Of the around 20,000 ancient artefacts stored in the Paphos museum basement, only 5,000 have been digitised in the last seven years, the town’s mayor Phedonas Phedonos said on Tuesday.
On Tuesday the head of the antiquities department Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou visited the Paphos museum, accompanied by curator Despo Pilidou, in a bid to inform the public about what is the procedure as regards stored antiquities so that there are no false impressions. Phedonos was also present.
The visit followed his public spat with Ieronymidou after he claimed that some of her staff were stealing and selling artefacts from the basements of museums. This led Ieronymidou to report Phedonos to the attorney-general’s office over his allegations, while the transport minister, under whose ministry the antiquities department operates, on Monday asked the police chief to investigate the Paphos mayor’s claims. He also defended the antiquities department.
Phedonos, in his turn, said that it has been 45 days since he made these reports to Ieronymidou, and that she is still “in no position to say how many thousands of ancient artefacts are in the storage facilities in question”.
Ieronymidou said that there is in place a comprehensive storage, recording and registration system, which is being carried out scientifically and ethically.
“We proceed gradually with digitisation, we have a way to go, but it is a long and costly task and it will continue,” she said.
The warehouses of museums, Pilidou, said, are not a space “where we throw objects, nor places where the objects are left to be ruined, but is a place where they are stored, after being recorded, studied and preserved”. The antiquities department, she said, has its restoration experts, which are instructed to monitor the situation.
She admitted however, that the department does not have the most appropriate conditions because museums need general upgrading and (exhibition) places whereas Cyprus is very rich in archaeological excavations, and the number of stored items is constantly increasing.
Museums exhibit only 10 per cent of the antiquities amassed, Pilidou said, while the department is making a lot of effort to bring objects from its warehouses to public attention by organising exhibitions, particularly in the Cyprus Museum and the Limassol museum.
Upon completion of the renovation of the Paphos museum, she said, the antiquities department will exhibit there items that have not been showcased before.
“Therefore, they (stores) are places from which we draw objects for the thematic exhibitions we hold every year,” Pilidou said.
Following the presentation, Phedonos said he is not convinced that a proper registration system is in place, while “the looters and organised crime have entered the antiquities department”.
This, he said, does not mean that the majority or all of the department’s officials steal antiquities, however, there is information that looting in Paphos is booming. It seems, he said, that looters found partners in the antiquities department.
He mentioned the theft that occurred some years ago at the Polis Chrysochous museum where the stolen antiquities were found tossed on Timi beach.
He said that artefacts have been stored at the town’s museum since 1936, and many date from the 1960s but the department cannot say how many antiquities are stored there.