Monday, January 31, 2011

As Egyptians exercise their universally recognized rights to assembly and expression, the Egyptian people are deeply concerned about the cultural heritage that resides in their country. Those concerns are shared by many throughout the globe. Archaeological sites reportedly being looted and museums have experienced break-ins. That is why it is important for lawmakers to start thinking about ways to help protect Egyptian cultural artifacts. It is better to think of solutions now rather than reacting to a potentially wider problem later.

One effort might be to stop stolen and looted Egyptian cultural material from crossing the American border. Such import controls could be accomplished by enacting an Emergency Protection for Egyptian Cultural Antiquities Act, which could supplement authority already existing under the federal criminal code and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA).

The Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), 19 U.S.C. 2601 et seq., implements the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Section 2603 of the CPIA permits the President to enact import restrictions on cultural materials illegally removed from a country during an emergency situation without requiring that country’s government to make a formal legal request. Senator Charles Grassley introduced emergency legislation in 2003, pursuant to the CPIA, in response to the looting of the National Museum of Iraq. The time is ripe to consider similar legislation in response to the reported looting currently occurring in Egypt.

Theft, vandalism, and looting in Egypt include some of the following, according to current reports:

• Antiquities official Mohamed Megahed told the BikyaMasr blog of “immense damages to Abusir and Saqqara,” major archaeological sites in Egypt. He added that “[o]nly the Imhotep Museum and adjacent central areas were protected by the military. In Abusir, all tombs were opened; large gangs digging day and night.”

• The Qantara Museum warehouse in the Sinai was attacked by looters, according to news reports.

• Dr. Gerry Scott, director of the American Research Center in Egypt, has commented on damage at the site of the Great Pyramids in Giza. (

• The break-in at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo has been well reported, although the extent of that incident remains unclear.
(video available at

Meanwhile, several organizations have joined together to issue a statement that calls “on United States and European law enforcement agencies to be on the alert over the next several months for the possible appearance of looted Egyptian antiquities at their borders.” Those organizations calling for increased law enforcement vigilence include:
American Schools of Oriental Research
Archaeological Institute of America
Cultural Heritage Center, University of Pennsylvania
Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies, Rutgers University
Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation
U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield

There is authority at present to seize illegally obtained Egyptian artifacts at the American border. The National Stolen Property Act and anti-smuggling laws permit the seizure of stolen cultural property pursuant to the criminal laws found in Title 18 of the United States Code. See United States v. Schultz. Cultural property can also be seized under an interpretation of ARPA under Title 16. Because customs officials most often enforce import controls enacted pursuant to Title 19, An Emergency Protection for Egyptian Cultural Antiquities Act should be contemplated even at this early stage of events in Egypt. Such a statute could resemble the emergency protection law covering Iraq and be worded in the following way:

Emergency Protection for Egyptian Cultural Antiquities Act of 2011

(a) AUTHORITY- The President may exercise the authority of the President under section 304 of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (19 U.S.C. 2603) with respect to any archaeological or ethnological material of Egypt without regard to whether Egypt is a State Party under that Act, except that, in exercising such authority, subsection (c) of such section shall not apply.

(b) DEFINITION- In this section, the term `archaeological or ethnological material of Egypt means cultural property of Egypt and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, or religious importance illegally removed from locations in Egypt since January 25, 2011.

The authority of the President under section 3002(a) shall terminate on January 31, 2016.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

See the statement at

The Lawyer's Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, joined by other organizations, has issued on the situation involving cultural heritage in Egypt. That statement is below:

The undersigned cultural heritage and archaeological organizations express their concern over the loss of life and injury to humans during the protests in Egypt this week. We support the desire of the Egyptian people to exercise their basic civil rights. We also share their concern about the losses to cultural heritage that Egypt has already sustained and the threat of further such losses over the coming days.

Brave actions taken by the citizens of Cairo and the military largely protected the Cairo Museum. However, the numerous sites, museums and storage areas located outside of Cairo are even more vulnerable. As the prisons are opened and common criminals are allowed to escape, the potential for greater loss is created. A recent report from Egyptologist Professor Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama in Birmingham states that damage has been done to storage areas and tombs in Abusir and Saqqara and that looting is occurring there and in other locations.

We call on the Egyptian authorities to exercise their responsibilities to protect their country’s irreplaceable cultural heritage. At the same time, we call on United States and European law enforcement agencies to be on the alert over the next several months for the possible appearance of looted Egyptian antiquities at their borders.

Archaeological Institute of America
Cultural Heritage Center, The University of Pennsylvania
Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation
U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield

Sarah H. Parcak, Assistant Professor at the Department of History and Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham reports a crisis brewing at major archaeological sites in Egypt. The United States government and others must keep a careful watch at their borders for any ancient Egyptian artifacts. Professor Parcak's email appears below:

"Verified by Mohammad Megahed: Immense damages to Abusir and Saqqara, all magazines and tombs which were sealed were entered last night. Only Imhotep Museum and adjacent central magazines protected by the military. In Abusir all tombs opened. large gangs digging day and night everywhere"

The damage is *vast*.

It seems that some of the storage magazines at South Saqqara and Abusir have been looted-hard to say how much was taken and the extent of the robbing. SCA representatives are only today able to check on the museums/storage magazines, but early reports suggest major looting. If you all could please contact anyone who can help and put them on "high alert" for Old Kingdom remains and Egyptian antiquities in general, and please spread the word to law enforcement officials worldwide. Egyptian looters (who may be encouraged by outside Egypt entities) may try to use the general confusion to get things out of the country.

Other bad news: prisons in Qena and Armant (next to Luxor) have been emptied, so people fear major looting will occur in that region.

Reports still abound for major looting in the Alexandria Museum---but those reports are hard to confirm. The violence has been worse in Alexandria, and there have been few police reports there."

The Associated Press reports that Egyptian authorities have set up barriers to protect Karnak Temple--the world's largest ancient religious site--in Luxor. In addition, tanks were stationed outside Luxor's museum. This information was reportedly supplied by American archaeologist Kent Weeks, who is in Luxor and heads the Theban Mapping Project.

Meanwhile, the Giza pyramids have been closed and placed under military guard.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The video currently being shown on CNN to illustrate the current situation inside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is posted at the following link:

[Update November 9, 2011: Associate Press video at].

The famed Egyptian Museum is near a major plaza where many have gathered in the last few days to protest President Mubarek's grip on power. As looters moved onto the grounds of the museum, the Christian Science Monitor reports: "One man pleaded with people outside the museum's gates on Tahrir Square not to loot the building, shouting at the crowd: 'We are not like Baghdad.'" The paper reports that others joined together to create a perimeter to protect the museum with one man remarking, "I'm standing here to defend and to protect our national treasure."

The military later arrived on the scene. News outlets indicated that the military arrived around 5:15 a.m. local Cairo time on Saturday (January 29). CSM reports that the potential thieves were rounded up amid chants of "Thief. Thief" by the demonstrators.

I observed video on CNN showing shattered glass cases that house the well-known Middle Kingdom models of daily life found on the second floor of the museum. It appears from the video that parts of the models are damaged or missing.

Let us remember that the Egyptian people and their right to self-determination are much more important than artifacts. But more will be posted here about any news related to cultural heritage since that information is hard to come by at the moment.