Egyptologists refute video claims about artefacts looted from Egypt Museum

Nevine El-Aref , Wednesday 18 Jul 2012

Recent video claiming to show ancient artefacts pilfered from Egyptian Museum during last year's uprising is 'fabrication,' museum officials tell Ahram Online

Tuthmosis IV statue

On Tuesday, Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website and Ahram Online received a video from a source who requested anonymity showing artefacts which, the source alleged, had been stolen from the Egyptian Museum at the height of last year’s Tahrir Square uprising and subsequently smuggled to the Upper Egyptian governorate of Qena for sale to the highest bidder.

Museum officials, however, say the artefacts shown in the video were never part of the museum's collection.

"The objects shown in the video are fake and have nothing to do with the Egyptian museum," Yasmin El-Shazly, head of the museum's documentation department, told Ahram Online.

According to the video posted on the websites and an accompanying article, the pilfered objects included a stone head of King Tuthmosis IV, a royal papyrus fragment featuring the pharaoh's cartouche, four statues of a scorpion goddess, and a painted statue of King Seti I, founder of Egypt's 19th Dynasty.

Upon obtaining the video, Ahram Online's reporter in Qena showed it to an Egyptologist who confirmed its authenticity. Ahmed Saleh, antiquities director in the southern city of Abu Simbel, told Ahram Online that some of the pieces shown in the video had in fact been displayed in Egypt's national museum.     

Nevertheless, the museum's El-Shazly expressed anger over the allegations, which she – along with other museum officials – says are fabricated.

"I was really disappointed when I read the article entitled 'Egyptian Museum artefacts stolen during Jan Uprising for sale in Qena'," El-Shazly said. She told Ahram Online that the reporter should have confirmed the information with museum officials instead of "relying on an anonymous source."

El-Shazly went on to stress that no papyri had been stolen from the Egyptian Museum, where the Tuthmosis IV statue in question remains on display today. She also noted that the website of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities contained a list of objects that went missing during the uprising, which is updated whenever new objects are retrieved.

"Twenty-nine out of 54 objects reported missing have since been recovered," she said.

Elham Salah, supervisor at the museum's Central Administration for Scientific Affairs, supported El-Shazly's assertions, saying the objects shown in the video were "totally fake" and that no papyri had been stolen from the museum. She went on to say that the descriptions of the objects in the video were inaccurate, suggesting that whoever was responsible for it was "not an Egyptologist."

The "papyrus" shown in the video, she said, was not a papyrus, but a parchment skin; while the object described as a "sarcophagus" was in fact a painted ancient Egyptian naohs (shrine). Other objects depicted in the video, she said, were also fakes.

"Some ninety per cent of the objects reported missing from the museum [after the uprising] were later recovered," she asserted. "And no sarcophagi, papyri or naohs were among the objects stolen."

Noureddin Raslan, an Egyptologist at the museum, pointed out that a number of videos had appeared online since last year's uprising claiming to show antiquities stolen from Egyptian archaeological sites and offering them for sale. Among the best known of these sites, Raslan said, were 'Treasures and Burials' (Konouz wa Dafaein) and 'Archaeologists Forums' (Montadayat Ulemaa Al-Athar).

Raslan went on to point out that one such site even featured a photo of King Tutankhamun’s famous gold chair – one of the most celebrated pieces in the Egyptian Museum's collection – claiming it too had been recently stolen and offering it for sale.

Adel Abdel-Sattar, head of Egypt's Museums Sector, told Ahram Online that, according to the International Museums Committee, it was illegal to purchase any artefact that had been reported missing from the Egyptian Museum or any Egyptian archaeological site. Even in the event that a collector or museum bought such an artefact, he said, they would be legally bound to return it to the Egyptian authorities.

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