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Political unrest in Egypt turned attention toward the country’s historic sites and vast collection of antiquities.
Egypt, I guess you could say the entire country is literally a museum and storeroom for ancient history. I don’t believe it would be an overstatement to say that it is one of the great cultural legacies of humanity.”
Perhaps no other country in the world has so many well known sites and artefacts – many extending back 3,000 [three thousand] and 4,000 [four thousand] years.
A small group of looters damaged priceless artefacts inside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo before being captured. Soldiers took position afterwards in the museum to protect the precious contents.
Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s state minister for antiquities, and National Geographic explorer and resident, confirms the damage but says that nothing was stolen at the Cairo museum.
Among damaged artefacts - items from king Tut’s tomb.
Despite the clearly visible damages – Egyptologists are hopeful some of the items can be restored, but at other ancient sites and lesser known museums in Egypt, items were stolen.
National Geographic’s Executive Vice President for mission programs Terry Garcia says there’s worldwide support for Egypt’s retention of its history.
“If there has been looting – if some objects have been stolen – that those objects might find their way into the illegal antiquities market and many archeologists have called on other countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and their customs authorities to be on the look out for old kingdom objects – frankly, any objects that might be coming out of Egypt.”
At the Egyptian Museum over 120,000 [one hundred twenty thousand] artefacts are on display throughout Egypt’s storied history including the famous golden death mask of the pharaoh Tutankamun – it was not damaged in the looting attempt.
“All of these sites have been well guarded, the Egyptian government had tourism police as well as guards at all of these sites and they were well secured. This is something, unfortunately, that you see when you have great instability and political upheaval that we’re witnessing in Egypt now. This happened in Iraq following the invasion, it also happened in Afghanistan. We saw certain individuals take advantage of the instability to enrich themselves.”
Much of the Egyptian population itself lives on top of the remains of ancient history and Egyptologists and other scholars are cautiously optimistic that Egyptians intent on protecting the history will prevail over the few who want to profit from looting it.
“When you live on top of layer after layer after layer of civilization and you see it on an everyday basis, it becomes part of your persona and that’s the way Egyptians are – they really feel that and – and they feel that – it may not be explicit – it may not be something they talk about everyday – but they feel that that pre-islamic – that pharaonic past - they’re very proud of – and they should be, because it’s at the core of western civilization.”
“You know we should care about this because this isn’t just about Egypt. Yes, these objects and these sites are part of the ancient Egyptian civilization, but at its core what we’re talking about is a cultural legacy that belongs to mankind.”
“The Egyptians don’t want these sites to be destroyed but it happens when there is chaos and we want to work together with the Egyptians to make sure that nothing gets hurt and that we can continue to tell the story of modern Egyptians and ancient Egyptians … for our future generations.”