ROMARCH: update on stolen Ganymede statue; guards arrested

The Ganymede statue

An update via Mohamed Halouani on the Ganymede statue stolen about two weeks ago from the Paleo-Christian Museum in Carthage, Tunisia.

“Officials responsible for monitoring the Paleo-Christian Museum of Carthage are suspected, during the night of Fri. 8 Nov. to Sat. 9 Nov., of stealing the statue of Ganymede. In fact, they have been jailed pending trial.

According to the newspaper La Presse, citing Bahri Fathi, director of sites and monuments at the National Heritage Institute (INP), there was no break-in at the time of the theft. The suspicions of investigators, the source said, were then shifted to the guards, noting that the window by which the thieves broke into the museum had been broken from the inside.”

The source is:

Les agents chargés de la surveillance du Musée paléo-chrétien de Carthage sont soupçonnés du vol, dans la nuit du vendredi 8 à samedi 9 novembre, de la statuette de Ganymède. Ces derniers ont en effet été écroués en attendant leur procès.

Selon le quotidien ‘‘La Presse’’, citant Fathi Bahri, directeur des sites et des monuments à l’Institut national du patrimoine (INP), il n’y a eu aucune effraction au moment du vol. Les soupçons des enquêteurs, indique la même source, se sont alors portés sur les gardiens, en constatant que la vitre, par laquelle les voleurs se seraient introduits dans le musée, a été brisée de l’intérieur.

I think it was in fourth grade when I found the Encyclopedia Brown mystery, “The Case of the Broken Window.” I guess the thieves (if they were indeed the guards) hadn’t read that one.

The astrolabe in Kuwait: LNS 36 M

The original La Presse article by I. Haouari of 26 Nov., from which this excerpt comes, goes into further detail about ongoing thefts from Tunisian museums and sites. There are, it says, only 179 guards for the entire country.

The article includes the tale of one of the earliest Arab astrolabes, made in AD 927, which was in the Islamic Museum of the Ribat at Monastir, but is now, according to the article, in the National Museum of Kuwait (thieves had apparently replaced the original with a replica using the distraction of a fire in the museum). But this claim is confusing, since the Kuwait astrolabe has been there for many years, and it was made in Baghdad by the craftsman Nasṭūlus, while the Monastir example was made in Cordoba. An astrolabe did ‘mysteriously’ appear on the market and was sold by Sotheby’s in 2006 to the new museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar — see this (unfortunately titled) paper by David King — but that seems yet a different instrument. I did see ‘an’ astrolabe in the Monastir museum in 2009, but now have no idea whether it was genuine or not. I’d welcome any clarity or better sources on the subject.

Confusion over the astrolabe should not take away from the serious and valid concerns about the theft and destruction of archaeological heritage. The Ganymede theft (the statue has not yet been recovered) is but one example of the damage done to our knowledge of the past, driven by greed for personal ownership of that past.

* * *

For the definitive studies of the Ganymede, please consult Elaine K. Gazda, “Ganymede and the Eagle. A Marble Group from Carthage,” Archaeology 34 (1981): 56–60, and Elaine K. Gazda, “A Marble Group of Ganymede and the Eagle from the Age of Augustine,” in J. H. Humphrey (ed.) Excavations at Carthage 1977 conducted by the University of Michigan, VI, Michigan 1981, 125-178. Detailed images available on Arachne.

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