Looters Damage King Tut Artifacts in Egypt

The gold burial death mask of King Tutankhamun honored the young pharaoh after his death at age 19 in circa 1324 B.C. (Image credit: Dreamstime)

As protests on the streets of Cairo reportedly continue, the Egyptian Museum became a piece of property for looters to exploit, according to Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.  

About 1,000 people jumped over the wall on the eastern side of the museum on Friday (Jan. 28) when the protests began. They raided the gift shop, thinking it was the museum, according to Hawass's blog. Ten of the individuals made their way into the museum.

The looters "went into the Late Period gallery but, when they found no gold, they broke thirteen vitrines and threw the antiquities on the floor. Then the criminals went to the King Tutankhamun galleries. Thank God they opened only one case!" Hawass wrote. "The criminals found a statue of the king on a panther, broke it, and threw it on the floor."

All of the damaged antiquities can be restored, and the criminals were caught by police. On Saturday (Jan. 29), the army secured the museum again and guarded it from all sides, Hawass wrote.

Even getting his blog posted, it seems, was a challenge: "At this time, the Internet has not been restored in Egypt. I had to fax this statement to my colleagues in Italy for it to be uploaded in London on my website," Hawass wrote.

In other reports, Hawass is quoted as saying two mummies were also vandalized, with their heads ripped off, according to the Associated Press. The beheaded mummies may have belonged to Yuya and Tjuya (mother of the great Queen Tiye and great-grandmother of Tutankhamun), according to a blog by Margaret Maitland, a doctoral candidate in Egyptology at the University of Oxford. "They are important historical figures as well as two of the best preserved mummies from ancient Egypt, so it would indeed be tragic if this is true," she wrote.

In other nearby areas, such as Sinai, a large group armed with guns stole antiquities from a warehouse, while other groups, Hawass wrote, tried to enter the Coptic Museum, Royal Jewellery Museum, National Museum of Alexandria, and El Manial Museum. Fortunately, employees of the Royal Jewellery Museum had already moved all of the objects into the basement, and sealed it before leaving.

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Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.