Fox News has confirmed that most of Egypt’s ancient sites and treasures are safe from looters and vandals.
The newly appointed Minister for Archeology, Dr. Zawi Hawass, tells Fox News that only minimal damage was done at the Cairo Museum, and that only minimal theft was detected at one of Egypt’s historic sites outside of Cairo.
“Thanks God,” Hawass said in his thick Egyptian accent, “some [looters] entered [the Cairo Museum] when it was dark. They opened thirteen [glass] cases on the top floor. It was haphazard. They did not know what they were looking at. They were looking for gold. When they saw they were antiquities in their hands, they threw them to the ground. They broke seventy artifacts – statues. All of them, we can restore them. I can tell you: The Cairo Museum, thanks God, is safe.”
A familiar face from American television documentaries on archeology, the sixty-three-year-old Hawass rejected reports circulating on the Internet and social networking media that claimed “vast” damage had been done at sites south of Cairo. Concerns had centered principally on Abusir, a sprawling necropolis with tombs and other artifacts dating back to the First Dynasty, and Saqqara, home to still more tombs and also the world’s first stone pyramid.
American Egyptologist Sarah Parcak, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, had warned in a widely circulated e-mail that her colleagues on Egypt’s Supreme Council on Antiquities had confirmed to her “immense damages to Abusir and Saqqara, [with] all magazines and tombs which were sealed…entered last night….In Abusir,” Parcak continued, “all tombs [have been] opened. [L]arge gangs digging day and night everywhere. The damage is *vast*.”
Hawass flatly denied this. “Everything is safe at the site of Abusir,” he said. “Nothing has been stolen from Abusir.”
As for Saqqara, the minister said Bedouin tribesmen had entered a storage “magazine” in nearby Sinai and stolen six boxes containing hundreds of small artifacts: statues, reliefs, miniature vessels, inscribed blocks and the like, dating from pre-Dynastic through Roman times. But an emergency committee formed by Hawass, despite finding padlocks broken at the sites of Saqqara’s ancient tombs, found that the tombs themselves had not been entered nor vandalized or burgled in any way.
Hawass told Fox News that President Mubarak “cared a lot about antiquities” and always made sure Egypt’s treasures were well maintained and guarded. “Any government that comes to Egypt,” Hawass said, “will have the same respect for antiquities. Egyptians are different from Iran and Afghanistan. The 5,000 years of history are in the people’s blood here. They know the value of monuments.”
That was why, Hawass said, he was “very proud” of the young people who, armed only with sticks, formed their own cordon around the Cairo Museum on Friday to ward off looters and vandals. The damage done inside the museum came later, after the crowds of young people had dissipated, when vandals smashed a rooftop window and lowered themselves in using ropes.
Hawass said he was also confident that all missing items will be returned once “the disaster that we are living through right now” in Egypt has ended.