Monday, February 28, 2011

The Uncertain State of Libya's Archaeological Treasures

Libya boasts five UNESCO World Heritage sites with well-preserved Greek, Punic, and Roman architecture. See

What reports there are suggest they remain undisturbed for now. See 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 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

A madman is still killing his people in Libya. Autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt have been deposed, but the democracy the people have died for remains elusive. Oddly, Western archaeologists seem more focused on trying to tie any looting of archaeological sites and stores to mysterious Western dealers and collectors than on criticizing the regimes whose policies have caused the societal unrest that unleashed any looting in the first place.

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

Egypt's military rulers have confirmed Zahi Hawass in his post of Minister of Antiquities. See,-the-new-and-the-unknown.aspx

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

Zahi Hawass has asked an Egyptian prosecutor to investigate allegations that he smuggled antiquities on behalf of the Mubarak family. See 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

CoinsWeekly reports on the 150th Anniversary of the British Museum Coin Cabinet here:

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

National Geographic reports that Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass has responded to the complaints against him on his blog.

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?

The fate of Zahi Hawass continues to be debated in the press:

Most seriously, there have been allegations that funds have gone missing from Hawass' Ministry. See
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

In a self-serving account of how the Egyptian museum was saved from extensive looting, current Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass also makes the following revealing statement:

"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

The Art Newspaper reports that Tunisa's deposed leader and his family had a taste for high quality antiquities. See

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

AFP is reporting that a teenager found a priceless statue of Akhenaton from the Egyptian Musuem in the trash left over after the crowds left Tahir square. See

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

More charges have been leveled against Zahi Hawass. Western archaeologists have held Hawass up as some sort of role model for their crusade against collectors, but after the fall of the Mubarak regime, another picture of this "hero of archaeology" has emerged from Egyptian sources. See

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

I came across this interesting blog on Zahi Hawass that touches on comparisons between him and Donnie George:

SLAM Pushes Back

The Saint Louis Museum of Art has filed a lawsuit against the US Government to enjoin it from seizing the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask.
See (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 and

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.

Monday, February 14, 2011

CS Monitor on the Fate of Hawass

The Christian Science Monitor has written about why Zahi Hawass is so unpopular to many Egyptians. See

We Won't Leave Until He Leaves

Egyptian protesters (who presumably work for the SCA) are apparently demonstrating outside the SCA against Zahi Hawass, chanting "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

The future of Zahi Hawass, a Mubarak loyalist, is being openly discussed. See

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

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Penn Museum Kowtows to Chinese to Regain Exhibit

The Silk Road Mummies Exhibit is now on again at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, though for a limited time. See

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 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

Friday, February 11, 2011

Petition to Antiquities Minister Hawass: Will Western Archaeologists Offer their Support?

Here is a translation of an open letter to Antiquities Minister Hawass. It pleads with Hawass to change the corrupt way his organization runs. Will Western archaeologists offer their support or only their silence while Hawass stays in control?

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:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Egyptian Professionals Demonstrate: Where are the Archaeologists?

The news carried pictures of Egyptian professionals, including Doctors and Lawyers demonstrating. No news about archaeologists, though.

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.

Mubarak Out

It looks like President Mubarak will soon retire at the behest of the Army and for the good of Egypt. It remains unclear whether his departure will prompt real democratic change or just a change in the faces at the top.

"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

An Italian modern art museum director has "asked" Germany for asylum given the poor state of affairs for the arts in his own country. See

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

Egyptian protesters don't have faith in the Mubarak regime's promised reforms, and have vowed to continue their fight despite continued repression. See

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

Judge Catherine Blake has scheduled oral argument for the Government's Motion to Dismiss the ACCG Customs case on February 14, 2011. It's fairly unusual these days for Courts to schedule oral argument on such preliminary motions, but, of course, this is not the typical case. Here, the Government contends that judicial review is not available because the decisions at issue are committed to the State Department's discretion. ACCG counters that the Court is entitled to construe whether the State Department and US Customs acted appropriately because the Court has original jurisdiction to hear the ACCG's constitutional claims and any discretion that was provided under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act is not absolute. Judge Blake may rule from the bench after the argument or take the matter under advisement and rule later.

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 IADAA has issued this statement about 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

Antiquities Minister Hawass has denied reports that Egyptian police were involved in looting the Egyptian Museum. He also notes his support for both democracy and Hosni Mubarak. See

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

The State Department has announced a closed CPAC meeting to continue discussions about the Greek MOU scheduled for February 23-24, 2011. See

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

China has asked the University of Pennsylvania Museum to withdraw all its artifacts from a heavily promoted show about the Silk Road. See

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

There have been reports that a pro-Mubarak mob allegedly comprised of off-duty police has been hurling "Molotov Cocktails" (petrol bombs) at anti-Mubarak protesters near the famed Egyptian Museum. See

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 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

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

Human Rights Watch emergency director Peter Bouckaert told the Washington Post that he believes that Egyptian undercover police were behind the looting that took place at the Egyptian Museum "in an attempt to stoke fear of instability." See

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

According to the new Minister of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, Egypt's antiquities are now safe. See

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.