From the Daily Beast:
Many of the world’s great archaeologists and art scholars fear they are about to relive a nightmare.
Eight years ago, they watched in horror as looters raided Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad and carted off thousand of artifacts representing much of the archaeological heritage of the Arab world.
Now looters and vandals are threatening a museum that holds treasures that are among the most iconic on earth—the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo, home to the golden death mask and gem-encrusted jewelry found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen, among tens of thousands of other priceless items that capture 4,000 years of Egyptian history.
The first attack at the Egyptian Museum took place Friday, when vandals made their way into the museum’s exhibit halls and damaged several artifacts, including ripping the heads off a pair of mummies, even as Army soldiers patrolled nearby. The museum is in the heart of downtown Cairo and close to some of the largest anti-government protests. “The pictures I saw of the looting at the museum seem to me to be destruction for the sake of destruction.” Freed said. “It makes no sense to me.”
In the United States and elsewhere outside Egypt, archaeologists, museum curators, and other scholars of the ancient world are frantic this weekend to try to think of ways to help protect the Egyptian Museum and the collections at hundreds of other museums and archaeological storehouses across Egypt that hold the evidence of the life of pharaohs.
This is certainly not the first time irreplaceable artifacts have been destroyed by thugs roaming the streets or by warring armies. Ancient works were destroyed in Alexandria over 2000 years ago. The guilty party was the Romans. Most of what we could have learned about ancient times went up in smoke.
The Spanish destroyed the libraries of the Aztecs and Incas. In doing so, we lost the pre-Colombian history of the Americas. The Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddhist statues on the old spice route because they don’t believe in statues. Invading barbarians destroyed much Roman history. Hitler and his gang stole irreplaceable statues and paintings from much of conquered Europe.
Thugs in Cairo ripped heads off of mummies. The Egyptian army has vowed to protect the Egyptian Antiquities Museum. However, archaeologists and historians have been concerned for years because of the lack of security and general conditions in the 99 year old building. A new museum near the pyramids is supposed to house much of the contents but it isn’t slated to open for 2 years. Additionally, what’s to keep hooligans and vandals from gutting the pyramids?
What can the civilized world do to protect the resources from antiquity during times of unrest? Is there anything we can do? I think back to the civil unrest of the 60’s. Had anyone approached our national archives, I believe they would have been shot on the spot.