Objects Stolen and Recovered from the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo
On March 15th the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities Cairo released a final list of 54 artefacts still missing from the museum (this list is available in pdf format here). In addition to those already announced a number of Amarna statuettes, a fan and two trumpets from the tomb of Tutankhamun, 16 Late Period bronze statuettes, and eight pieces of jewellery. Since this list was released 17 artefacts have been recovered.
Two days after the publication of the list three men were arrested and 12 artefacts were recovered in a sting operation organised by the antiquities police in cooperation with the army and an US Embassy employee. The group of criminals had started to circulate videos and pictures of the objects via mobile phones of prospective buyers. One of the people to receive photos of these stolen objects was a young MoA employee who contacted the director of the museum and the police and army. The security forces then set a trap involving the American pretending to be a prospective buyer, offering $50 million to the three Egyptians trying to fence the stolen antiquities. The police pounced and caught the three criminals and the recovered 12 of the stolen artefacts in sting centred on Simon Bolivar Square (near the US Embassy and the headquarters of ARCE). The three men include Ahmed Attia Mahmoud who lives in the Dar El-Salam district of Cairo, who had organised the gang to attack the Museum on 28th January. Another of the criminals was his friend who owns a coffee shop in the same district and a third man who also lives nearby.
The group of recovered objects consist of 5 Late Period bronze statues, 1 limestone statue, 1 statue of undetermined material, 1 gold necklace, and 4 necklaces of faience and coloured glass.
The objects have preliminary been identified as:
On the 27th March five more artefacts looted from the collection from the Egyptian Museum were recovered by the armed forces and the tourism and antiquities police. The five objects are bronze pieces dating to the Late Period: a sceptre, a statue of an Apis Bull, a seated statue of Bastet, a statue of Neith, and a statue of Osiris. All the returned objects are in good condition except for the Apis Bull, which was broken into several pieces. It is unclear if the people who had possession of these antiquities had any relationship with the looters who broke into the museum. These five objects had been taken to the Khan el-Khalili in order to sell them. A man at the bazaar told the criminals that he would pay LE 1500 (£150) for the artefacts. The looters said that the pieces were from the Cairo Museum and worth much more than that. After this haggling, the man informed the police who apprehended the criminals.
- Bronze seated statue of Anubis, Catalogue Number: CG38350, height 13.50cm
- Bronze striding statue of the God Hapi, Catalogue Number: JE 77, height 16.50cm
- Bronze top of a sceptre in the shape of the Goddess Hat-Mehit wearing a fish headdress (Lates Nilutica), Catalogue Number: JE658, height 15.00cm
- Schist striding statue of Neferhotep, Catalogue Number: JE18020, height 14.00cm
- Bronze standing statue of Sobek in the form of a crocodile-headed man, Catalogue Number: JE 29868, height 12.00cm
- Faience Round Bead Bracelet, Catalogue Number: JE 45664
- Gold, Stone and Faience Collar, Catalogue Number: JE 47906
- Faience Bead Collar with Pendants in the Shape of Lily, Catalogue Number: JE 47909
- String of 28 Coral Beads, Catalogue Number: JE 49104
- String of Gold Beads and Figurines, Catalogue Number: JE 49105
- Part of a Lapis Lazuli Girdle of Merytamun B, Catalogue Number: JE 55175
- Necklace Composed of 44 Glass Beads Moulded in Metal, Catalogue Number: JE 58434
Egyptian Museum Director Tarek El-Awadi believes that the remaining 37 objects remain in Egypt and have not been smuggled out of the country. Many of the pieces still missing date to the Late Period of ancient Egyptian history, and are relatively small in size. When the museum recovers the last missing object, an exhibition relating the story of the January break-in during Egypt’s revolution will be on display as well as all the retrieved objects. This presentation will be accompanied by a leaflet explaining the case of each piece. How it was stolen and recovered or how it has been damaged and then restored without forgetting the historical side of each artefact. This exhibition will illustrate the ability of Egypt to maintain and preserve its cultural property.
Paul Barford, an Egyptologist working in Poland dismisses the swinging Tarzan-like through the skylight theory and suggests that the patterns of breakage and scattering of the objects indicates that there were possibly two groups of thieves, and that they probably entered the second floor via the southeast staircase. The criminals that they have already captured all seem to belong to one group, it is possibly that these will tell the police the whereabouts of the remaining missing objects or have information on the other group of criminals.
Tarek El-Awadi said that surveillance cameras in the rooms will be renewed, the glass ceiling will be protected with iron bars to prevent intrusion by any thief on the second floor, and protection of the ancient building itself will be enhanced with advanced methods, to prevent any further attempted break-ins. In 1954 the government seized an area of land from the Cairo Museum to build the Headquarters of the National Democratic Party and its annexes. The Governor of Cairo has decided to transform it into a park, Dr El-Awadi hopes to expand the museum garden into this park and restore the museum's splendour. In addition, there was originally a dock where the boats docked that transferred monuments from Upper Egypt to the Museum.