Monday, February 28, 2011
The Uncertain State of Libya's Archaeological Treasures
What reports there are suggest they remain undisturbed for now. See
http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/02/27/us-libya-protests-heritage-idUKTRE71Q0M520110227?pageNumber=1 However, one has to wonder about their fate, particularly if the Qaddafi regime holds on for an extended period of time.
When Libya was an Italian colony, Mussolini lavished money on archaeology; excavations at Roman sites helped buttress his regime's claim to be the heir of ancient Rome. In reaction, Qaddafi largely ignored Libya's ancient past, labeling it as colonialist. Although there have been recent efforts to rehabilitate some sites for their potential as tourist destinations, Qaddafi and/or his cronies have also allegedly sold off statuary from ancient sites like Leptis Magna for personal profit. See http://phdiva.blogspot.com/2011/02/libyan-archaeology-scandals.html Like many despots, Qaddafi seems unable to distinguish between public property and his own.
Let's hope Libya's well preserved ancient ruins stay safe, and the Libyan people prevail in their death match with their eccentric tyrant, Col. Qaddafi, and his cronies.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Reflections On Cultural Politics After Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan Revolts
Anyway, here are some observations based on recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya:
1. Draconian cultural patrimony laws are natural expressions of authoritarian regimes;
2. Such laws are applied to common people and foreigners, but not to cronies of the regime;
3. Such systems also hide financial improprieties, i.e., skimming of public funds that should go to archaeological projects;
4. Educated elites are less likely to loot than the poor and uneducated;
5. Looting and vandalism can also be used by the authorities to try to justify their repressive measures;
6. Foreign archaeologists will not speak out against regimes that offer them excavation permits;
7. The prospect of jobs or funding can silence source country archaeologists from expressing their own concerns.
Zahi Hangs On
The new cabinet-- which is full of holdovers-- suggests that Egypt's popular revolt to date has only prompted cosmetic changes in how Egypt is governed.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Hawass Asks for Egyptian Prosecutor to Exhonerate Him; More Investigations Needed to Ensure Taxpayer Money Not Lost to Corrupt Practices
http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/7/6138/Egypt/Crime/Accusation-against-minister-of-antiquities-referre.aspx He professes to be confident that he will be exhonerated.
Hawass has apparently not asked for an investigation into whether public money was skimmed from his Ministry.
I think this charge needs to be investigated too. And not just in Egypt, but by federal prosecutors in the United States. The US Government has given millions in aid to Egypt to support Egypt's archaeological establishment; US Museums, the Discovery Channel, and National Geographic have given millions more for travelling shows and TV programs.
Egyptian and US taxpayers need some assurance that all this money was not misused in any fashion.
BM Coin Cabinet Celebrates 150th Anniversary
At its formation in 1753, the BM was given 20,000 ancient coins. A separate cabinet was formed in 1861. The collection was part of the Department of Manuscripts and then Antiquities before a separate Department of Coins and Medals was set up.
In any event, this again underscores the fact that ancient coins have been actively collected for generations, and that one cannot reasonably assume that an old coin is the product of a recent illicit dig.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Hawass Buys Off Protesters with 1000 New Jobs
Hawass claims that the protests against his leadership were prompted by misunderstandings, and that now the protesters have apologized to him and have even offered him flowers! See
On the other hand, more cynical observers might point to his announcement of 1000 new jobs in his Ministry as the real reason that calm has now prevailed for the moment, at least.
I wonder if these jobs will really come through assuming Hawass' own job becomes secure.
Hawass: The Debate Continues, Asset or Ass?
Most seriously, there have been allegations that funds have gone missing from Hawass' Ministry. See http://phdiva.blogspot.com/2011/02/problems-with-sca-in-egypt.html
USAID, US Museums, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel have all paid millions in foreign aid and payments for TV specials and travelling shows. Perhaps, there needs to be an investigation as to whether this money went to support Egyptian archaeology or the lifestyles of Mubarak cronies.
For now though, Egypt's military rulers will decide whether Hawass' international celebrity will save him from the fate of other Mubarak government ministers.
Meanwhile, in otherworldly archaeological circles there is the claim that recent events actually support continued repatriation. See
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Hawass Misses Old Order
"Once you would not dare to show no respect to a government minister, now they come and spit in your face if they do not like what they hear."
Others might consider that lack of respect a reasonable demand for accountability.
Of course, it remains to be seen how accountable the new Egyptian Government will be to the Egyptian people. Only time will tell whether the army allows real reform or if any changes are just cosmetic ones.
Friday, February 18, 2011
One Law for the Powerful, Another for Everyone Else
Big surprise. One law for the powerful and another for everyone else. I'm wondering if it will be next revealed that officials of the Mubarak regime had similar tastes for artifacts that would get other Egyptians a long jail sentence.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Youngster Finds Lost Egyptian Museum Statue in Trash
The statute has been returned to the authorities for restoration, but questions remain about why the statue was discarded.
To me at least, this supports the theory that the museum looting was actually done by Mubarak regime thugs bent on destruction in the hopes it would cause a backlash against the demonstrators.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Serious Charges Leveled Against Hawass
Are the allegations of cronyism, corruption and sexual harassment true? And, if they were widely known within the archaeological community before now as it seems, why have Western archaeologists so idolized Hawass?
Interesting Blog on Fate of Zahi Hawass
SLAM Pushes Back
See http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/02/16/34223.htm (Complaint may be found at end of story).
The Complaint demonstrates the role of activists take in encouraging efforts to repatriate artifacts. In this case, the Complaint alleges that Ton Cremers, former operator of the Dutch based "Museum Security Network," pressed for the mask's return even before current Egyptian Minister of Antiquities (for the moment at least) Zahi Hawass took up the issue and it became a cause celebre for archaeo-bloggers David Gill and Paul Barford. See http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/search?q=SLAM and http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/search/label/SLAM
President Bush appointed Brent Benjamin, SLAM's Director, to CPAC, but the State Department failed to swear in Benjamin to this post before the end of the Bush Administration, and has apparently taken the position that his appointment lapsed with the onset of the Obama Administration. It is unclear whether a campaign against Benjamin orchestrated by the archaeological lobby impacted the decision.
The Complaint also mentions Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, who is a manager of the FBI's Art Theft Program. Ms. Magness-Gardiner formally was a staff archaeologist for the Cultural Property Advisory Committee.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Court Hears Oral Argument in ACCG Test Case
More on Hawass Situation
And PhDiva has posted this Egyptian blog: http://phdiva.blogspot.com/2011/02/protest-at-supreme-council-of.html
Monday, February 14, 2011
CS Monitor on the Fate of Hawass
We Won't Leave Until He Leaves
Presumably they are fed up with Hawass' close ties to the Mubarak regime, his autocratic ways, the lack of security at the Museum and his taking credit for the work of others. Even more seriously, there also have been allegations that substantial monies have been skimmed off from receipts for the Museum gate and travelling shows.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Pressure Builds on Hawass
According to Twitter, a demonstration is being scheduled to demand his ouster. See
Addendum: Dorothy King (PhDiva) has replaced a report on her blog that alleges that monies from the Museum and travelling shows have been skimmed off over the years. See http://phdiva.blogspot.com/2011/02/problems-with-sca-in-egypt.html
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Penn Museum Kowtows to Chinese to Regain Exhibit
The New York Times blamed the mess on a bureaucratic snafu between Chinese national and regional authorities, but a Chinese Embassy spokesman blamed the fiasco on the Museum:
In an interview, Mr. Wang said that the regulations governing the display of antiquities in China are very strict, and artifacts are not supposed to be on display overseas for more than a year. (The exhibition opened at the Bowers Museum last March.)
“The exhibition was originally approved to be on display for only two stops, one in California, the other in Houston,” Mr. Wang said.
However, after repeated requests from the University of Pennsylvania, Beijing had decided to grant it special approval. What was important, he said, was that Americans understand they have to follow China’s rules.
“We just want the American public to know we have the relevant laws and the regulations, he said. “You’ve got to follow the laws,” he added.
A museum spokeswoman, Pam Kosty, declined to comment on the nature of the original mixup with the Chinese government, but said, “We’re very grateful for the Chinese Embassy — a lot of Chinese officials really worked with us to make this happen.”
Indeed! As mentioned in a prior post, China is supposed to provide long-term loans as part of its MOU with the United States. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2011/02/china-withdraws-silk-road-mummies-from.html. However, China will not do so and apparently even has a law that forbids it.
Rather than hold the Chinese to their obligations, our State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is silent. Meanwhile, University of Pennsylvania Museum archaeologists can do little more than kowtow to Chinese authority to save their precious show. Of course, archaeologists who supported the China MOU pitched an entirely different vision of cultural cooperation at the time, but kowtowing to the Chinese has in fact become the sad reality.
Addendum: The Philadelphia Inquirer has more about what led to this snafu. It does appear that the US Ambassador to China helped resolve the matter. See http://articles.philly.com/2011-02-12/news/28530800_1_chinese-mummies-chinese-artifacts-chinese-officials
Friday, February 11, 2011
Petition to Antiquities Minister Hawass: Will Western Archaeologists Offer their Support?
Prof. / Dr. Zahi Hawass
Minister of State for the Antiquities
We Respect you Doctor Zahi as Egyptian archaeological raise the name of Egypt in the archaeological field, and will continue as long as you support the Egyptian people; the nobles ones of the people.
I write and speak in my own name, knowing that my word could be on behalf of all the honorable of the Egyptian archeologists and Conservators, and who sought always for the benefit of Egypt and Egypt’s monuments, and put the name of Egypt and the (formally) Supreme Council of Antiquities at the highest levels of the field of their scientific specialties in spite of all attempts to oppression, exclusion and drop down.
Sir, We will not accept the continuation of the same system and the faces of corruption in the field of archeology and Conservation; The party system, corruption and corrupts; system of exclusion of the real experts and qualified high-level, locally and internationally for the benefit of corrupts (as well as Almchltep and Almsalhadjip) and dozens of outsiders on the board of men of the ruler party and some of the professors belonging to the same ruler party, or who were buying their silence, Our masters and even some older, all of whom are well known and who we respect them and we will continue to respect them and honor them as the value and the wealth of mankind, but it is there in the whole world such thing as retirement for the opportunity for new blood and new talent.
Sir, we will not accept any more the continuation of the same system that everyone knows and you first of them.
Sir, we respect you on a clear and specific basis of that the work in the coming period will be only for the benefit of Egypt and Egypt’s monuments, and will be, however, by the hand of the honorable ones from within the ministry (formally the Supreme Council of Antiquities). And we will be against you if you continued the same previous system, and will not be afraid of any trial or investigation, or even the liquefaction of our blood in the field of honor.
We have consistently resist self-doubts and never listen to the rumors, and we take the positive side in that your aim was seeking for the benefit of Egypt’s monuments, antiquities and its people.
So I ask you sir, please; delete all the names and faces of corruption, and all the faces and names from outside the honorable men of the New Ministry (former council).
As for The files and issues of corruption and the corrupts are in the responsibility of the investigation departments and been submitted and will submitted be the honorable Egyptians, and that is the role of the legal departments, but our role will be within the new ministry.
Please allow me sir to tell you publicly and officially, what I used to say to everyone in public every day, including some of the men in your office, and including the main organizer of the formation of the Secretariat Mr. Alawi Faried.
I am asking and try to trust that you will make sure to change the overall system of corruption and replacing it with a professional scientific management respectable system with all the respectful of the employees of the ministry (formerly the Council)
Sir, please kindly consider my massage by yourself away from the usual transfer note to a member of your office, because this is a personal message to you.
With my Best Regards,
Dr. (Mr.) / Hany Hanna (Ph. D)
-Chief Conservator, General Director of Conservation, Helwan, El-Saf and Atfeh Sector, Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Egypt.
-International Expert in Conservation and Restoration.
- Founder & Former Coordinator for the International Council of Museum-Conservation Committee – Wood, Furniture and Lacquer (ICOM-CC- Wood, Furniture and Lacquer) (Ex elected voluntary position).
-Professor, Higher Institute for Coptic Studies in Cairo (voluntary work).
- Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar, Conservation and Preservation of Cultural Heritage.
- Writer, Egyptian and International Newspapers.
The letter is posted on the Museum Security Network: http://www.museum-security.org/?p=5582
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Egyptian Professionals Demonstrate: Where are the Archaeologists?
Meanwhile, the pride of one old man has guaranteed more unrest. Hopefully, the army will ultimately stand with the people and not with the old order though the upper echelons have certainly benefited from the status quo.
More unrest, unfortunately, means the potential for more damage to Egypt's unparallelled cultural patrimony. If so, blame should be placed where it belongs on the Mubarak regime, and not on Western collectors as some in the archaeological community will inevitably claim.
"World famous archaeologist" Zahi Hawass will likely stay in his post for now, if not be made Prime Minister as at least some foreign archaeologists apparently hope. Nevertheless, one wonders at what point younger Egyptian archaeologists who are fed up with his autocratic, credit stealing ways and personal associations with the discredited Mubarak brand may succeed in sending him packing as well. Perhaps, after that happens, Western archaeologists too will become less reticent about his failings.
Addendum- There are now reports that Mubarak refuses to go and instead hopes to remain President. If so, this may spark additional unrest.
Addendum II (2/12/11)- The army did indeed push Mubarak out. Real democracy is promised, but for now at least, the changes are probably more cosmetic than anything else.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Italian Modern Art Museum Director Asks for Asylum
Yet, the US State Department discounted Italy's inablitiy to care for its own cultural patrimony in renewing and expanding its current MOU with Italy.
Hawass for Prime Minister
Meanwhile, Western archaeologists have rallied around the regime, and one of their number has even suggested that Antiquities Minister Hawass be made Prime Minister. See
There may be innocent blood on the streets, but the promise of continued access to archaeological sites in the country evidently speaks louder to many Western archaeologists.
Oral Argument Set in ACCG Customs Case
Addendum: The Court heard argument today, 2/14/11, for approximately one and one half hours. Judge Blake was obviously prepared for the hearing. We should receive a ruling in the next several months.
Monday, February 7, 2011
IADAA Statement on Looting in Egypt
The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) condemns the looting of Egyptian antiquities and offers help
The members of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) are deeply concerned at seeing pictures of the looted rooms in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. We are dismayed at the damage looting will cause at remote excavations and museums. Such criminal activity is not only a catastrophe for scholarship but an attack on an important part of the world’s cultural heritage. Raids on poorly protected museums, magazines and excavations constitute theft from the Egyptian state and people.
The IADAA condemns such looting in the strongest possible terms and deplores the reports that the necessary security is lacking.
In this context IADAA wants to point out emphatically that the most effective protection of cultural property happens on-site. For this reason we consider it imperative to intensify and organize surveillance on-site.
In order to recover stolen goods it is vital that detailed information as to damage and losses in Egypt are disseminated as fast as possible. The obstruction of journalists and the shutdown of the Internet endanger both the freedom of press and an effective response to the potential rape of cultural property. With immediate effect IADAA offers utmost diligence cooperation and support in order to track objects, which might have been smuggled out of the country, and all possible cooperation to restore them to their legal owner. To this end the fast and international exchange of information is vital. For this purpose the most detailed descriptions possible and photographs of all lost objects are necessary. The best, least expensive and most efficient form of cultural property protection is an internationally accessible picture library of lost art works, which has to be clearly structured and available online.
Hawass Denies Police Involvement in Looting
I wonder what a truly democratically elected Parliament would think of Hawass' disaster preparation and draconian antiquities policies.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
State Department Secrecy Continues: Closed CPAC Meeting on Greek MOU
Based on the Government's statements in briefing in the ACCG Customs case, it appears Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs bureaucrats have reacted to adverse publicity to their rejection of CPAC's recommendations about Cypriot coins by simply no longer seeking CPAC's advice on the subject.
I have to suspect the tone deaf State Department bureaucrats will ignore the overwhelming public comment against including coins in the Greek MOU just as they did with respect to imposing import restrictions on "coins of Italian type," but I guess we will just have to see.
In any event, Assistant Secretary Ann Stock should be ashamed about how the bureaucrats under her command manipulate the law to achieve a predetermined result, facts, law and public comment be damned.
Friday, February 4, 2011
China Withdraws Silk Road Mummies from Show
The last minute change will be costly for the museum. Refunds will have to be made on pre-paid tickets and promotional dollars have been wasted.
I'm a bit dubious of claims that the Chinese Government has suddenly become sensitive to the concerns of the Uighur people. They have been reported to oppose the public display of mummies found in the area.
Frankly, I wonder if this could instead be some form of collective punishment against the museum. Not all that long ago, archaeologists associated with the museum raised concerns about the Chinese demolition of Old Kashgar. See
In any event, this decision carries with it some real irony. University of Pennsylvania archaeologists pressed the State Department to approve a MOU with China that has restricted the ability of Americans to import Chinese cultural artifacts. That MOU was supposed to encourage long term loans of artifacts. See
China's withdrawal of artifacts from this show would seem to violate China's commitment to do so, and undersore, once again, that the State Department only seems adept at negotiating giveaways to foreign powers.
Addendum: The Washington Post has reported this fiasco cost the University of Pennsylvania Museum $2 million in wasted cash and two years in wasted effort. See
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Playing with Fire
The museum remains undamaged by fire-- so far at least. Meanwhile, more suspicions have been raised that the police and museum workers were involved in earlier looting and vandalism that took place at the museum. See http://www.talkingpyramids.com/who-looted-the-egyptian-museum/ And even ardent supporters of repatriation of Egyptian artifacts are starting to doubt the official "party line" as stated by Egypt's new Minister of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass. See http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2011/02/egypt-declares-treasures-safe.html
Yet, the AIA and those archaeologists already clamoring for emergency restrictions on Egyptian cultural artifacts remain unwilling to openly criticize Hawass and the Murbarak government for its handling of the issue as well as the probable links between the security services and those who looted and vandalized the Museum.
This raises the question whether concerns about jeopardizing excavation permits has quieted archaeologists from raising the question who really should be held responsible for putting Egypt's unparallelled cultural treasures in jeopardy. This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the quick blame that was heaped on the US Military and the Bush Administration in the immediate aftermath of the looting of the Iraq Museum. Are double standards motivated by self-interest at work?
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Human Rights Watch Claims Egyptian Police Behind Museum Looting
Bouckart reports that police identification cards were found on several wounded looters captured at the museum.
This report is similar to another that was cited on this blog.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Egypt's Antiquities Safe
I'm sure this welcome news will leave those in the archaeological community already clamoring for "emergency import restrictions" on Egyptian cultural artifacts somewhat befuddled. See
If there is no longer an emergency, I guess such restrictions are not needed after all.