CAIRO: January is normally a quiet month in the news world, with most of us bedded down waiting for the first signs of spring to appear, but in the world of cultural heritage, events have been taking place at a staggering pace. Mummies have been discovered, museums have opened, plans announced, stolen objects returned and the Pyramids of Giza placed back in their rightful place and all this in four weeks.
Culture Heritage Returns Home
An issue we saw gain momentum in 2007 has swung back on the agenda once again almost as the new year came in. This is the issue of the repatriation or return of Egypt’s cultural heritage from the museum stores of Europe and the Americas.
In the last few weeks, the University Museum at Southern Illinois University in the United States agreed to return a statue of a cat dating from the Ptolemaic era that had been illegally smuggled out of the country.
In an ironic twist to the story the location of the cat only came about because the museum’s current director Dona Bachman, sent a letter to the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) asking for approval to exhibit the artefact as part of the museum’s collection, and requesting more details about the object and the archaeological site where it was originally found. It was then that Dr Zahi Hawass, Director General of the SCA, spotted that the cat was on a list of items stolen from Egypt.
The museum was then persuaded to hand over the piece to the Egyptian Embassy in New York for its transfer by diplomatic baggage to the safety of the SCA’s Department for the Return of Stolen Antiquities. The department and its director Dr Ahmed Mostafa have recovered over 5,000 stolen items since 2002 from institutions and private individuals all over the world.
Who Needs Lists
As if to prove a point to the organisers of a certain Heritage beauty pageant held last year under the banner of ‘The New Seven Wonders of the World’, the tourism industry have given the Pyramids of Giza the tremendous honour of being awarded the world’s favourite destination.
The World Travel Awards (WTA) chose the Giza pyramids as the world’s leading attraction in December 2007 during its fourteenth annual ceremony held at the Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort and Spa in the Caribbean, which is the equivalent of the tourism world’s Oscars.
The WTA started in 1993 to acknowledge, reward, and celebrate excellence in the world s travel and tourism industry. These awards are especially prestigious as the votes are cast globally by tourism professionals, with some that 167,000 travel agencies, tour and transport companies, in addition to tourism organizations in 160 countries across the globe voting.
Finally an award that really counts for the last surviving wonder of the ancient world.
More Archaeologists in Cairo?
The Spanish Culture Minister Cesar Antoni Molina has announced that the Spanish government are to establish an Egyptology institute in Cairo to operate under the auspices of the Spanish archaeological mission.
I am sure this will be a worthwhile addition to the heritage scene in Egypt and a boost for Spanish Egyptologists working in Egypt and in fact, the Spanish minister expressed his own appreciation of the ancient Egyptian civilisation by reciting a poem at the press conference he had written on King Khufu.
Will we ever see a British Egyptological Institute in Egypt? And by this statement I am not negating the work of the Egypt Exploration Society, however this is a private institution and not government backed, is it not time that British archaeologists are represented in the same way as are the French, Germans and now the Spanish archaeologists are?
Mummies discovered in the Fayoum
Dr Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the SCA, announced recently that a Russian-American archaeological mission lead by Galina Belova had made a discovery of several well preserved Ptolemaic and Roman era mummies in their excavations at Deir El Banat necropolis in the Fayoum.
The mission uncovered three coffins which have cartonage decoration decorated with religious texts from the Book of the Dead on the exterior. A mummy in a poor state of preservation was found in one of them, its face covered with a gilded mask. Bracelets, jewellery and 40 pieces of clothes decorated with an anchor crossed with the ankh sign were also discovered.
The director of the Russian mission pointed out that in the following excavation season, a facial reconstruction of this mummy will be made in order to try and determine its original appearance. She also said that the restoration work of some ceramic and faience vessels unearthed during previous seasons has now been completed.
Some Late News
And as we go to press, we have just been informed that Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak has toured the newly completed Civilization Museum at Old Cairo s Al-Fostat district. The museum is built on 90 feddans and cost LE 750 million, which was financed by the SCA and the Nubia Fund. The museum contains some 50,000 artefacts all under the supervision of Unesco.
Nigel J. Hetherington is founder and owner of Past Preservers a Heritage Consultancy operating out of Cairo, London and the United States.