Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Friday, March 04, 2011

Update 5th March

Comments left on the Eloquent Peasant by A.H,. when Margaret Maitland repeated the list below on her blog, suggest it is not correct.  Vincent Brown says that he first received it 3 days ago.  It is difficult because nobody is sure of the chain by which it reached Judith H. Dobrzynski, nor has the original source been revealed.  A.H. felt that Margaret should not have repeated it until it could be verified.  The difficulty is that without definitive sources from the museum, or preferably from an independent source, it is hard to know what is accurate or not.  It is ultimately a judgement call and it seemed better to me to pass it on so that people might form their own judgement, while noting that it hasn't been confirmed and that, in the case of a fan, it seems to disagree with TV pictures.

I have not added this to the Looting Database and will not do so unless there is some sort of verification of the contents.  However, for a blog, I believe it should be shared, with suitable caveats.

Judith H. Dobrzynski, writing in the Clear Arts section on Arts Journal, has published a leaked inventory which purports to be a more complete list of items stolen from the Egyptian Museum.  She describes it like this:
It comes from inside the museum, and passed to me through a chain of reliable sources. I can not confirm it, but given the details, it seems credible enough to post here with those caveats. So, what follow is is word for word from the source, including the spellings:
She then publishes an inventory of supposedly stolen items as follows:

A. Collection of Tutankhamun
  1. Trumpet
  2. The two fans
B. From Yuya and Tuya collection
The collection had 11 Ushaptis, 7 are missing, and 4 are still there. These 11 Ushaptis are registered as one unit. These lie in the Upper Floor Gallery 43, display cabinet # 13

C. Also in the Upper Floor Gallery 43 the display cabinet of the turquoise Hipo, everything disappeared except the turquoise Hipo.

D. Late Period, Upper floor room 12: 17 Ushapti figures are missing

E. Pantheons, Upper Floor, room 14
  1. Two drawers with their figures of Pantheons are missing
  2. Two cabinets one in the middle of the room and one on the side have been violated with many pieces missing.
It is estimated that from this room only hundreds of pieces are missing, as you probably know these are small figures of gods and pantheons.

F. Department of Akhenaten, Ground Floor room 3 and gallery 13
  1. Thot and the scribe (This is a very famous statue, 6.8 cm high)
  2.  Bust of Nefertity (7 cm high)
  3. Bust of Tuya mother of Nefertity.
Dr Hawass has said that the museum's own invetory will be ready on Sunday so it will be interesting to compare the two.   Personally I would have preferred to see the museum's inverntory first.

It is fair to say that no museum is fully secure.  I always tell people you can have as much security as you are willing to pay for, but 100% security is unaffordable.  Under the circumstances, while regrettable I don't think anybody should be held criminally accountable when, say, a remote underground store room is busted by an armed gang.  It can happen.  I feel rather differently about an attack through an unprotected skylight: most villa owners even would have a grille over skylights.  However, in a separate piece of conjecture Paul Barford has cast doubt on the official stories of the break in based on a visit to the museum when it reopened.  Again his report is unproven conjecture, but it makes interesting reading.  Barford alleges that the break in was officially sanctioned (although he is at pains to say there is no evidence that SCA or musuem staff were aware of the plan) as an attempt to produce TV coverage of shocking damage to discredit the protestors, while keeping the actual damage to a minimum.  If that is the case, someone seems to have gone beyond the plan.  Certainly if the list of items stolen is as extensive as Dobrzynski is now suggesting, it seems hard to believe that the stolen items were removed by hauling them up through the skylight as the museum has claimed.  (It actually seems more likely that the thieves escaped through the chaos in the gift shop.)  Of course it is easy for the museum to prove the facts by publishing the CCTV footage from the evening.

I cannot comment too much on the accuracy of the inventory of stolen items suggested by Dobrzynski at this stage because I don't know it's source.  Some points are easy to make however:
  1. Given the scale of reported damage in the Late Period rooms, I was always sceptical that nothing had been stolen from those rooms.
  2. Egyptologists are likely to find it hard to believe that Tutankhamun statues were not immediately spotted as missing when there was a broken base on the floor, and question Hawass' initial assertions that nothing was stolen.  The same applies to the other premier items whose cabinets were smashed: curators tend to know their collections intimately and I think most curators would spot that a star item was missing pretty quickly.  The public, however, has failed to grasp this.  They are likely, however, to react in disbelief if hundreds of items were stolen but no theft was spotted, although in curatorial terms failure to spot the theft of many more minor items might be easier to understand.  If proven, this new list of stolen items is likely to generate a hue and cry within Egypt and internationally.
  3. The former director, Dr Wafaa el-Saddik, reported within days that many "figures of the gods" had been stolen and that the break in was an "inside job".  Her report was rubbished by Dr Hawass.  If she was right about the theft of figures of the gods, then it again raises questions about why Hawass denied the thefts and whether the break in was an "inside job".  We shall have to wait and see which version is proved to be  correct.
  4. It will be easy for the museum to refute any losses which have been fabricated to discredit them or to sow dissension: they can invite in a respected international Egyptologist to verify that the losses are not as described in the Dobrzynski inventory, and to check against books like Hawass' own new guide to the treasures of the Egyptian Museum (which I have on order by the way).
  5. One of the fans reported stolen appeared in initial TV footage of the damage.  This either means that there are errors in the Dobrzynski interview and perhaps some of the items are being restored, or perhaps that it is entirely fabricated. The alternative would be losses after the Al Jazeera cameras were allowed in.  Later losses would fit with the present-then-missing statue of Akhenaten.  Barford also wonders in his piece whether the collection was disturbed between the Al Jazeera filming and the later filming by CNN.
This is a story that won't go away.  Hopefully the Egyptian Prosecutor will announce an independent commission to determine the facts.  Given the importance of the collection is vital that the truth comes out.  That is also important to allow innocent staff within the SCA to clear their names.

We still do not have photographs of the items which the museum has confirmed stolen.  That is critical in stopping the thieves escaping the country and they should have been published immediately.  For me not publishing photos of these items and the false doors reported stolen from Saqqara is far more reprehensible than the lapses of security in the first place.  It might be unpopular, but I also think the excavation license should also be withdrawn from any foreign mission which cannot provide photos of items missing from their storehouses.  As soon as items are removed from the ground, they should be photographed as a precaution against theft, accidental damage or simple environmental degradation.  In the days of cheap, digital cameras there really is no excuse for not photographing all but the most trivial of items.

Finally, Vincent Brown has published an article about Zahi Hawass and the Museum Gift Shop. It is not about the thefts but it makes very interesting reading for anybody trying to build a full picture of how the SCA has been operating.


Vincent said...

Just to let you know Kate, I also received the exact same list from a source inside the museum three days ago, with the same spelling.

About your comment that the CCTV footage can provide more evidence. It may not provide much as the lights in the museum were reportedly turned off after the break in occurred. So the cameras would not show much in the dark.

Patrick said...

The cause of the confusion is the same as that of other 'foggy' areas in Egyptology in recent times, notably the JAMA DNA study. We are spoon-fed information as and when it is convenient to The One Who Knows All - up to now ZH.


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