Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mummies guarded

I had been planning a post about guarding the modesty of mummies, but with the civil unrest in Egypt there is news that the mummies themselves were in jeopardy.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, reports (video here) that vandals broke into Cairo's Egyptian Museum on Friday evening and destroyed 2 mummies. They also damaged several ancient artifacts, some of which can be repaired, and cleared out the gift shop. To protect the artifacts, Egyptian citizens, police, and tourists formed a human chain around the museum. The would-be thieves were arrested and jailed, but the danger to the mummies has not passed. Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party headquarters is located right next door and was torched by protesters. Dr. Hawass said, "What scares me is that if this building is destroyed, it will fall over the museum." The Egyptian Museum is now protected by military guards (1st image) and armored tanks, and security has been stepped up at the Luxor Museum and at ancient sites like Karnak Temple and the Pyramids of Giza.

The earlier news that British museums were covering up the mummies on exhibit for fear of offending pagans and others pales in comparison. Manchester University Museum removed the head of Worsley Man, an Iron Age bog body, from display, and covered up the ancient Egyptian mummies of Asru and Khary (2nd image, Keeper of Egyptology Rosalie David with an ancient mummy). Other museums have darkened display cases, closed caskets, or removed human remains entirely. Dr. Tiffany Jenkins states, "The profession is overreacting to the claims of small minority groups....Unfortunately, it will penalise the millions of people who enjoy learning from the display of human remains." The majority of visitors agree, according to their comments. The three mummies at the Manchester Museum were uncovered only after a public protest.

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