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I Weep

As some of you may know, I majored in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology because I wanted to be an Egyptologist. It was my ambition from the time I was eight, and my passion, but ultimately I decided that some of the things that went along with attaining that goal (like being away from my husband for months at a time because he would be a settled primary care physician, and I would be digging in Egypt, or the fact that we would need to live in or near a major city where the academic jobs are, which neither of us wanted to do) meant that ultimately I never pushed on and got my PhD. It didn't help that being at the tail end of the Baby Boom, I faced a situation where the likelihood was that I would graduate with my PhD to find that the jobs were already held by those in the beginning wave of the Baby Boom. Still, the study of Ancient Egypt is something I care passionately about.

I have seen pictures of the looting at the Cairo Museum, the priceless statues broken, the cases smashed, the objects scattered about. This is not just Egypt's heritage, but the heritage of the whole world, because to understand Ancient Egypt is to understand a vital important part of human history and how we came of age as a species. Things which have come down to us through thousands of years lie broken, never again to be as they were because of a moment of anger at a modern dictator who has no real connection to the products or the rulers of the past.

I wept when the Bagdad Museum was looted. I weep now.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 29th, 2011 11:47 pm (UTC)
Oh, ye gods . . .

I just read this, and looked it up on the news. It sounds as if it wasn't all that bad, not nearly as horrible as it could have been -- I guess the bastards spent too much time looting the museum gift shop (WTF??), and were stopped before they'd damaged more than a dozen or so artifacts, including two of the mummies.

I also read that a contingent of 'youths' from the mob formed a human barricade to prevent anybody from leaving the museum with any looted items!

Jan. 30th, 2011 12:01 am (UTC)
Yeah, they showed a line of youths forming a human barricade from this morning on the news, but the looting was apparently done last night. It could indeed have been much worse, but the pictures I saw on CNN were pretty awful.

It hurts to see ancient statues broken.

And yeah, this was much better than the wholesale theft of items that happened when the Bagdad Museum was looted.

I had just hoped, given the reverence Egyptians have generally displayed for their antiquities that they would be spared.
Jan. 30th, 2011 12:22 am (UTC)
I don't mean to dismiss or minimise the grief and hurt. I still start shaking with rage and grief over the giant Buddhas the Taliban dynamited. (I believe there are crews still collecting the pieces in the forlorn hope of doing something with them.)

At the same time, I think it's incredible, and a genuine testamant, that people in the mob apparently turned and said, "No, no more of that, that's too much." If that kind of reaction had happened in any of the other horror spots of the world throughout history, we would have so much now that's been lost -- from the gunshot damage to the Sphinx to the Chinese treasures destroyed in the Cultural Revolution, not to mention hundreds of thousands of looted items.
Jan. 30th, 2011 06:22 am (UTC)
I know what you mean about those giant Buddhas. I saw one of the initial reports on TV and I just stopped. I was stuck in anger, grief, and vast concern about a Hellenistic site in Afghanistan (Aï Khanoum) that I'd done a sem report on once. My eldest had to kind of shake me and ask me to explain what was wrong to reboot me.

The other woman who majored with me went on to study Sumerology, and only got out of the field when she could no longer go safely to Iraq in the late eighties and early nineties, and two of my favorite profs were Sumerologists, so it was for them as well as for the artifacts that I cried when the Baghdad Museum was looted.

I was pleased and proud about those who stepped in to protect the antiquities in Cairo with their own bodies. Those are the Egyptians I had known before. I was just vastly disappointed that the others got there first and had the ascendancy for a while.

Egypt has, as a rule, done a great job of educating her people about the importance of her antiquities, and the necessity to preserve them, and the pride that they can take in them. They've come a long way from the el-Rasul brothers, hiding their stash of famous pharaohs to try to get a good price on them.

Not that there aren't plenty of attempted looters and sellers of illicitly excavated goods still! Egypt is a poor country, and unscrupulous collecters are willing to pay. Smuggled antiquities lose their provenance and their context, and that is tragic, but at least the artifact itself is usually treated well.

Icon is my suggestion of what should be done to all looters and destroyers.
Jan. 30th, 2011 05:24 am (UTC)
I rarely watch the news so though I knew there was unrest in Egypt (heard my husband's tv last night while making supper) I had not heard anything about looting, and I'm so sorry this has happened. Humanity, sometimes I despair of us as a people.
Jan. 30th, 2011 06:30 am (UTC)
Yeah, well, those were the boneheads. There were also those on the side of the angels who stepped in to repel the looters and to protect the antiquities with their own bodies until the army finally took up stations around the museum, and took over guard duty.

That's humanity for you. We have our moments of senseless dark and depravity, and at the same time, adversity can bring out our nobility, courage, and heroism.

The scary part is that the capability for hitting both the highs and the lows exists in us all.
Jan. 30th, 2011 07:54 am (UTC)
I was just stunned into silence when I read about that looting. It's unforgivable. It's just not forgiveable!

All that world-heritage lost...

Feb. 1st, 2011 02:45 am (UTC)
It is unforgivable. I seldom go all Daniel on the world, but this is definitely my tipping point.

On the other hand we get a much better view of humanity from the news that many, many ordinary Egyptian civilians went and put their lives and bodies on the line to secure the antiquities when they heard that they were endangered, and stayed there until the army arrived to take over for them. Most Egyptians are justifiably proud of their wonderful heritage, and value it highly, and are still more hurt than I am at the loss.

Unfortunately, after all is done and dusted, there will probably be people and museums who own Egyptian antiquities illegally who will use this exceptional case to argue that they should not have to repatriate their illicit objects, and that would be wrong too, given that average Egyptians would risk bodily harm to safeguard these things.
Feb. 1st, 2011 05:38 am (UTC)
Hehe. I've never heard of "going all Daniel" on something before. Funny. :)

And you're right, of course. The museum in Cairo will have lost some valuables and some other museum somewhere will "suddenly" have an Egyptian exhibit they didn't rightfully own or borrow. I remember seeing a tiny Egyptian exhibition in a museum in Oslo once but I don't remember if it is own by the museum or was borrowed. I don't even remember which pharo's sarcophagi were on display either. I shall remedy this the next time I'm in Oslo. All I remember is that it was beautiful. :)
Feb. 1st, 2011 06:56 am (UTC)
Actually, as I understand it, all the items from the Cairo Museum that were taken have been recovered, although given the chaos, it is not certain that this was reported accurately.

Actually I was speaking of the ongoing effort by the Egyptian government and the Antiquities Service to repatriate objects that have been dug up in illicit digs and then smuggled out of the country, or which have been taken by occupying governments. Some of these items are clearly wrongfully held, and some (like the beautiful and well-known bust of Nefertiti in the Berlin Museum) can be argued pro and con, much like the controversy about the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, which the Greeks have been trying to get back for quite some time now. I'm afraid that those holding some of the more clearly wrongfully held items will be arguing in the courts that they are providing safe haven and wise stewardship for the items, and should be allowed to retain them.
Feb. 1st, 2011 07:04 pm (UTC)
I heard that too. I'm glad they're not destroyed. Speaking of Egypt, I'm wathing BBC's six episode series about the discoveries done by Howard Carter, Giovanni Mezoni and the Rosetta stone and understanding of hieroglyphs. Very interesting. I've seen it before, many years ago. It's enlightening, and although probably superficial and skimming over fascinating details, also quite entertaining. :)

Let's hope the looting of priceless artifacts will stop at some point. Unlikely as it is. :P
Feb. 1st, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)
Belzoni, not Menzoni, lol. My mistake. Just can't seem to get his name right.

Edited at 2011-02-01 07:21 pm (UTC)
Jan. 31st, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
That's so horribly sad and wholly disappointing. Seriously people? *sigh*
Feb. 1st, 2011 02:51 am (UTC)
It is terrible. Worst, in my opinion, was the distruction of two mummies, believed to be Yuya and Thuya, the parents of Queen Tiye, who was Tutankhamon's paternal grandmother. Those mummies were found in an intact tomb, and were some of the best and most intact examples, if not the best, in the world. An incalculable loss.

Still, it is restoring of one's faith in humanity to note that many, many ordinary Egyptians, most of them young, put their bodies, and indeed their lives, on the line to stop the looting and make a human shield around the antiquities to safeguard them until the army was able to come and take over the duty of doing so.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 4th, 2011 04:05 am (UTC)
Sorry for the slooow reply.

Yeah, I knew from comments you had posted on others' journals that you must have an archaeology background of some sort.

In the final analysis, the damage was not as bad as it could have been, but that doesn't lessen the pain. Things that were whole are not, and that cannot be fixed. Tut's trumpet is missing. A whole tomb assemblage almost untouched, and now it has been scattered.

It is like the moment when a prof. of mine dropped an intact Greek vase. Sure they mended it, but it will never again be an intact Greek vase. She told all her classes about the incident so they would understand their responsibility to posterity.

It's the thing that rings true to me about Indiana Jones, that he could not fire upon the Arch of the Covenant to save his own life.

The part that really hurts is that Egypt's antiquities will only be safe when Egypt has a secure and stable government. Who knows when that will be.

I know that with your background you will recognize the apotropaic function of Bes, and not think that I am sticking out my tongue at you!

Also, I understand what you are saying about having been there, because in 1965 I attended school in my stepfather's village in Palestine. I was a second grader. Two years later, my stepfather was over there to find a job so that we could move there, when the Six Day War broke out, and at the age of 9 I got to watch a war in a place I'd lived on TV. A way of life I'd known vanished forever as I watched, small, powerless, and unable to influence anything.

Needless to say, we stayed here...
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )



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