Thursday, January 04, 2007

In hot pursuit of Egypt's lost mummies
Zahi Hawass is one part celebrity, one part investigator. Egypt's lead sleuth in the country's hunt to reclaim ancient antiquities has gained a reputation for often strong-arming curators and bullying museum directors. But while he's attracted critics in his hunt for Egypt's mummies and pharaonic masks, his hard-nosed techniques are indeed paying off.
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While there's certainly applause for Hawass's efforts, his campaign has sparked debate since many of the objects he seeks have been in museums long before a 1970 international convention tightened the ancient antiquities trade.

"These monuments are doing a real service to Egypt by being on display abroad. They encourage tourism, bring money to the country. They are a cultural ambassador and bringing them back, just to get them back, is not necessarily the best idea," says Egyptologist Kent Weeks.

Whether or not Egypt has appropriate facilities for conserving all of the items, there's also a reasonable (I think) argument to be made that the more distributed the stuff is, the less chance that a single disaster (natural or man-made) will get them all. One can imagine if a Taliban-like regime came to power in Egypt what would happen to a lot of this stuff. I seem to recall some Egyptian Islamic groups saying as much not too recently, too.