Museums on high alert for ancient Egyptian loot

Wed Feb 2, 2011 4:56pm EST
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By Mohammed Abbas

LONDON (Reuters) - International museums are on high alert for looted Egyptian artifacts and some archaeologists have even offered to fly to the country to help safeguard its ancient treasures, museums said on Wednesday.

Egypt has been rocked by an unprecedented nine days of demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-rule, and fears are high for the country's priceless heritage after looters broke into the Egyptian Museum in Cairo last week.

The specter of the fall of Baghdad in 2003 looms large in the minds of Egyptologists, when thousands millennia-old artifacts were stolen or smashed by looters in the chaos following the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"The situation during the fall of Baghdad is the worst case scenario, but we think that's not going to happen because there is such a movement to protect the antiquities," said Karen Exell, chairwoman of Britain's Egypt Exploration Society and curator of the Egypt collection at the Manchester Museum.

Egyptologists have been heartened by the reaction of ordinary Egyptians to chaos and lawlessness.

In Cairo hundreds of people formed a chain around the museum to protect it after looters broke into the museum on Friday and destroyed two Pharaonic mummies, officials said.

Western museums are still urging vigilance.

"All of us who are friends of Egypt can help the efforts to stop looting of archaeological sites, stores and museums, by focusing on the international antiquities trade," London's Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology said in a statement.   Continued...