The search for gold in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Zahi Hawass, Tuesday 5 Apr 2011

Zahi Hawass speaks on what he saw when he returned for a more thorough look at the Cairo Museum after the initial break-in during the revolution

Zahi Hawass

Archaeologists spend their lives excavating sites and making major discoveries, and at the end of their dig seasons they bring all of their finds to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. I, myself, used to come to Cairo all the time when I was excavating at Kom Abou Bellou in the Delta. For more than six years I would come with trucks full of treasures, such as statues and gold jewellery. 

Now, for the first time, the Egyptian Museum was broken into by a group of criminals who tried to steal from their own country in an attempt to ruin the revolution for freedom and democracy. I visited the museum the morning after the break-in and at first glance it did not look like any items were missing: all of the masterpieces seemed to be in place. There were many broken objects scattered throughout the galleries and it appeared that the criminals just broke cases and threw objects on the ground. I believed then that nothing had been stolen.

The Monday morning after the break-in I entered the museum with commandos from the Egyptian army and a group of international journalists and reporters because I wanted to send a message to people around the world: the museum was safe.

We entered through the back door of the museum, which is normally the exit of the gift shop. I believe that this shop helped save the museum: most of the looters may have thought that it was part of the museum and stole all of the replica jewellery. The looters were ignorant of their cultural heritage and we must thank God that this was the case. The museum was very dark when the looters finally got inside and I think that this is another reason that the damage was not more extensive. It was simply difficult for the criminals to find gold and mummies in the dark.

There are villages in Egypt where rural people believe that mummified remains contain red mercury. These people think that red mercury can summon a jinn (a genie), which has the power to do anything it wishes. However, this is just a legend with no basis in truth. The looters were unable to find any mummies, but they did break open the lid of an empty coffin during their search. 

I felt that it was very important to enter the Egyptian Museum, Cairo as quickly as possible, because I wanted to know if the three mummies I recently identified as the family of Tutankhamun were still in the museum or if they had been stolen. I saw that there were two mummified skulls, confiscated from the looters, but I could not tell if they Tut’s family. 

To be continued…

Note: I apologise to Ahram Online readers for being unable to publish my articles in the past weeks due to the political situation in Egypt - I will resume publishing on a regular basis once again.

Zahi Hawass
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