This upsets me immensely.
Since the break-in at the National Egyptian Museum on Friday, January 28, there has been much speculation in the Egyptological world about what objects may have been damaged or stolen; this desperate attempt to understand the extant of the damage was severely limited by a lack of detailed information coming directly from the head honcho of Egyptian Antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass (formerly Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, now Vice Minister of Culture of Egypt). Now, it seems that we needn’t have bothered with information from Hawass–not only was the information he provided inexact, it now seems that, in many cases, is was completely erroneous.
While Hawass stated from the beginning that the damage at the museum was limited and that no objects were taken, his blog post from February 12 states that 18 objects are, in fact, unaccounted for.
Hawass’ first statements about the break-in were that the damage was minimal; he mentioned a few broken cases from one gallery, and only one case from the Tutankhamun gallery, where a “statue of the king on a panther” was broken.
Then, on February 2, came Hawass’ statement that “70 objects had been broken, but nothing had been stolen” and on February 4, “As I have already stated, nothing was stolen from the museum.”
Finally, on February 6, Hawass announced more specifically that “One showcase in the Amarna galleries was smashed; it contained a standing statue of the king carrying an offering tray…Another vitrine that was smashed contained one of King Tutankhamun’s walking sticks. The gilded stick is broken into two pieces, and can be restored. The other King Tutankhamun object that was damaged was the wooden statue of the king standing on the back of a panther. Both objects were taken out of their showcase and were dropped on the floor after the thieves realized that they were not made of gold.”
This optimistic information was received by the Egyptological community with skepticism–one of the most glaring discrepancies in my view was that Hawass never mentioned the statue of Tutankhamun standing on a hunting skiff, though the damaged item is easily recognized and clearly visible in footage of the museum available by February 29 (analyzed well at The Eloquent Peasant).
It is fair to say that, with so many objects displaced during the break-in, we could not expect to have a full official account immediately (in part, perhaps, because of the poor state of the records at the museum).
I am also not surprised that, with the unrest in Egypt and the various problems with accessing the internet, Hawass was not reading all of the Egyptological blogs and forums and noting our speculation; perhaps he has no idea that many of his colleagues have discovering information he has not been able to, or not bothered to, reveal.
Even if Hawass and the other staff members did not notice the other 17 missing objects (including an entire case-full of shawatbi figures!), they could not have failed to see the damaged statue of Tutnakhamun on a skiff (at least to note that the body of the statue had been broken off, even if they did not identify at the time that the body was no longer in the museum).
Apparently, it was not till February 11 that Hawass asked Dr. Yasmin el Shazly, the head of documentation at the Museum 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.”
This last statement is particularly distressing. Rather than telling the archaeological community (and the world) upfront that he could not confirm a full list of the objects damaged or missing, Hawass repeatedly stated that no objects were taken. According to everything he published until today, there was no question of “whether or not any objects have been taken.”
Earlier, Hawass also stated, “I am the only source of continuing truth concerning antiquities…If anything happens to the museum, I would bravely tell everyone all over the world because I am a man of honor, and I would never hide anything from you. It is from my heart that I tell people everywhere that I am the guardian of these monuments that belong to the whole world.”
Zahi, you don’t have our confidence.
If something happens to the antiquities, tell us. If you’re not sure what happened, tells us you’re unsure. That’s honorable.
If you are the only source of contuinuing truth, our profession is at risk.