On the Other Hand, Not Entirely Unscathed (Egypt)

Posted on February 14th, 2011 by

Unfortunately, the Egyptian Museum didn’t fare quite as well as the Library at Alexandria.

A full inventory of the Egyptian Museum has found that looters escaped with 18 items during the anti-government unrest, including two gilded wooden statues of famed boy king Tutankhamun, the antiquities chief said Sunday.

The 18-day uprising that forced out President Hosni Mubarak engulfed the areas around the museum, on the edge of Cairo’s Tahrir Square. On Jan. 28, as protesters clashed with police early on in the turmoil and burned down the adjacent headquarters of Mubarak’s ruling party, a handful of looters climbed a fire escape to the museum roof and lowered themselves on ropes from a glass-paneled ceiling onto the museum’s top floor.

Around 70 objects — many of them small statues — were damaged, but until Sunday’s announcement, it was not known whether anything was missing.

Read the rest here.

Mary Beard, classics professor at Cambridge, has an interesting post on the subject of where important cultural artifacts belong.

Tactless it may be, but I have been itching to say this for several days. The sad looting of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo gives yet another reason why the dispersal of major treasures around the world may be a good thing, not an imperialist crime.

I don’t mean that everything should end up in the British Museum (or the Met, or the Louvre). In the medium to long term, we can’t be certain which parts of the world are going to be safest — whether that is a question or crime, riot, flood or fire. Over the next millennium London may be no less vulnerable than Kabul But we do know that ‘all eggs in one basket’ is bound to be a bad idea.

One can’t help but think of the tragedy of the Bamiyan Buddhas, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

It’s a tricky question: Who “owns” the heritage of a given culture, and where should important cultural artifacts reside?  It’s especially tricky given the rather shady history of so many museum acquisitions…

 

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