Conserving HeritageThe Mummy’s Return: Repatriation of Archeological Artifacts and the Future of Egypt’s Past
The Mummy’s Return: Repatriation of Archeological Artifacts and the Future of Egypt’s Past Archaeology plays a vital role in understanding culture and heritage. Heritage elements can be structures (pyramids), trails (Nile River), artifacts such as prehistoric tools(axes, blades) or paintings (Hieroglyphs), or folklore, customs, language, dialect, songs and legends. Many aspects of culture and heritage require safeguarding from elemental damage and human destruction or desertion. Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) in Egypt, vocally and vocationally supports heritage conservation. He argues that to identify, protect and promote elements of Egyptian culture one must increase their understanding and awareness of Egyptian heritage. This paper discusses some aspects of Dr. Hawass’ archeological projects and his claim that Egyptian artifacts belong in Egypt. He strongly advocates legislation to protect Egyptian heritage sites, and the ethics of archaeological excavation. Hawass’ ultimate goal is repatriation of Egyptian artifacts removed from the country over the past 500 years. When Zahi Hawass became Secretary General of the SCA in 2002, he introduced new security measures to combat the theft and smuggling of Egyptian antiquities. He started to catalogue all the artifacts stored in antiquities depots scattered across Egypt and built 33 high-tech storage units in the country, as well as constructing new national museums. He has provided further training for the staff that guards Egypt's priceless artifacts. Hawass formed the Department of Retrieving Stolen Artifacts, which monitor antiquities trade in an attempt to identify stolen pieces and demand their return. This later department has been effective in having stolen artifacts returned to Egypt, such as statues from Karnak and other temples, two Roman masks and a beautiful relief of King Amenhotep III. Of all the recent repatriations, the most high profile is the return of the mummy of Ramses I. Long before a code of conduct developed for archaeology, people removed artefacts from their original context - or location. Tomb raiders sold objects for profit, tourists saved them as souvenirs, and academics studied them and put them in museums. In 1871, the mummy of Pharaoh Ramses I, looted from the Valley of the Kings left Egypt in the hands of a Canadian antiquities collector, and at the beginning of the 20th century, it turned up in Canada's Niagara Falls Museum. The Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta (MCCM) later purchased the entire Egyptian collection of the Niagara Falls Museum, including the mummy. In November 2003, in a highly publicized gesture MCCM returned the mummy to Egypt as a “gift”. However, various artefacts initially discovered in Egypt remain in many museums scattered around other countries that never had a legal claim to them. The bust of Nefertiti is at a museum in Berlin; the Obelisk of Luxor is in Paris and the Rosetta stone, which was the key to unlocking Ancient Egypt's hieroglyphic language remains in the British Museum in London. Dr. Hawass believes that most of the artefacts taken from Egypt were significant and relevant parts of Egyptian history. They symbolize Egyptian cultural heritage and national identity. Egypt’s past contained many events that Egyptian people should be proud of and able to appreciate. He argues that when the artefacts are somewhere else, then how can the Egyptians fully appreciate and relate to them. Hawass contends that an ancient object taken from its context loses most of its meaning, and damages a civilization by robbing it of its history and culture or cultural icons. Who really does own the past? Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by both United Nations Charter and the UNESCO Constitution, backs Dr. Hawass’ philosophy. Article...
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