Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Elizabeth Bartman

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo
(Photo: Flickr)

This past winter, people all around the world watched events unfold in Egypt that toppled a government, threatened human life, and endangered thousands of years worth of cultural heritage of one of the planet's seminal civilizations. As we all recall, it was reported on the Internet, on television, and on the front pages of major newspapers that the Egyptian Museum in Cairo had been broken into and artifacts had been looted.

Initially, it was said that damage to the museum had been slight, that only a moderate number of items had been taken, and that work was being done to recover them. But then, in early March, Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass resigned from his post and stated that sites throughout Egypt, including storehouses belonging to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, had indeed been looted. The true and final account of what happened will only be sorted out over time.

In response to these events, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) joined with the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and released an unprecedented joint statement denouncing the looting of Egypt's sites and museums and calling on Egyptian officials to do everything possible to protect their cultural heritage. We asked members in both organizations to lend their expertise in identifying and helping to reclaim missing artifacts. Lastly we called on museums and archaeological communities worldwide to notify international authorities and customs officials if they had any information regarding stolen Egyptian artifacts.

At the AIA we draw hope from the fact that people of goodwill have been watching—watching as Egyptian citizens linked arms in an attempt to safeguard the museum and its treasures. Everyone the world over regarded the fate of the museum, its holdings, and the protection of Egypt's cultural heritage as a highly personal matter. We take this as a clear and positive sign that broad public understanding of what these events mean is growing. Extending that understanding is, simply, our most important mission. We ask that you, too, speak out in support of the protection of cultural heritage everywhere. It concerns each and every one of us.

Elizabeth Bartman is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.

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