Statement from the Archaeological Institute of America Concerning the Looting of Artifacts in Egypt
January 31, 2011
For supporters of archaeology, the most resonant images emerging from Egypt were those showing citizens, arms linked, encircling the Egyptian Museum to protect it from the looters who would steal and destroy the nation’s archaeological heritage. Those resolute citizens showed a desire to protect some of the world’s most important cultural resources, even in the face of obvious danger. Those images are in a word—moving.
Their courage once again shows the importance of archaeology and cultural heritage in the lives of people in Egypt, and indeed, for so many around the world. We are reminded not only of 5,000 years of history in the Nile Delta, but also of our shared connection to that history, no matter where we live, or where we come from.
The vandalism of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo conjures another dark moment not so long ago. In 2003, the Baghdad Museum was looted during the early days of the war in Iraq, a cultural crime that still resonates around the world. Although the political situation in Egypt is different, in the wake of the Baghdad looting, many are well aware of the consequences of the loss of their cultural patrimony. This helps to explain why Egyptians on the street are saying, “This is not Baghdad.” Those lessons and consequences are still fresh in the minds of the people who are now making a stand to protect their archaeology and their history.
The Archaeological Institute of America has been promoting the message of cultural preservation since our founding in 1879. We have renewed and rededicated ourselves to that message in the last decade, working to promote an understanding not only of the importance of archaeology and cultural heritage, but of our role in the responsible stewardship of our shared cultural heritage. In that role, we stand against the destruction of archaeological and cultural sites, against the theft and removal of cultural material, and against the devaluation of artifacts by placing what is priceless up for sale. The events in Egypt again prove that this message is still critically important.
We call on Egyptian authorities to do what they can to protect the irreplaceable archaeological and cultural material in their country. We applaud the Egyptian people for doing whatever they can to ensure the safety of sites, museums, and cultural objects. And we recognize that it is only a small number of people who would threaten the remains of an ancient culture that is beloved around the world.
We also call on local and international law enforcement and customs officials to be alert to antiquities dealers who may try to export illegally obtained artifacts from Egypt. We urge them to do what they can to stop the looting and the denigration of Egyptian culture. And we ask all concerned people to be alert for artifacts that criminals may try to sell to them.
The Archaeological Institute of America stands with the brave people who put themselves at risk to protect so much, not only in Cairo, but also in Luxor, Alexandria, and Saqqara. Please join us in solidarity with all who would protect the glories of Egypt, a cultural resource that touches people around the world.