Tanks and Tutankhamun...



Back to Home Page



Back to Recent Lectures & Papers Page







TANKS AND TUTANKHAMUN - When present and ancient past collide

Mike recently gave a lecture at the Australian Historical Association's 2011 Regional Conference, History at the Edge and is preparing various papers on the topic: TANKS AND TUTANKHAMUN - When present and ancient past collide.

Abstract: Two days after the 2011 uprising police disappeared from their posts throughout Egypt and thieves broke into the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Soon after came reports that looters were causing general destruction at Saqqara, Giza and Abu Sir, and at various museums and archaeological storage facilities thought the country. At the same time came word that everyday Egyptians were protecting the monuments and museums from looters while awaiting the support of the armed forces. In Cairo people formed a human chain around the Egyptian Museum, at Karnak Temple men from the neighbouring village drove off would-be looters and the same happened on Elephantine Island to protect the Aswan Museum. On the West Bank at Luxor locals set up defensive barricades around the tombs and mortuary temples. What motivated these ordinary people to place the protection of ancient objects before their personal safety, and the security of their homes and families? Government sources blamed outlaws and escaped prisoners for the destruction and thefts, others blamed the site guards. Who was responsible for the damage to Egypt’s monuments and antiquities, and what were their motives? Some reports said that there was ‘vast damage’ at various archaeological sites, others denied that any harm had occurred. Was the reporting of cultural vandalism a victim of political propaganda? What has actually been lost in the ‘revolution on the Nile’? What has been won? What has been saved thanks to the courage of the everyday Egyptian?

An example of courage of the everyday people of Egypt in protecting their (and our) heritage in the face of violence ...

At 20.30hrs EDT (31st January), our Upper Egyptian Guide, Mr Abdul Mawgood, reported that the young peope of Luxor were protecting the monuments and their homes. He was overwhelmed with pride at the response of people from his Karnak Village who turned out in force to protect Karnak Temple. The army has now taken over this task. He reported that the handful of visitors to Karnak Temple approached the site between tanks, pausing to take photos of the extraordinary situation.

From Karnak we have heard:

"At night [ on 28 Jan 2011] one of my cousin, Ahmed, and my nephew Mohmed called me - they were outside - and told me they [could] hear some noise. We went all running towards the group of our friend[s who] has stopped 4 persons in car in my village at the back of Karnak temple. I found more than 100 persons there. Then they said, “We will be here just in case somebody will come to Karnak temple.” “What about the other sides of Karnak temple?” they told [asked] me. There are more than 100 persons at each side of the temple and they gave me a list of telephone numbers to contact and tell each other if anyone need[ed] help. And I found people [had] make check points all around the temple. At 3 am I had a phone call from Mostafa and the people went to the mosque and used the loud speaker to tell us, “11 persons [are] inside [Karnak] temple”. Ok, my God, so we found [when we arrived] all Karnak around the temple [were] men and women and even some kids. They told me, ‘Rauof and Hosney, and the people who made tea for us went inside the temple [ie people who made cups of tea for us when we visited the site are inside the temple area] and they are in danger because the bad people carry guns [are there]… I lost the contact with [them] after I heard shooting’. At last we caught 4 of them [ie looters] and 11 had escaped - they were 15 [they] came in nice cars [ie expensive vehicles] with guns. One of the 4 he was tourist police [person holding] high position call Amr the other 3 they are just bad people who smoke [drugs?] and dink. … we spent two more night - we were doing the same thing [ie protecting Karnak temple] but now [there is] no problems anymore because the army, with police side by side [are protecting the site] but if you walk at Luxor or Karnak you will find people will stop you and make sure no strangers [are there]..."

"...many young Egyptians... helped to stop more people from entering the [Egyptian] museum... all the inspectors, young archaeologists, and administrators, are calling me from sites and museums all over Egypt to tell me that they will give their life to protect our antiquities. Many young Egyptians are in the streets trying to stop the criminals."

Dr Zahi Hawass