Egypt antiquities chief: 3 missing objects found

Three of 18 pieces reported missing from the famed Egyptian Museum after it was looted at the height of the country's political turmoil have been found, the country's chief archaeologist said Wednesday.

The 18-day popular uprising, which forced Hosni Mubarak to resign as president last week, has struck a blow to Egypt's tourism ministry, a key source of income.

However, Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass said the Egyptian Museum was the only major tourist site to suffer damage. Hawass said he hoped the museum could reopen Saturday, but has not checked with tourism or security authorities yet.

"God almighty saved the antiquities from this hell because God loves Egypt," he told a news conference.

On Jan. 28, while thousands of street protesters called for Mubarak's ouster from the downtown square outside, looters climbed a museum fire escape, broke windows on the roof and entered the museum by rope.

Hawass said the looters shattered 13 display cases, scattering about 70 objects on the ground. About 20 of those will be repaired, he said. Of the 18 missing objects, none were considered masterpieces, which include the gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun and other stunning items from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Hawass said three of the 18 missing objects were found in the museum, one underneath a display case and two in the courtyard. He said he believes the looters dropped them as they tried to escape.

The recovered items include a statue of a goddess who was holding a figurine of the 18th Dynasty King Tutankhamun.

The most important of the missing objects — a limestone statue of the Pharaoh Akhenaten standing and holding an offering table — has not been found. Akhenaten is the so-called heretic king who tried to introduce monotheism to ancient Egypt.

Hawass said police arrested a number of suspects in the robbery. "They were people looking for the gold and red mercury in the museum," he said of the suspects. They also stole items from the gift shop.

The missing pieces are registered and would be difficult to sell, he said.

Hawass said the Egyptian Museum was the only one of the country's 24 museums to suffer any loss. He said no damage had been done to Egypt's famous temples in the southern cities of Luxor and Aswan, nor to the Great Pyramids in Giza.

Hawass, who makes frequent TV appearances in archaeology shows and often sports an "Indiana Jones"-style fedora, has faced some criticism since Mubarak's ouster. Archaeology students protested and demanded his removal, calling him a "showman" who cares little about helping them find work in their field.

Hawass said Wednesday he had raised enough money to employ 500 new graduates and would continue to seek more money.