Thursday, July 27, 2017


THOUSANDS of Egyptian antiquities are languishing unrecorded and unregistered in dozens of warehouses throughout Egypt, the government in Cairo admits.

In response, Gharib Sunbul, head of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities' central administration for maintenance and restoration, announced that a massive inventory of 5,000 artifacts is now underway at the warehouses.

He said that a team of specialists are studying, documenting and carefully repackaging the items as well as planning for any needed restoration.

There are 72 archaeological warehouses in Egypt. Of them, 35 are museum warehouses, 20 are expedition warehouses and 17 are smaller on-site warehouses spread across Egypt’s governorates. Only 14 warehouses out of 72 have ever been inspected.

Monica Hanna, the head of the archeology and cultural heritage department at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport in Aswan, told Al-Monitor news organization that the warehouses hold hundreds of thousands of artifacts about which nothing is known. Visitors are not allowed access to them.

She said, "The artifacts contained in these warehouses far outnumber those found in museums, but they are neglected and often get stolen under the ministry’s neglect."

The warehouses were established by the ministry of antiquities, which assigns a guard to protect them. However, the guards are unarmed and often unable to prevent theft.

Since the revolution in Egypt, there have been numerous break-ins at warehouses.

Hanna said of the recent inventory efforts, “This is a good step toward salvaging Egypt's archaeological treasures. … But this campaign can only succeed if all obstacles are addressed. This requires making archaeological artifacts available to researchers and academics for scientific publication. When artifacts are documented in international libraries, their recovery becomes easier if stolen.”

She added, “The other crisis is that there are thousands of artifacts not registered with the ministry of antiquities, and there are archaeological warehouses that have never been inspected.

So long as [the artifacts] found in these stores are not registered and documented with the ministry of antiquities, the ministry won’t be able to recover them if stolen.”

The third and most important step is for the ministry to change the security system in place. It is unreasonable for the ministry to rely on two security personnel for every archaeological store without any weapons or security resources to deal with criminals.

"Modern surveillance cameras are needed to monitor robbery attempts. Without these steps, Egyptian antiquities will remain neglected and no attempts to protect them will succeed," she warned.

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