Egypt To Catalog
Artifact Treasures In
Neglected Basement


CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt is about to begin the painstaking five-year task of cataloguing and restoring some 90,000 pharaonic and other artifacts which have lain almost forgotten for decades since they were dug from ancient ruins.
Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities, said Sunday that work started about three weeks ago to move the artifacts, now in the basement of the country's main museum, into storage elsewhere.
From there the artifacts will be recorded, photographed and restored if necessary -- a job that will take about five years.
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo boasts a stunning array of antiquities, including the death mask and other artifacts of the boy king Tutankhamun. But visitors are also confronted by a vast quantity of dusty and poorly labeled showcases.
Hawass said the more than 100-year-old museum had been the store for most finds from foreign archaeological digs since it was built, but poor curatorship meant items were often difficult to find or lost amidst the piles of boxes.
"The basement in Cairo museum is like a maze of corridors... No one knows anything about it," he told Reuters.
A search is currently under way for 36 Roman bracelets, discovered in 1905, which have apparently disappeared. Hawass said they were last recorded as part of a exhibition that returned from Japan in 1984.
"I sent all papers to the district attorney to find out about the case, but I believe personally that the bracelets are in the museum," he said, blaming the disappearance on poor curatorship.
While the artifacts are being cataloged, the basement will be renovated so the items can be properly stored on their return. The renovation will enable the museum to reduce the size of its permanent display to improve its design, Hawass added.
"We are going to have a basement like the basement of the British Museum that you can put artifacts, numbered, cataloged, and we are training the curators for the first time to understand what is the meaning of a curatorship," he said.
Egypt is planning a new Grand Museum near the pyramids at Giza on the edge of the capital to house pharaonic treasures.
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