An Unspeakable loss
Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters made furious by the ousting of their president have been seeking revenge on the Egyptian people
. Since their regime fell two months ago they have systematically attacked and killed Copts, burnt churches and set upon police stations. They have demonstrated a potent contempt of Egypt’s identity and civilisation, and on 15 August their abhorrence reached the Mallawi National Museum in Minya, Upper Egypt, which they looted and set on fire.
Watani visited the Mallawi Museum after the attack and found it virtually destroyed and emptied of its priceless antiquities. Ahmed Sharaf, head of museums section at the Antiquities Ministry told us that that there had been 1,089 objects in the museum, which was inaugurated in 1962. These were displayed on two floors and included ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities from such historical sites in Minya as al-Ashmuniyeen and Tuna al-Gabal.
The ground floor housed 347 artefacts, among them statues of the sacred Ibis in various forms. Also on display were mummies of Ibis and other animals, as well as coffins made of pottery and wood, stone sarcophagi and several statues associated with the worship of the Ibis-headed god Thoth.
The museum contained an important collection of artefacts relative to ancient Egyptians and their funerary customs, from mummies and wooden coffins to an impressive away of cartonnage funeral masks which were placed on the coffin of the deceased so that the spirit would recognise him (or her) when it went back to inhabit the body for resurrection in the afterlife. There were also canopic jars in which the inner parts of the body were stored after mummification, as well as amulets and other ornaments, personal possessions and utensils.
The museum contained statues of animal gods including the Apis bull, the jackal (Anubis), the ram (Khnoum) and the cat goddess (Bastet). There were also a number of statues of the goddess Isis, some of them carrying her child Horus (Harpocrates in Greek), as well as various statues of Osiris.
The second floor contained 742 rare pieces that the ancient Egyptians used in their daily lives such as furniture, pottery, glass utensils, papyri, textiles, as well as bronze, silver and gold items and coins which go back to the Greco Roman age 330BC – 640AD. Most of these items were looted last month when the glass cases were smashed. Most of those pieces that were not stolen were damaged.
Storing the remaining pieces
More than 83 per cent of the museum’s antiquities have gone. The 180 original objects that remain are now being stored while the museum undergoes extensive repairs. The contents have been transferred to the warehouse in al-Ashmuniyeen, where a specialised team will attempt to restore them. Of these some 63 pieces were left behind by the looters, 114 others were handed in to the police by members of the public, two others found by the police and one was found in the garden of the museum. While these pieces are under strict protection in the warehouse, patriotic citizens have joined forces with police and the Antiquities Ministry to search for the 909 items still missing.
“When we have finished working on the antiquities they will be in better condition than before,” regional museums director Khaled Hussein says. “As for the large items that weren’t stolen; they will be shown in the museum again after restoration. When we have approval from the committee formed to follow up the restoration work, we will develop a way to display the items so as to compensate for the shortage, and we will make use of some small or medium size items previously stored in warehouses.” Mr Hussein said that when the antiquities went on show again it would be in a strictly secure way so as to protect them from being handled or stolen, for which secure armoured glass partitions would be imported from Germany. Work has already begun on restoring manuscripts, wooden and metal items, and would be completed as soon as possible.
Mohamed Ibrahim, the Minister of State for Antiquities, said people living near the museum should be made aware that they are the first shield when it comes to protecting the museum. Dr Ibrahim decided in his latest meeting with the security apparatus to take all the necessary measures to enhance museum security all over Egypt.
4 September 2013