Video: King Tut’s treasures defiled in Egypt

  1. Transcript of: King Tut’s treasures defiled in Egypt

    ANN CURRY, co-host: Back now at 7:44 with the effort to save some of the world's most precious ancient artifacts amid this uprising in Egypt . We've got NBC 's Kate Snow now joining us with details. Hey, Kate. Good morning.

    KATE SNOW reporting: Good morning to you, Ann. You know, Egypt is such an alluring place, filled with so much history, the pyramids, the Nile , mummies, the King Tut spring to mind, but unfortunately over the past few days some of Egypt 's treasures have been destroyed or defiled. At the Egyptian Museum in Cairo this weekend, soldiers surveyed the damage, 14 cases, priceless artifacts damaged by thieves who seemed to be hunting for gold.

    Mr. ZAHI HAWASS (Secretary General, Supreme Council of Antiquities): They were able, these two people, to enter inside the Cairo Museum from the top and they destroyed two mummies.

    SNOW: Concerned Egyptians formed a human chain to protect the museum's treasures.

    Mr. HAWASS: But thanks God, there is some Egyptians , real good Egyptians , tried to stop them.

    SNOW: Still, the damage was done. Archaeologists and Egyptologists all over the world are studying the grainy images on Web sites , conferring with each other on blogs, and to their trained eyes, the destruction is devastating.

    Dr. BOB BRIER (Contributing Editor, Archaeology Today): It just hurts, it really hurts.

    SNOW: Dr. Bob Brier is an expert on Egyptian mummies who's been to that museum more than 100 times.

    Dr. BRIER: It's like our Smithsonian , it's a repository of Egyptian culture .

    SNOW: Many of the damaged or looted items came from the tomb of that famous pharaoh, King Tut . What are we looking at right there?

    Dr. BRIER: That's a Tutankhamen object, King Tut . It's a -- it's a wooden statue that he was buried with and it's a panther and he was standing on top of it. And that was once in beautiful condition.

    COWAN: How old is that?

    Dr. BRIER: It's 3,300 years old.

    SNOW: Two mummies were damaged, there were reports they may have been beheaded.

    Dr. BRIER: This was on the mummy of Tutankhamen 's great-grandmother.

    SNOW: There are reports of looting at other archaeological sites , including one of Egypt 's ancient burial grounds. On Sunday, the military stood guard at the museum in Cairo and at the famous pyramids, closed now to tourists. Experts are hopeful Egypt has enough security forces to protect most of its history, literally millions of ancient artifacts .

    Dr. BRIER: It's crucial to protect all the sites, but it's a very difficult job.

    SNOW: Most Egyptians do want to protect those treasures not only because they're culturally important but also because they serve as a major source of tourism revenue, of course. As we've seen, however, it only takes a few people, Ann , to do so much damage to something so historic.

    CURRY: But then how did those people get into the museum? Is there any explanation as to why authorities were not doing a better job protecting these museums?

    SNOW: Right. Apparently this museum under normal circumstances isn't the most protected place, although there is some security. But on Friday that crowd swelled, as we remember, so large, it got right up to the gate, into the courtyard and then some men were able to go up on the roof and get in through a skylight.

    CURRY: You know, Zahi Hawass , who you interviewed for this, or at least we heard in your report...

    SNOW: Mm-hmm.

    CURRY: ...he said, I think he speaks for I think everyone listening, when he wrote in his blog, "My heart is broken and my blood is boiling." For those people who care so much, as we all really should because this is a very important legacy to all of us. Thank you so much , Kate Snow , this morning.

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updated 1/31/2011 8:20:04 PM ET 2011-02-01T01:20:04

Concern about Egypt’s priceless antiquities continues to grow, and Egyptologists around the world are issuing high-alert statements about the risk of Egyptian antiquities being smuggled abroad.

“It would be a wonderful gesture if people who are in the antiquity business do not buy any Egyptian artifact at the moment, particularly if they look (like) Old Kingdom antiquities or if they appear to come from the Memphite Necropolis of the New Kingdom,” Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, told Discovery News in a phone interview from Cairo.

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According to Ikram, a leading expert on animal mummies, the Egyptian National Museum is safe at the moment, thanks to the Egyptian people who have bravely defended their national treasures.

“The people and the army are united and helping one another. The people are doing astonishing things, taking responsibility for the maintenance of the areas themselves,” Ikram said.

Meanwhile, holding together on social networks, the Egyptology community is trying to assess the damage at the Egyptian National Museum by scrutinizing the footage shot just after looters broke into the building on Friday.

Watching the footage, experts have been able to produce a map of the museum rooms where looting and vandalism took place, showing that the attack occurred on three sides.

According to a faxed statement by Zahi Hawass, who on Monday was appointed minister of state antiquities in the new government named by President Hosni Mubarak, 13 Late Period cases where smashed, and several antiquities were thrown on the floor.

“Then the criminals went to the King Tutankhamun galleries. Thank God they opened only one case! The criminals found a statue of the king on a panther, broke it, and threw it on the floor,” Hawass said.

He added that all of the antiquities that were damaged can be restored.

Some experts fear that the Late Period cases mentioned by Hawass, and not shown in the footage, could belong to the collection of precious jewels and gold known as the Treasure of Tanis.

“So far it’s only speculation. As for the items shown in the footage, some objects are very difficult to identify because of the poor quality of the images combined with the fact that they don't appear to be ‘unique’ objects,” Margaret Maitland, a doctoral candidate in Egyptology at the University of Oxford, told Discovery News.

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In her blog, Maitland has identified several damaged objects, including a large wooden boat from the tomb of Mesehti at Asyut.

Dating to about 2000 B.C., the artifact is one of the largest model boats in existence.

“A figure shown in the footage, kneeling and armless, also appears to be from the model boat. Other objects appear to be a smashed shabti figurine, a bronze statuette of the Apis bull, a travertine calcite (alabaster) vessel, faience jewelry, and a faience hippo figurine from Lisht,” Maitland said.

Much mystery remains around the beheaded mummies.

Speculation has arisen that they could belong to Yuya and Tuya, which recent DNA tests identified as King Tut's great-grandparents.

“These were the only two mummies that were easily accessible. However, I have not been able to see the damaged mummies, so I can’t make any statement at the moment,” Ikram said.

Speculation about King Tut’s great-grandparents losing their heads in the Egyptian revolution abounded because of the the gilded, open-work cartonnage case shown on the museum floor on Al-Jazeera footage.

“We know that it belonged to Tjuya,” said Maitland.

But according to Egyptologist Aidan Dodson at the University of Bristol, the gold mummy-cover was not actually on Tjuya’s body any more, and both mummies were inside their coffins.

“A , with a head lying on the floor and bones scattered around, is circulating on the Internet, but identification is difficult, although it's unlikely it belongs to Tjuya,” Maitland said.

According to Swiss anatomist and paleopathologist Frank Rühli, the mummy's violation is intolerable from an ethical point of view.

“The damage also appeared to be very serious," Rühli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich and one of the world's top mummy experts, told Discovery News.

For more information and images showing the damage, check out this Cosmic Log posting.

Copyright © 2010 Discovery Communications, LLC. The leading global real world media and entertainment company.

Photos: Farewell Friday

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  1. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Feb. 11. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Egyptians set off fireworks as they celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after President Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. President Barack Obama makes a statement on the resignation of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in the Grand Foyer at the White House in Washington D.C. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military on Friday. Egypt exploded with joy, tears, and relief after pro-democracy protesters brought down President Hosni Mubarak with a momentous march on his palaces and state TV. Mubarak, who until the end seemed unable to grasp the depth of resentment over his three decades of authoritarian rule, finally resigned Friday. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Protesters walk over a barricade after it was taken down to allow free entry to hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 11, 2011. A furious wave of protest finally swept Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak from power, sending a warning to autocrats across the Arab world and beyond. (Yannis Behrakis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A spokesman for Egypt's higher military council reads a statement titled “Communiqué No. 3” in this video still on Friday. Egypt's higher military council said it would announce measures for a transitional phase after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. (Reuters Tv / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Egyptian celebrates in Cairo after the announcement of President Mubarak's resignation. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. A furious wave of protest finally swept Mubarak from power after 30 years of one-man rule, sparking jubilation in the streets. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An Egyptian reacts in the street after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, Feb. 11. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation on Friday. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Egyptian soldiers celebrate with anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday. Cairo's streets exploded in joy when Mubarak stepped down after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptians celebrate the news of Mubarak's resignation in Tahrir Square on Friday. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian woman cries as she celebrates the news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who handed control of the country to the military, Friday night, in Tahrir Square, Cairo. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate minutes after the announcement on television of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Opposition protesters celebrate Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, in Tahrir Square on Friday. President Mubarak bowed to pressure from the street and resigned, handing power to the army. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. On Egyptian state television, Al-Masriya, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivers an address announcing that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, in Cairo on Friday. (TV via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo
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