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Official: Restoration work begins on damaged Egyptian artifacts

By the CNN Wire Staff
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The restoration work is expected to take about three days
  • The Egyptian Museum in Cairo remains closed for now
  • Zahi Hawass: Protesters should go home so life can return to normal

(CNN) -- Work to restore Egyptian artifacts damaged during anti-government protests began on Sunday, according to the nation's newly appointed minister of antiquities.

The work, on artifacts from King Tutankhamun's tomb, includes restoring a statue -- broken by looters in the Egyptian Museum -- of King Tut on a panther, Zahi Hawass told CNN Sunday.

A restoration team composed of 11 members began work on Sunday, Hawass said. He estimated that the work will take about three days to complete. "It will all go back to normal in three days," he said.

The museum will remain closed until Egyptian authorities lift overnight curfews, he said. However, he said he toured the museum with journalists from the Wall Street Journal and National Geographic. "I showed them everything," he said.

Despite Hawass' assurances, Egyptologists and archaeologists have expressed concern that some of the nation's priceless treasures may fall victim to looters or vandals amid unrest and uprisings fueled by what protesters see as a lack of economic opportunity, widespread poverty and pervasive corruption.

Several Egyptologists told CNN in late January they were trying to stay on top of the situation as best they could and sift fact from rumor.

"With 80 million people in a country that suffers from poverty and rising food prices ... you have to expect that some people are going to be desperate and look for any means necessary to try to improve their lot," Kara Cooney told CNN last month. She is an assistant professor of Egyptian art and architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles, and host of the Discovery Channel's "Out of Egypt."

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But she said concerns are compounded by a lack of reliable information and the prevalence of rumors. "Some things have turned out not to be true," she said.

She and other Egyptologists said they were staying online as much as possible and keeping in touch with other Egyptologists to try to share information.

"This has been my life's work," said Jan Summers Duffy, an Egyptologist at the College of Idaho and curator at the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History. "... We don't know what the future will hold. I hope at least some things can be preserved."

Hawass previously was secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. On January 30, according to his website, President Hosni Mubarak appointed him to his new post. The newly created Ministry of Antiquities will absorb the Supreme Council of Antiquities, according to the website.

On January 28, as the protests were under way, a group of people broke into the museum in Cairo, Hawass has said. They smashed 13 glass showcases and threw the antiquities inside on the floor in the Late Period Gallery, then went to the King Tutankhamun section, where they opened a showcase and threw the panther statue to the ground. They also stole jewelry from the museum's gift shop, Hawass said.

When the suspects were apprehended, he told CNN at the time, authorities found the remains of two mummies with them, along with some small artifacts.

But, Hawass wrote in a blog post on Saturday, "The two mummies that were reported as damaged at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo were in fact unidentified skulls dating to the Late Period; these two skulls are not royal mummies." The skulls were temporarily housed in a storage room, he said, to be used in testing a CT scanner. When they were retrieved from the looters, they were undamaged, he said.

In addition, Hawass in the blog post denied claims that the open-air museum in Memphis had been looted and that tombs in Saqqara had been damaged.

"The people who are in Europe and America are concerned about Egypt, but what is (important) to remember is that rumors can be very damaging," Hawass wrote in a blog post Friday.

He wrote Saturday of visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza, saying he was pleased to find the site protected by soldiers and tanks from the Egyptian army, but "I was so sad to see the plateau empty of tourists though."

"Today in Tahrir Square there are about 3,000 young people, and I hope they will go home today, so that life in Egypt can go back to normal," he wrote.

Hawass has maintained that the Egyptian people can be counted on to help protect the nation's historical treasures because of their national pride.

CNN's Christine Theodorou and Ashley Hayes contributed to this report.

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