Tutankhamun statues among priceless items stolen from Cairo museum

Egyptian minister says thieves targeted most-valuable artefacts after breaking in through roof and descending by ropes

Chris McGreal in Cairo

guardian.co.uk,          Sunday 13 February 2011 16.59 GMT


Soldiers on guard outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where the thefts came to light during an inventory after the protests died down Photograph: Manoocher Deghati/AP

Thieves have stolen 18 priceless artefacts from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, including two gilded statues of King Tutankhamun, during the political unrest.


Zahi Hawass, the antiquities minister, said the losses were discovered during an inventory of the museum after the protests died down.


Among missing items are a statue of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess and another of him harpooning. Also stolen is a limestone statue of the pharaoh Akhenaten holding an offering table, a statue of Nefertiti making offerings and several other stone and wooden artefacts.


Hawass said that an investigation is underway and that the "police and army plan to follow up with the criminals already in custody".


The museum is on the edge of Tahrir square, the heart of three weeks of protests that brought down the president, Hosni Mubarak. It was raided on 28 January by thieves who climbed up a fire escape and then used ropes to lower themselves into the museum.


The thieves appear to have carefully selected some of the most valuable objects while ignoring less important artefacts. "They are not something you would come and randomly find," an Egyptologist at Cairo's American University, Ikram Said Salima Ikram, told Reuters.


Restoration work has already started at the museum to repair the damage by looters. Hawass said that 70 pieces were damaged.


The army guarded the museum and its 125,000 antiquities, including Tutankhamun's funeral mask, throughout the unrest. The building was threatened when the neighbouring ruling party headquarters was burnt down.


At one point, protesters formed a human chain to surround the museum and protect it from thieves and looters.



King Tut statue looted from Egypt museum

13 February 2011


Looters who raided Egypt's famed museum during the unrest that toppled Hosni Mubarak have hauled off a trove of ancient treasures, including a statue of King Tutankhamun, officials said.


The plundered artefacts include a gilded wooden statue showing the boy pharaoh being carried by a goddess, and parts of another statue of him harpooning fish, the minister of state for antiquities, Zahi Hawass, said.


Looters broke into the museum in Cairo's Tahrir Square on January 28 when anti-Mubarak protesters drove his despised police from the streets in a series of clashes and torched the adjacent ruling party headquarters.


Museum director Tarek al-Awadi said looters went on a rampage, shattering 13 display cases and at least 70 artefacts.


He said curators were still carrying out an inventory to determine the extent of the losses.


The missing pieces include a limestone statue of Pharaoh Akhenaten holding an offering table, a statue of Queen Nefertiti making offerings and a sandstone head of a princess from Amarna, a vast archaeological site in central Egypt.


Also missing were a stone statuette of a scribe from Amarna and 11 wooden shabti statuettes of Yuya, a powerful courtier from the time of the 18th Dynasty, which ruled along the banks of the Nile more than 3,000 years ago.


A heart scarab - an amulet placed on the chest of the mummy to ensure the heart was not removed - belonging to Yuya was also missing, Mr Awadi added.


In all, the museum has listed seven individual items and a group of 11 statues as missing.


On Sunday, soldiers outside the museum were tight-lipped about the alleged theft. A lieutenant colonel who declined to give his name said only: "Two or three things were stolen, little things like rings."


Troops have arrested two or three suspects and were searching for others, the officer said, adding that the looters had broken in through a window.


Founded in 1858 by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, the museum contains more than 100,000 artefacts, including the world renowned - and reputedly cursed - treasures from Tutankhamun's tomb.


The best-known artefact is Tutankhamun's gold funerary mask, which stares out from a case on the first floor of the museum.


The 18th dynasty monarch, better known as King Tut, ruled Egypt in the 13th century BC.


Mr Hawass says an investigation has been launched to find those behind the theft.


"The police and army plan to follow up with the criminals already in custody," he said.



Ben Ali's pillaging of Carthage must become a thing of the past

With the removal of Ben Ali from power, archaeologists have hopes of restoring the ancient site to the people of Tunisia

Richard Miles


Wednesday 9 February 2011 12.49 GMT


One of the most interesting consequences of the recent political upheavals in Tunisia has been that Tunisian archaeologists have at last been able to speak out against the damage inflicted on the ancient site of Carthage by the regime of the former president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. It is a truly depressing tale of how greed and philistinism have come close to destroying large parts of one of the world's most important archaeological sites.


The site of the ancient city of Carthage has been fought over many times in its long and turbulent history – most famously in 146BC, when a Roman army captured the city and obliterated it in a shocking episode of brutal annihilation. Roman intent that their great enemy should never rise again was reinforced by the curse that the victorious Roman general Scipio placed on anyone who dared to rebuild the city. Yet Carthage did rise again. The city, with its excellent harbour, occupied far too important a strategic position to be left deserted for long. The new city went on to have a distinguished history as the capital of the new Roman province of Africa, and later as one of the great centres of ancient Christianity. In short, Carthage is an archaeological site of world historical significance. Yet once again, its very existence is under serious threat – this time not from the weapons of an invading army but the bulldozers of unscrupulous property developers.


Carthage's problem in modern times has been that it occupies some of the most expensive and sought-after real estate in the Maghreb. Since the 1960s the urban sprawl of Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, has spread ever closer to the site of Carthage, which lies some 12km to the east across the Bay of Tunis. In 1972, alert to the dangers that such urban expansion posed, a few enlightened figures in the Tunisian ministry of culture and Unesco set up a campaign to safeguard the site of Carthage.


The strategy that was developed under the dynamic and ingenious leadership of Abdelmajid Ennabli, a Tunisian archaeologist who had been appointed conservator of Carthage, proved to be a highly effective one. Teams of archaeologists from all over Europe and the US were invited to excavate areas of Carthage that were under particular threat of appropriation. The spectacular nature of many of their archaeological discoveries, such as the famed Punic circular war harbour excavated by a British team, had the desired effect of placing Carthage firmly back in the spotlight. Vindication arrived in the form of the conferral of the prestigious status of Unesco world heritage site in 1979, followed six years later by national legislation that established the entire 400-hectare site as a protected zone where building was prohibited.


This high-profile success, however, proved to be something of a false dawn. In 1987, Ben Ali came to power in a palace coup and, despite official pronouncements to the contrary, the new regime quickly showed it had more interest in enriching itself rather than protecting Tunisia's rich cultural heritage. I started excavating in Carthage in the mid-1990s and it was clear that Ennabli and those who had strived for decades to protect Carthage were fighting a losing battle against a cabal of influential businessmen and politicians who all enjoyed presidential patronage. For these people Carthage was nothing more than a piece of prestigious real estate ripe for "economic development". The legislation that protected the ancient city was a mere inconvenience that could be ignored and brushed aside.


As an archaeologist one understands that the needs of the present have to be balanced against the preservation of the past, but the regular flouting of the planning laws by members of Ben Ali's family had little to do with solving Tunisia's severe housing shortage. One only has to look at the brochure for the "Residences of Carthage", a luxury housing development illegally built on protected land to see that. One can marvel at the chutzpah of the developers' boast of its proximity to Roman ruins when there is little doubt that they were probably built on top of Roman ruins. Other members of the ex-ruling dynasty have been accused of stealing priceless archaeological artefacts and appropriating historic state buildings for their own private use. In short, Ben Ali and his extended family, the Trabelsis, not only treated Carthage as if it were their own private property but also flouted the rule of law (that they were charged to uphold) to continue their pillaging of Tunisia's national patrimony.


With the removal of Ben Ali and his crooked regime from power, Ennabli and a number of like-minded professionals have once more stepped forward to lead a new campaign to safeguard Carthage. Their demands are straightforward. First, the new Tunisian government needs to urgently approve the protection and development plan for Carthage that the previous regime had been stalling on (for the nefarious reasons set out above) since its drafting in 2000. Second, all illegal building projects on the site of Carthage and its environs must be halted immediately. Lastly, it must as quickly and transparently as possible restore to the people of Tunisia the national heritage that was stolen from them. These measures are essential if the new government is to prove to a sceptical public that it really can provide a much-needed fresh start for Tunisia. If it delays for too long, the danger is that people will start taking justice into their own hands, and the consequences of that could be absolutely catastrophic.



Quest for Extinct Giant Rats Leads Scientists to Ancient Face Carvings

ScienceDaily (Feb. 11, 2011)


Ancient stone faces carved into the walls of a well-known limestone cave in East Timor have been discovered by a team searching for fossils of extinct giant rats.

The team of archaeologists and palaeontologists were working in Lene Hara Cave on the northeast tip of East Timor.

"Looking up from the cave floor at a colleague sitting on a ledge, my head torch shone on what seemed to be a weathered carving," CSIRO's Dr Ken Aplin said.

"I shone the torch around and saw a whole panel of engraved prehistoric human faces on the wall of the cave.

"The local landowners with whom we were working were stunned by the findings. They said the faces had chosen that day to reveal themselves because they were pleased by the field work we were doing."

The Lene Hara carvings, or petroglyphs, are frontal, stylised faces each with eyes, a nose and a mouth. One has a circular headdress with rays that frame the face.

Uranium isotope dating by colleagues at the University of Queensland revealed the 'sun ray' face to be around 10,000 to 12,000 years old, placing it in the late Pleistocene. The other faces could not be dated but are likely to be equally ancient.

Lene Hara cave has been visited by archaeologists and rock art specialists since the early 1960s to study its rock paintings, which include hand stencils, boats, animals, human figures and linear decorative motifs. The age of the pigment art in Lene Hara is currently unknown but a fragment of limestone with traces of embedded red ochre was dated previously by Professor Sue O'Connor of The Australian National University to over 30,000 years ago.

Although stylised engravings of faces occur throughout Melanesia, Australia and the Pacific, the Lene Hara petroglyphs are the only examples that have been dated to the Pleistocene. No other petroglyphs of faces are known to exist anywhere on the island of Timor.

"Recording and dating the rock art of Timor should be a priority for future research, because of its cultural significance and value in understanding the development of art in our past," Professor O'Connor said.



Mesolithic beads found at Welsh dolmen site

11 February 2011

A recent excavation led by archaeologist George Nash in November 2010 at the Trefael Stone in south-west Wales - originally a portal dolmen transformed in later times in a standing stone - has revealed a small assemblage of exotic artefacts including three drilled shale beads, identical to those found at a nearby Early Mesolithic coastal habitation site.

     Until recently, little was known about the stones use and origin. A geophysical survey undertaken in September 2010 revealed the remains of a kidney-shaped cairn and it was within this clear feature that the three perforated shale beads were found. These items, each measuring about 4.5 centimetres in diameter, were found within a disturbed cairn or post-cairn deposit.

     Based on the discovery of 690 perforated beads found at the coastal seasonal camp of Nab Head in southern Pembrokeshire, it is possible that the three Trefael beads are contemporary. Microware analysis on one of the beads was inconclusive but the perforation appeared to have the same micro-wear abrasions as beads from the Nab Head site.

     The beads from the Nab Head site were oval-shaped and water worn. Each disc was uniform in shape and thickness and had been drilled using an awl-type flint tool, referred to as a Meches-de-foret. It is probable that the Nab Head beads and those from Trefael were made for adornment, either sewn into clothing or forming bracelets/necklaces. In association with the perforated beads a number 'blanks' were found suggesting that The Nab Head site was a production centre for bead making.

     Similar perforated shale beads have also been found at a number of other sites including Manton Warren (Humberside), Newquay (Cardiganshire), Star Carr (Yorkshire) and Staple Crag (Co. Durham). Beads of other geological types have also been found at the upland mid-Wales site of Waun Fignen Felen, made from spotted mudstone and single finds from coastal locations at Freshwater East, Linney Burrows and Palmerston Farm, Pembrokeshire. Two perforated beads, one made of stone, the other from oyster shell has also been found in the Isle of Man. 

     The provenance of the Trefael beads is interesting in that the beads from the Nad Head site are dated to roughly the 9th millennium BCE  (within the range of radiocarbon dates taken from hazelnuts) and the Trefael site is Neolithic, a period between the two sites of around 5,000 years. Chris Tolan-Smith does express some caution with the limited dating of the Nab Head site and therefore the beads may be recent. It could be the case that the idea and meaning of adornment through perforating and wearing shale and shell beads extends into the Neolithic. It could also that the beads originate from a much earlier phase of the Trefael monument when the place may have been used by hunter/fisher/gatherers. 

     The early use of Neolithic burial-ritual sites is not uncommon in Western Britain - e.g. the long mounds at Arthurs Stone (Herefordshire) and Gwernvale (Breconshire).  Further excavation planned for the summer may reveal more of Trefael's possible Mesolithic past.



Digging deep to uncover altars’ secrets

February 9, 2011

Archaeologists from Newcastle University (UK) are hoping to excavate an internationally important Roman site in Cumbria.

Led by Professor Ian Haynes, the team is focusing its attention on the site of a major discovery of Roman altars 140 years ago.

The site where the altars were found now forms part of the Roman Maryport site at Camp Farm, which is owned by Hadrian's Wall Heritage.

“The Maryport altars have been at the centre of international debate about the nature of religion in the Roman army for decades,” said Professor Haynes, who is currently waiting for Scheduled Monument Consent from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to carry out the work.

“However, we still know very little about the context in which they were originally deposited and this project represents a marvellous opportunity to further our understanding.”

Last year, the University worked with Southampton University on an extensive geophysical survey led by Alan Biggins, a Newcastle PhD student from TimeScape Surveys. This gave archaeologists a better overview of the site, but further excavation is required to help answer many more questions about the altars’ origins.  It is hoped work will begin at the end of May 2011.

Peter Greggains is chairman of the Senhouse Museum Trust, which is commissioning and funding the excavation. “The altars found by Humphrey Senhouse in 1870 are part of the internationally important collection of Roman sculpture and inscriptions from the Maryport site which is now displayed in our museum,” he said.

“It is very exciting that we can now revisit the site where the altars were found and, with modern methods, learn more about their burial and other activity in this area more than 1,800 years ago.”

Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of Hadrian’s Wall Heritage, which is responsible for the development of Hadrian’s Wall Country, added that the work was “an important step towards the establishment of a long-term programme of archaeological research and a key element in the development of Roman Maryport”.

The £10 million heritage Roman Maryport development is expected to attract 50,000 visitors a year and create 76 jobs. It is part of the development of the whole of Hadrian’s Wall Country over the coming years, designed to draw many more visitors to the north of England.



Roman road found in Puddletown Forest

4:00pm Saturday 29th January 2011

By Diarmuid MacDonagh »


A ROMAN road has been unearthed in the depths of Puddletown Forest.


Forestry workers discovered the 1,600-year-old remains of the road during clearance work.


A spokesman for the Forestry Commission said: “By clear felling a plantation of Norway Spruce fir trees in Puddletown Forest, the Forestry Commission has painstakingly uncovered one of the UK’s most remarkable sections of ancient Roman road.”


Now, in partnership with English Heritage, the Forestry Commission is undertaking an extensive restoration project to reveal the hidden archaeological treasure.


The 26-metre wide road is a combination of a central cobbled ‘street’, which would have been used for rapid troop movements, and outer ‘droving’ roads for livestock.


It is thought the road is part of the Ackling Dyke Roman Road, built to link Old Sarum (Salisbury) with the Roman fort at Exeter.


Pete Wilson, head of research policy (Roman archaeology) for English Heritage said: “Roman roads were built in support of the military and civilian administration of a newly conquered province.


“The well-preserved length surviving in Puddletown Forest pays eloquent testimony to the power and determination of the Romans to consolidate their new territory. The scale and solidity of their work has allowed the road to survive the 1,600 years since the end of Roman Britain.”


Previously a stretch of Roman road was uncovered running through Thorncombe Woods outside Dorchester.


Dorset Countryside’s inland team worked to clear the road, a scheduled ancient monument that runs through the woods and heathland made famous by Thomas Hardy as Egdon Heath.


Laurence Degoul, the Forestry Commission’s Wareham-based forester, said: “We are delighted with the results of this project.


“Work started last winter and we should see the final clearing of any remaining brash, plus the erection of some simple signage, imminently.


“Everyone involved – including our timber harvesting contractor Euroforest – has worked incredibly hard to ensure the archaeological significance of the area could be fully restored for local people to enjoy.”


She added: “We’re thrilled that local people can now find echoes of the Roman Empire and its engineering prowess hidden amongst the unassuming trees of Puddletown Forest.” An English Heritage spokesman said the organisation is ‘grateful’ for the Forestry Commission’s work.



Survey of Thynghowe Sherwood Forest Nottinghamshire UK

24 January 2011.


All last week   archaeologists 'probed' the mystery of the 'thing' in Sherwood Forest.

Thynghowe is a Viking meeting place and was discovered and identified five years ago by local historians Lynda Mallett and Stuart Reddish.

Lynda said : “This site is very important to the history of Sherwood Forest and our local communities.”

The hill site was first identified by a 19th century document, and is also mentioned in an ancient Sherwood Forest book in the 1200's. It is now listed on English Heritage's National Monument record. It is one of only a handful of such sites in England, where people in Anglo Saxon and Viking times assembled to settle disputes and make the law. It may pre-date even further as a 'howe' is used to indicate a prehistoric burial place.


Last year Lynda and Stuart travelled to Shetland and Orkney and the Faroe Islands attending conferences and doing presentations on Thynghowe. “By attending these conferences we have met experts on Viking Thing sites and it has helped us to place the site in an international context. We are generating a lot of interest from countries with similar monuments. We have also been able to network with experts in England working on assembly sites” said Stuart.


This networking paid off last week as experts from Nottinghamshire County Council's Community Archaeology Team, and archaeologists from University College London used the latest equipment to survey the site. They were aided by volunteers from the Friends of Thynghowe group.


Nottinghamshire's Community archaeology team, led by Andy Gaunt, carried out a topographical survey of the hill. The Friends of Thynghowe group made a successful bid for funding for this survey under the County Council's Local Improvement Scheme.

Andy Gaunt and his colleagues used both Total Station and GPS, this will provide a 3D image of the site.


Dr Stuart Brookes (UCL) and Dr John Baker (Nottingham University) from the University College London,  Assembly Sites Project also came to Sherwood Forest. They used magnetometry instruments to geo-phys the area, which gives a picture of  what lies under the surface of the site.


It is hoped that both sets of results will be put together to see what this mysterious site reveals.

A public presentation, at the end of March, will give the results of both surveys.


On Saturday 22 January the Friends of Thynghowe hosted two public sessions, showing groups around and explaining the history of the site. A display featured photographs, maps and information on all the research the group had undertaken in the last five years.


Stuart Reddish took the groups to many historic features in the forest, telling the story of this part of Sherwood Forest from Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romans,  Anglo Saxons, Vikings, Normans right up to modern forestry practices.

Archaeologist Andy Gaunt also demonstrated how he used the surveying equipment.


This public event was well attended and a number of the participants had stories to tell of features and activities in Birklands that may turn out to be important in the story of this part of Sherwood Forest.


The Friends of Thynghowe will be holding their annual 'perambulation' walk in Birklands on Saturday 16 April. All welcome, place bookings through the Forestry Commission at 01623 822447. Visit the website www.thynghowe.org.uk

Photographs on www.flickr.com/photos/lyndamallett



Researchers find whaling ship from 1823 wreck

By Audrey McAvoy

Associated Press / February 11, 2011



A fierce sperm whale sank the first whaling ship under George Pollard's command and inspired the classic American novel "Moby-Dick". A mere two years later, a second whaler captained by Pollard struck a coral reef during a night storm and sank in shallow water.


Marine archaeologists scouring remote atolls 600 miles northwest of Honolulu have found the wreck site of Pollard's second vessel -- the Two Brothers -- which went down in 1823.


Most of the wooden Nantucket whaling ship disintegrated in Hawaii's warm waters in the nearly two centuries since. But researchers found several harpoons, a hook used to strip whales of their blubber, and try pots or large cauldrons whalers used to turn whale blubber into oil. Corals have grown around and on top of many of the objects, swallowing them into the reef.


"To find the physical remains of something that seems to have been lost to time is pretty amazing," said Nathaniel Philbrick, an author and historian who spent more than three years researching the Essex -- and its fatal encounter with the whale -- the Two Brothers and their captain. "It just makes you realize these stories are more than stories. They're about real lives."


Officials from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument -- one of the world's largest marine reserves -- were due to announce their findings at a news conference Friday, exactly 188 years after the Two Brothers sank.


Kelly Gleason, the maritime archaeologist who led the discovery, first saw the ship's anchor in 2008 while surveying French Frigate Shoals.


The anchor could have belonged to any one of three 19th century whaling ships that sank at this atoll. But additional artifacts found by Gleason's team over the next two years -- like the cast iron cooking pots scattered around the wreck site -- were unmistakably from the 1820s, while the other two vessels sank in 1859 and 1867.


The sinking of the Two Brothers was relatively uneventful compared to the Essex's epic run-in with the whale. After the Essex capsized, Pollard and fellow crew members drifted at sea without food and water for three months before they were rescued. To survive, Pollard and others resorted to cannibalism, including eating one of the captain's cousins.


Still, Thomas Nickerson, a crew member who served under Pollard both on the Essex and the Two Brothers, later described his boss as being in a daze as they had to abandon ship for the second time.


"Capt. pollard (sic) reluctantly got into the boat just as they were about Shove off from the Ship," he wrote.


Fortunately, the Two Brothers was sailing with a fellow whaling ship, the Martha, which had taken shelter near a rock. When the sun rose, the 20 or so crew members of the Two Brothers rowed over to the Martha which picked them up. They all survived.


Pollard gave up whaling, though he was just in his mid-30s, and returned to Nantucket, Mass., where he became a night watchman -- a position of considerably lower status in the whaling town than captain.


While the sperm whale attack inspired Melville to write "Moby-Dick," the author isn't believed to have used Pollard as the basis for the book's notorious Capt. Ahab.


Melville actually didn't meet Pollard until about a year after his novel was published, some three decades after Two Brothers sank. Philbrick said the meeting left a strong impression on the author, whose creation hadn't been an immediate critical or commercial success.


"He was a man who had the worst cards possible dealt to him but was continuing on with nobility and great dignity," Philbrick said. "He is the anti-Ahab. Ahab is enlisting the devil and whatever to fulfill his crackpot schemes. Pollard was someone who had seen the worst but was quietly going about his life with the utmost humility."


The Two Brothers wrecked in water only 10 to 15 feet deep, and would have likely been stripped clean had it wrecked closer to a populated area. But the isolation of French Frigate Shoals means the site has been untouched.


"We had the opportunity to find something that's probably as close to being a time capsule as we could get," Gleason said.


The Two Brothers was like other New England whaling ships of the time, in that its crew sailed thousands of miles from home hunting whales to harvest their blubber. They boiled the fat of the massive marine mammals into oil used to light lamps in cities from New York to London and to power early industry.


The appetite for whale blubber oil, however, meant the ships quickly exhausted successive whale grounds. The Essex was far off the coast of South America when the sperm whale rammed into it. The Two Brothers was passing through poorly mapped waters northwest of the main Hawaiian islands on the way to recently discovered whale grounds closer to Japan when it hit the reef.


"It was kind of like this ship trap of atolls," Gleason said. "It went from about 40 feet to all of the sudden they were in about 10 feet of water."


For Hawaii, the discovery is a reminder of the great upheaval the whaling industry brought to a kingdom still adjusting to life after the first European travelers arrived.


The hundreds of whaling ships that called on Hawaii's ports starting in 1819 boosted the kingdom's economy, but this mostly benefitted a few men who became suppliers to the vessels, said Jonathan Osorio, a professor of Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. The arrival of thousands of outsiders -- some of whom claimed Hawaiian law had no jurisdiction over them because they were American or European -- challenged the young monarchy.


Gleason said the artifacts are due to go on display at the marine monument's Discovery Center in Hilo and she hopes the exhibit will travel to Nantucket. The archeologists also have more surveying to do: there's still no accounting for another five whaling ships that sank in the atolls that now make up the Papahanaumokuakea monument.