In recent years, we have been made aware of the widespread looting in war zones, especially in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq but looting in other countries has not subsided either and Egypt is no exception.
The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities started with the good news that they were working on inventorying some 5,000 artifacts from their
seaside warehouses. Until now, countless antiquities were simply stored away in
Egyptian warehouses but the artifacts never were studied or documented. What a
shame! How on earth can they keep track of what they have and what is being
stolen or displaced? Alexandria
[A fragment of an ancient Egyptian artifact is displayed at the opening of the Repatriated Objects exhibition at the
in , Jan. 14, 2016. (photoby REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)] Cairo, Egypt
The problem is not new for the Archaeological Museum of Cairo started not so long ago with the inspection and sorting of their basement! Incredible but true. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has revealed that there are no less than 72 archaeological warehouses, 35 of which belong to a museum, 20 are labeled as expedition warehouses and another 17 are small on-site warehouses spread all over the country. So far, only 14 of these warehouses have been “inspected” – whatever that means.
It seems that a mere fraction of Egypt’s antiquities made it to a museum, all the other treasures resulting from decennia of excavations have simply been stored awaiting registration and restoration. Some speak of hundreds of thousands of neglected artifacts about which nothing is known and are making an easy target for thieves. This means that there is much more to see and to learn from these artifacts than there is in any museum. Who knows, there still may be some Alexander statue or cartouche hidden somewhere?
Of course, these warehouses are guarded but these people are unarmed and often they are unable to prevent theft. How authorities are still able to establish how many artifacts are being stolen from the different locations is quite amazing. The following is only a short list:
On September 12, 2013, 238 items were stolen from the Mit Rahina at
On December 31, 2013, 96 small and rare antiquities disappeared from
On May 27, 2015, three fake lanterns replaced originals that were removed from Old Cairo
On December 23, 2015, nine antiquities from Pharaonic era disappeared from Buto
On February 11, 2016, 157 artifacts from the Saqqara era were stolen in
On April 30,
2016, a statue from the Middle
Kingdom was replaced by a fake one at Mit Rahina in Giza
A decent security with modern means like camera surveillance has to be implemented, especially when you realize that some of these many warehouses have never been inspected. So it is no surprise to see treasures disappear to the black market. It is no news that when artifacts are documented in international libraries, it becomes much easier to recover them.
One of the main problems, however, is the limited financial resources of the responsible ministries and the decline in tourism combined with the difficult economic situation is not helping either.