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Egypt’s artifacts amidst the tumult

Sign from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina Photo from Flickr: Taken by Sir: Poseyal

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been reading the news of Egypt and Tunisa’s uprisings with utter amazement. Who knew that this was going to happen? I love that there are some things in this world that we cannot fully predict; earthquakes, landslides, and political uprisings from people that the rest of the world had long since consigned to authoritarian regimes.

Unfortunately, there are some things that we can predict. And one of them is that when the world’s in chaos, there will be those that seek to profit from the madness as people’s minds and eyes are turned to the tumultuous events of the day. Looters, those opportunistic thugs.

“Well someone’s got to clean it up my friends

Bodies on the highway

Law and order upside down

Someone’s got to collect their odds and ends

As a service to the town”

-Dog Eat Dog from Les Miserables lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer

Yes there is looting in Egypt-including looting of their National museum, with it’s hundreds if not thousands of precious artifacts. A cultural disaster, especially after everything that Egypt has done to try to prove that they can handle the care and restoration of their material culture as well as any western nation. But there are some in Egypt that are refusing to let the looters get away with it. As the New York Times reported today (in a small paragraph on the second page) once some of the protesters became aware of the damage that was being done to the museum, they rushed to defend it, standing alongside the military outside of the museum. I was immensely proud of that group of people- soldiers and protesters alike-who had enough foresight to realize that even as history is being made, history must be protected.

Egypt is not the first place where people have tried to protect their cultural heritage amidst the painfully destructive process of political upheaval. The mineral cache in Afghanistan (sigh… see post here) was unveiled in part because of a group of Afghan geologists took the soviet geologic charts of their country into their homes when the Taliban rose to power, only bringing them back into public when the American’s invaded in 2001. And who can forget Dolley Madison ordering that original copies of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and a portrait of George Washington be spirited out of Washington before the British burned it to the ground. And of course there are hundreds if not thousands of others.

It’s not something that always happens-Iraq and it’s many invaders from the past two decades  did a really crappy job of protecting both artifacts and archaeological sites.

But those that do protect these precious things, should be saluted-they preserve the past for another generation, regardless of what their future might be.

UPDATE: The Egyptian Army has closed the Pyramids at Giza and placed them under a military guard. Based on the actions of the army so far, i think this might be a good thing.

UPDATE: Images of Destruction from the Egypt National Museum

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  2. Elektrische Zahnbuerste on Friday, November 25, 2011 at 6:38 am

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