Beginning on Aug. 15 and lasting for several days, protesters loyal to ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi tore down the museum’s gate, overran and attacked its security guards and ransacked the museum, reports Ahram Online.
Known as “A Daughter of the Pharaoh Akhenaten,” the statue depicts one of King Tut’s several sisters and is perhaps the most important of the artifacts stolen from the museum, which is located in the city of Minya, notes ABC. Rioters also defaced or destroyed museum pieces that could not easily be carried off.
“I firmly condemn the attacks against the cultural institutions of the country and the looting of its cultural property,” Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova said in a statement released after the incidents. “This constitutes irreversible damage to the history and identity of the Egyptian people.”
While more than 600 of the Mallawi pieces have since been recovered by police, several hundred others — including the King Tut family statue — remain missing, prompting Egypt to issue an international alert for its return.
Monica Hanna, a prominent Egyptian archaeologist, told The Telegraph that she spoke with some of the looters when she arrived at the decimated museum a few days after the initial riot.
“They said, ‘The government is destroying their people, so we are destroying this because it belongs to the government’,” Hanna said.
However, Hanna worries that there might be more to the theft of “A Daughter of the Pharaoh Akhenaten” than mere rage. Artifacts from this era are some of the most valuable on the international black market, and Hanna told The Telegraph it is possible the statue was stolen on purpose, under the cover of mayhem.
“I think the looters knew what they were taking,” she said.