Egyptian artifacts in danger: antiquities chief

Egypt's antiquities chief expresses concern the country's valuable treasures are at risk because of the continuing chaos in the country.

Lesser known museums have been emptied of artifacts

Egypt's antiquities chief has expressed concern the country's valuable treasures are at risk because of the continuing chaos in the country.

Zahi Hawass posted an update on his blog — with the help of an Italian colleague since internet services are suspended in Egypt — saying his heart is broken.

Hawass said many valuable artifacts have already been taken and some of the country's lesser known museums have been emptied of their treasures, including the one in Memphis — the capital of ancient Egypt, about 19 kilometres south of Cairo.

Hawass said the Coptic Museum, Royal Jewelry Museum, National Museum of Alexandria and El Manial Museum had all been broken into.

He also said he is afraid the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters in Cairo, torched and vandalized by demonstrators on Friday, could collapse and topple onto the 100-year-old Museum of Egyptian Antiquities next door.

"If this building is destroyed, it will fall over the museum," Hawass said Saturday.

Damaged objects can be repaired

About nine looters took advantage of the citizen uprising to break into the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities early Saturday in an attempt to steal mummies.

They managed to lop off the heads of two mummies and damage a dozen objects before other residents cordoned off the building, also known as the Egyptian Museum, by making a human chain and prevented the looters from leaving.

Margaret Maitland, an Egyptologist at Oxford University in Britain, says she and her fellow experts may have identified the damaged mummies by studying TV footage.

Writing on her blog, Maitland said the beheaded mummies may be Yuya and Tjuya, the great-grandparents of Tutankhamen and "two of the best preserved mummies from ancient Egypt."

It's not known what happened to the looters. Hawass said in his posting that all of the damaged objects can be repaired.

Tanks rolled into place around the museum late Saturday.

The museum is home to about 120,000 artifacts, including the famed gold death mask of King Tutankhamen. It also sits close to Cairo's Tahrir Square, where the city's main protests have been taking place.

Plans had been underway to build a bigger museum outside the city near the pyramids, because the museum itself is crumbling and too small to adequately feature most of its collection.

Around the country, armoured personnel carriers have been seen protecting archeological sites, including the Karnak Temple in the ancient town of Luxor.