A team of twenty Egyptologists stand between looted artifacts and the black market in times of quiet and crisis.
With round the clock surveillance and intervention at Cairo Airport, Egyptian men and women work side by side to ensure that any artifact older than 100 years does not leave the country. Since January 25, 2011 more than 30 attempts have been blocked with seized artifacts returned to the proper antiquity protectorate.
Collaborating with international authorities and scientists, the Egyptologists use all means possible to authentic artifacts and ensure they are returned, including foreign cultural heritage. Most recently, the team discovered a smuggler trying to leave Egypt with several South American artifacts dating between 800 BC and 250 BC. An ad-hoc international exchange ensued to verify that the artifacts were indeed stolen from museums in Peru and Ecuador. With international collaboration and cooperation the Egyptian team received diplomatic recognition and appreciation upon the transfer and return of the Peruvian and Ecuadorian artifacts. This is the same team that rescued three Coptic icons being smuggled out of the country.
Finding the balance between alertness and patience during the steady requests for investigations and the quiet times with sporadic requests, Mr. Magdy Abdelsalam, Director of Training Administration, Antiquities Office in Cairo Airport, says with pride,
“we do our job to protect the Egyptian monuments.”
As part of the University of Cairo Antiquities and Egyptology Department, Mr. Abdelsalam says his personal greatest success was one case where he ensured that old Egyptian manuscripts were not taken out of Egypt or even finding some (not all) of the stolen artifacts from the Egyptian Museum during the chaos in the first days of the Jan. 25 revolution and being able to return them.
With a sense of accomplishment, care for artifacts, the team of Egyptologists navigate between citizens and tourists unknowing of the law attempting to bring artifacts out of the country and clever smugglers.
The law, if persons traveling in Egypt are on business, a diplomatic assignment, a military assignment or as a tourist, a student, it is best not to steal from any site, purchase or accept as a gift any item that even looks one hundred years old or older. Under penalty of Egyptian law, if convicted, persons transporting antiquities illegally could possibly be fined and subject to hard labor in prison. This law includes moveable antiquities such as books, manuscripts, scrolls or any religious artifacts.
In regard to the recent looting of the Mallawi Museum, Mr. Abdelsalm and the rest of the team are waiting for a complete inventory, a RED LIST, that will be distributed to all airports and border controls to support any possible discoveries in their investigations. Informal social media sites, in the meantime, are sharing knowledge and photos as information is being received. An inventory is being collected on Facebook.
Cultural heritage is risk during conflicts, civil unrest by smugglers and persons who do not know or care to know the law. A team of twenty at Cairo Airport is ready to investigate and apprehend anyone who attempts to smuggle out of the country Egyptian monuments.
By Keri Douglas, writer/photographers, Washington, D.C. (Please follow 9 Muses News copyright use policy.)
UPDATE: The Red List of ICOM for the theft from the Mallawi Musuem is now available – click here.
The Ministry of State for Antiquities announced on Wednesday (Sept. 18, 2013) that it has recovered 13 artefacts recovered from the looted museum in the Minya city of Mallawi. Daily News Egypt reports.