Will Egypt's ancient treasures survive?

Egypt has been called the "greatest open-air museum in the world." Could its antiquities be at risk of damage while the political upheaval continues?

Looters taking advantage of Egypt's political chaos have already ruined some of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo's antiquities, including two mummies.
(Image credit: Corbis)

The political chaos in Egypt has archaeologists terrified that the country's famous antiquities could be damaged or even destroyed. Vandals have already desecrated the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo, and continuing anti-government protests could leave more of the country's ancient relics at risk. Here, a quick guide to the problem facing the "greatest open-air museum in the world":

What kind of damage has been done already?

A small group of rioters broke into Cairo's Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, home to some 120,000 historic artifacts, at the end of last week. The looters sliced the heads from two mummies and smashed 13 display cases, but were stopped before they could damage the museum's collection of antiquities from the tomb of King Tutankhamen. Another group broke into the museum's gift shop and stole jewelry. (Watch a report about protections of the artifacts)

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Is the threat only in Cairo?

No. Reports of looting at Saqqara and Luxor also have archaeologists worried. Those places are "major tourist attractions," said Fred Hiebert of the National Geographic Society, with directional signs reading "Valuable antiquities here" throughout those cities. "The whole country is a museum."

What about the Giza pyramids?

There were unconfirmed reports of damage to the famous pyramids of Giza, but it is still unclear what damage, if any, the buildings had sustained. The Egyptian army is now protecting the site.

Is the government protecting the museums?

Yes. In the wake of the looting at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, the military secured that building and added protection to the city's 23 other national museums. But it wasn't just the army protecting the ancient site. A picture was posted on Twitter of a "human chain" circling the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. "It may be," says Ashley Hayes at CNN, "that Egyptian citizens' national pride in their heritage works to the advantage of its treasures."

Sources: CNN, Washington Post, ABC News, Unreported Heritage News

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