Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | By: Khush Singh-Celebrity & Indian Bridal Makeup Artist

Priceless Pharaoh Statue Found Near Garbage Can

A limestone statue of the renegade Pharaoh Akhenaten has been recovered beside a garbage bin near the Egyptian National Museum in Cairo from which it had been stolen 20 days ago, Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities said Thursday.

The priceless statue was found by a 16-year-old boy near a trash can in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where the 18-day protest that brought down Hosni Mubarak took place.

"He brought the statue to his home and when his mother saw it she called her brother, Dr. Sabry Abdel Rahman, a professor at the American University in Cairo. Dr. Rahman, in turn, called the Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs to hand the statue over," said the Ministry of Antiquities Affairs in a statement.

Lying by the garbage, as if it suffered another damnatio memoriae some 3,300 years later, the statue shows Akhenaten wearing a blue crown and holding an offering table in his hands.

"It was returned intact, except for the offering table that was found separately inside the Egyptian museum," the ministry said.

The son of Amenhotep III and most likely the father of Tutankhamun, Akhenaten (1353 B.C. - 1336 B.C.) is known as the "heretic" pharaoh who established the capital of his kingdom in Amarna, introducing a monotheistic religion for the sun god Aten that overthrew the pantheon of the gods.

After his death, when Egypt returned to the traditional religion, Akhenaten's name, images and the traces of his reign were eradicated.

Indeed, the recovered limestone statue is one of the few statues that we have from the Amarna Period.

"The entire reign of Akhenaton was unique. The style of the statues and reliefs produced during a large part of the reign are unique as well," Jacques Kinnaer, a Belgian Egyptologist, creator of The Ancient Egypt Site, told Discovery News.

Akhenaten_Offering"I'm relieved to hear that this priceless statue has been recovered," Kinnaer said.

Described to have suffered "very minor damage" during the break-in at the museum on Jan. 28, 2011, the statue is slated to be the "the first object that will be cleaned and restored."

The limestone carving was declared missing last Saturday along with other 17 artifacts, then daringly recovered near a garbage at a public square. It has become the symbol of the alternating feelings that have struck the Egyptologist's community in the past two and a half weeks.

Indeed, the story of the looted artifacts at the Egyptian museum reads like a crime-fiction story.

According to Zahi Hawass, who under Mubarak was recently named minister of antiquities, the thieves broke into the museum through its windowed ceiling, sliding down to the floor with ropes.

Desperately looking for a mummy in order to find gold and "red mercury," which it is fabled to be a magical substance used by the ancient Egyptians in mummification, they smashed a New Kingdom empty coffin and 13 vitrines.

The first dramatic reports, which referred to some 70 stolen objects, were followed by more reassuring announcements.

"I would like to assure everybody that the Egyptian Museum, Cairo is safe," Hawass said.

But last Saturday Hawass revealed that 18 objects, including two gilded wood statues of King Tutankhamun, were missing.

"To date, four objects have been found: the heart scarab of Yuya, a shabti of Yuya, the statue of the goddess Menkaret carrying Tutankhamun, and the statue of Akhenaten as an offering bearer," said the ministry.

How the Akhenaten statue got from the museum to Tahrir Square, in the midst of the protests that were going on at that time, to end up in a garbage can, remains a mystery to many Egyptologists.

"Why would the thief have hauled the statue so far through the crowds, only to throw the statue in the garbage can? Did the thief panic, perhaps? Or was it an agreed drop off place and did someone else neglect to pick it up?," wondered Kinnaer, who also runs the Facebook page Protect Egyptian Cultural Heritage.

"Or was it dropped of in the garbage can only recently? The thieves may have realized that they were not going to get away with trying to sell the piece, and so they threw it away," Kinnaer said.

Meanwhile, reports of looting in different archaeological sites have been announced.

Sabry Abdel Aziz, head of the pharaonic sector of the ministry of state for antiquities affairs, reported that the tomb of Hetep-Ka, in Saqqara, was broken into, and the false door was stolen along with objects stored in the tomb.

"In Abusir, a portion of the false door was stolen from the tomb of Re-Hotep. In addition, many magazines also suffered break-ins: magazines in Saqqara, including the one near the pyramid of Teti, and the magazine of Cairo University all had their seals broken," said the ministry.

At the Egyptian museum, guarded by the military, the inventory continues.

"Dr. Hawass asked that the focus be on accurate information rather than speed," said the statement.

Photo: Dr. Youssef Khalifa (center), head of the archaeological committee appointed by the Minister, and the returned statue of Akhenaten. (Photo: Ahmed Amin); State of Akhenaten after its return to the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. (Photo: Ahmed Amin)


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