps his upbeat reports about other sites, including Saqqara, were similarly based upon incomplete, fragmentary reports. The fact that Hawass may have lacked full, reliable information during the past two chaotic weeks is completely understandable. But his misleading previous assertions about the Cairo museum break-in, where, in some instances, his own knowledge must have differed from his public pronouncements, is less excusable.

Similarly problematic were his strong “factual” pronouncements regarding the “safety” of antiquities sites, about which he lacked complete and reliable information. If Hawass didn’t know the full extent of the vandalism and looting, he should have acknowledged that, rather than giving blanket assurances that all was well. Those assurances, of utmost importance to Egyptologists, conflicted with some accounts from people in the field (such as archaeologists who work at Saqqara).

As with the rest of Egypt’s governance, we need more candor and transparency from its Ministry of Antiquities. Minimizing the problems undermines the credibility of the minister.

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