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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Meteorites lost from Madras Museum – the tale of poor care and maintenance.

Generally, we do not so much of importance to artifacts and museums as much as Western World does.  Coverage against burglary is a common insurance product and generally Insurers would study the area and its vicinity, the value of the items, the security system, and the accounting method.  Prudent ones would also think of the size of the subject matter besides its utility value for a common man.  There could be products which could sell like hot cakes even in a grey market whilst some uncommon things like a painting would be difficult for marketing, though would be of high value.

A big diamond heist occurred at Begium in 2005. Diamonds were first recorded in India over 5,000 years ago, but were exclusive to royalty for thousands of years. Popular use of diamonds began with the discovery of rich reserves in South Africa in the late 19th century. Thieves in Antwerp  stole  diamonds worth tens of millions of dollars ; the raid in someways damaged the reputation of the hub of World diamond trade.  In what appeared to be a planned raid by somebody who knew the trade well, security documents authenticating the gems were also stolen along.   The losses were not quantified as those were the ones in safe vaults.  Thieves cleared out 123 of the 160 vaults in the maximum security cellars of Antwerp's Diamond Centre.  They could by pass heavy security and fooled the surveillance cameras placed everywhere.  The rooms had been well protected with round the clock guards standing by.   The Judicial director went on air stating that the thieves appeared to have spent years planning the robbery and called it a ‘piece of genius in its simplicity as the security system had been thoroughly analyzed and beaten threadbare’.  Thieves seemingly had copied the master keys and taped cameras and had even put old video tapes in the surveillance system in an apparent attempt to buy time. 

In a bizarre instance, five meteorites each said to be over 100 years old have reportedly been stolen from the geological gallery of the Chennai Museum in Egmore in Chennai.  The curator claimed that they had no value in the international market but could only help in research – then why would somebody take great efforts to rob some useless old stones remains unanswered.  Even the exact date of occurrence could not be identified and reportedly could have occurred on Saturday or on Sunday.  The glass panes had not been disturbed and duplicate key had been used to open the door housing the meteorites.  One of them weighed 2.799 km  which  had earlier  been found in South Arcot, was left behind.

The Egmore Police have registered a case, interrogated the guards and collected finger prints.  A departmental enquiry had also been ordered.  Newspaper reports state that the museum has closed circuit television cameras but whether  the one in geological gallery was in functional status is not known.  Going by the regular standards, the museums does not attract huge no. of visitors.  Those who come also do not really enjoy or try to seek any historical or geographical values.  Many vandalise the artifacts kept by touching and some tend to scribble their or their lover’s names at all place.
The Govt. Museum in Chennai has a long historic background.  Situated in the heart of the city closer to the Egmore Railway station, its expanse is of 16.25 acres of land comprising of six independent building housing many galleries.   It was formally opened in 1896 by the then Governor Arthur Elibank Havelock and named after its progenitor Lord Connemara, Governor of Madras.  It has an imposing tower which was demolished in 1897 due to its poor condition.  The Madras University Library which is on the beach road now functioned there until 1928.  The Museum celebrated its centenary in 1951.  To display the exquisite bronze collection, a separate building was built in 1963.  Though there have  been renovation, the state of affairs including their maintenance leaves lot to be desired.
For the ones interested, there are separate galleries for :  Archaeology which  has sculptures, memorial stones, scriptures ;  Zoology housing animals ;  Botany ; Geology ;  Numismatics including philately; Arms gallery, Bronze gallery;  childrens’  museum; National art gallery housing tanjore paintings, ravi varma paintings and more.  Many a times streams of visitors would flow in mechanically and would get tired after the first or second building, deciding to move out stating that there is nothing much to relish.  You need to possess some quality to appreciate these………  it is said that the geological gallery  which is in existence from 1851 does not attract many and is frequented only by research scholars and geological experts, apart from school and college students.  

To add to, Meteorites are very rare. These are natural objects originating in outer space that survives impact with the earth’s surface.  Most meteorites derive from small astronomical objects called meteoroids, but they are also produced by impacts of asteroids Meteorites are believed to have remained unchanged since the making of the solar system 5 billion years ago and can tell us a lot about the early years of earth.

What commercial value these would fetch in sleaze market is hazard to guess.  Whether valuable or not, it dents the image of the Museum – the regular visitor who never knew the value of these might never miss them – but it is a comment on the sad plight of the Museums working against the very purpose of their existence. 

If something is preserved and worthy of display, then it deserves to be kept properly, is explained its importance to the visitors and above all kept secured….

There are lessons to be learnt but as they say ‘ public have a short memory ’ – and in the present scenario of World Cup and elections round the corner, the common man would put his mind on many other things than asking, what is happening to the investigations and whether those lost would ever be found & whether the culprits would ever be brought to book.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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