Unchecked looting guts Egypt’s heritage, with one ancient site ‘70 percent gone’
2013 06 28
By Betsy Hiel | TRIBLIVE
A wispy-haired mummy’s head, bleached skulls, and arm and leg bones are piled outside looted tombs.
A mummified hand with leathery-skinned fingers pokes from the sand.
Ancient burial wrappings from mummified bodies — torn apart to find priceless jewelry — unravel across the desert like brown ribbon, or tangle near broken bits of wooden coffins still brightly painted after nearly 3,000 years underground.
With bones scattered everywhere, this 500-acre plot looks like the aftermath of a massacre rather than an ancient burial ground.
“You see dogs playing with human bones, children scavenging for pottery,” says Egyptian archaeologist Monica Hanna, stepping cautiously around grisly remains and deep pits dug into tombs by looters.
Salima Ikram, an expert in tombs and mummification who heads the Egyptology unit at American University in Cairo, gasps in horror in her home while examining Tribune-Review photographs of the site.
“These scattered remains … brutally pulled apart in search of one shiny piece of metal,” Ikram says in disgust.
“This is most horrific — someone’s ribs!” she suddenly exclaims. “Oh, God! It’s like the killing fields!”
Thieves, explorers and archaeologists have raided Egypt’s ancient sites for centuries. The Tribune-Review first reported in February that the looting had become a free-for-all after a 2011 revolution toppled one government and introduced continuing turmoil.
The tomb raiding threatens some of Egypt’s — and the world’s — most revered and valuable heritage sites, many of which have never been properly studied or catalogued, experts say. A few experts privately accuse the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of President Mohamed Morsy of ignoring the threat.
Some Islamist religious leaders have contributed to the frenzy by ordering “pagan” antiquities to be destroyed, or issuing directives on the “correct” Islamic way to loot them.
Police and local authorities insist they are overwhelmed by lawlessness and outgunned by criminal gangs with heavy weapons smuggled from Libya.
Meanwhile, the threatened heritage is a low priority for many Egyptians beset by daily electrical outages, fuel shortages, higher food prices, rising street crime and political instability.
For others, that heritage is a chance to cash in. Looted objects are sold in dirt-poor villages near sites such as Abu Sir al Malaq; others go to wealthy collectors, particularly in the United States, Europe, Japan and the Middle East, experts say.
Last week, Egypt’s new antiquities minister pledged to improve security “at all archaeological sites and museums.”
But that appears to be too little too late for the sprawling cemetery complex, or necropolis, in the governorate of Bani Suef. Of three sites examined by the Trib – the others are Dahshour and El-Hibeh – it is the most extensively ravaged.
Looters rip apart ancient mummies — here an arm is discarded — looking for potential amulets or gold jewelry in Abu Sir Al Malaq, according to Dr. Salima Ikram, head of the Egyptology unit at American University of Cairo.
Pieces of history
Abu Sir al Malaq is about 70 miles from Cairo, in the midst of green farm fields, palm and banana groves, all fed by a tributary of the Nile.
Once named in honor of the Pharaonic god Osiris, it is thought to have been a burial ground from 3250 BC until AD 700.
Archaeologists excavated it in the early 20th century, and its artifacts are found in museums around the world, according to Nadia Ashour, who oversees antiquities in Bani Suef. She calls it “one of the most important antiquity areas” in the governate.
It also is one of the most looted.
Hanna, the Egyptian archaeologist, has surveyed the site repeatedly.
“The looting is pandemic, every night and even in the morning,” she says.
Nearby villagers, asked for directions to the site, respond: “Antiquities? Do you want to buy antiquities?”
Ikram, the university Egyptologist, says Trib photos from the site indicate “intact tombs (were) completely robbed, bodies ripped apart. It is a disgrace.”
Some photos show ancient dog bones in front of looted tombs — the remains of animals buried in honor of Anubis, a Pharaonic, jackal-headed god worshipped as a protector of the dead.
“Here’s a piece of a coffin and the person it belongs to,” Ikram says, studying the photos. “For almost 3,000 years, they have been left undisturbed. They were not meant to be left like this, to be eaten by dogs and foxes and jackals … broken apart by greedy people.”
Hanna, picking her way across the site, points out chunks of painted or inscribed limestone tomb walls. Looters often “break off the pieces that have the engraving on it, to sell,” she says.
Some of the discarded linen mummy wrappings are mixed with papyrus, gypsum and mortar, then elaborately painted — “a trait of wealthier mummies,” she explains.
Sighing, she adds: “I think 70 percent of the site is gone.”
‘Cried the whole way home’
Bani Suef’s antiquities director, Ashour, says she is “heartbroken” that “sneak digging” is destroying such sites throughout Egypt.
Although Islam and Christianity forbid grave-robbing, she says, some Egyptians think their ancestors were pagans and, thus, are fair game to be robbed.
Read the full article at: triblive.com
Tune into Red Ice Radio:
Egypt Roundtable - Hour 1 - Ancient Technologies & Khemitology
Joseph Davidovits - The Construction of the Pyramids & Reconstituted Limestone
Christopher Dunn - The Giza Power Plant & The Lost Technologies of Ancient Egypt
Robert Bauval - Post-Revolution Egypt
Robert Temple - Egyptian Dawn & The Osiris Shaft
Robert Bauval - Tutankhamun’s DNA, Zahi Hawass Chasing Mummies & Robert’s Egypt Tour
Carmen Boulter - The Pyramid Code, Band of Peace, The Migration of the Nile & Cosmic Cycles
Joseph P. Farrell - The Giza Death Star
Looters butcher church frescoes in Albania
Egypt’s Antiquities Chief Quits Cabinet, Warns of Looting
Museum mystery: Spinning statue turns heads
Armed Robbers Loot Olympia Museum in greece
The human wall protecting Cairo museum.
Baghdad museum’s slow recovery
Top 10 Plundered Artifacts
Egypt Threatens Removal of Ancient Central Park Obelisk
Obelisk looted by Mussolini to be re-erected after 70 years
Ancient Artifacts: Fake or Authentic?
Theif caught with 863 ancient artifacts from various archaeological sites
Holocaust survivor ordered to return priceless gold artifact to German museum
Study confirms ancient Egyptian ceremonial objects made from meteorite
Boy etches graffiti into Egyptian Temple of Luxor: Sparks Outrage
Egyptians grab ancient land of the pharaohs to bury their dead
Egyptian Mummies as Commodities
Latest News from our Front Page
NATO Exercise in Ukraine Coincided with MH-17 Shoot-down
2014 07 24
Rapid Trident was omitted from the flurry of coverage on the shoot-down MH-17.
From the U.S. Army in Europe website:
Rapid Trident supports interoperability among Ukraine, the United States, NATO and Partnership for Peace member nations. The exercise helps prepare participants to operate successfully in a joint, multinational, integrated environment with host-nation support from civil and governmental agencies. ...
Warning of ’imminent’ terror attack in Norway
2014 07 24
Norwegians were warned Thursday of the concrete possibility of a terror attack occurring in that country at the hands of people with connections to an extremist group in Syria.
A press conference was called in Oslo, Norway on Thursday where an announcement was made of a "possible concrete threat" to national security in that country from terrorists related to an extremist ...
Judge says government can access everything in a Gmail account
2014 07 24
All your emails are belong to us.
At least that’s what the latest court order from a judge in New York says. The warrant, granted on June 11, states that the government can access all the content and files contained in a Gmail account.
Yes, this is a significant blow to privacy.
The subject of this specific search relates to a money laundering ...
Scotland Yard Spied on Grieving Families: secret surveillance after police victim shot seven times in head ’by mistake’
2014 07 24
More terror from the ’anti-terror’ brigade.
Undercover police gathered evidence on 18 grieving families
By Rob Evans and Vikram Dodd | The Guardian
Undercover police officers secretly gathered intelligence over two decades on 18 families fighting to get justice from the police, it was revealed on Thursday.
The intelligence covering high-profile campaigns was collected between the mid-1980s and 2005, and affected grieving families ...
Air Algerie AH5017 with 116 onboard goes missing for hours, found crashed in Mali
2014 07 24
An Air Algerie flight carrying 110 passengers and six crew members has reportedly crashed in Mali after having disappeared from radar early on Thursday morning between Burkina Faso and Algeria.
A French Ministry of Defense official told Fox News that the two French fighter jets located the wreckage of the plane, which had crashed in Mali. An airport official additionally confirmed ...
|More News » |