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
If Someone Secretly Controlled What You Say, Would Anyone Notice?
2014 10 01
The subject enters a room in which a 12-year-old boy is seated. A 20-minute conversation ensues. The subject quizzes the boy about current events and other topics to get a sense of his intelligence and personality. But the boy is not what he appears to be.
Unbeknownst to the subject, the boy is wearing a radio receiver in his ear, and ...
Obama has had accurate intelligence about ISIS since BEFORE the 2012 election, says administration insider
2014 10 01
‘President Barack Obama’s intelligence briefings have provided him with specific information since before he won re-election in 2012 about the growing threat of the terror group now known alternatively as ISIS and ISIL, an administration insider told MailOnline on Monday.
‘Unless someone very senior has been shredding the president’s daily briefings and telling him that the dog ate them, highly accurate ...
Can holding a magnet against your head help defeat depression?
2014 10 01
Former GP Sue Mildred suffered from crippling depression and anxiety for 20 years.
On two occasions it was so severe that she ended up in hospital, and for 15 years she was unable to work.
Sue, 51, has tried antidepressants, talking therapies and, out of desperation, even ECT (electro-convulsive therapy), where an electric current is passed through the brain.
This did ...
Extremists to have Facebook and Twitter vetted by anti-terror police
2014 09 30
Theresa May to announce new Extremist Disruption Orders to strengthen counter-terrorism if the Tories win the next general election
Extremists will have to get posts on Facebook and Twitter approved in advance by the police under sweeping rules planned by the Conservatives.
They will also be barred from speaking at public events if they represent a threat to “the functioning of democracy”, ...
Scottish Independence: Protesters demand revote
2014 09 30
Pro-independence campaigners gathered outside the Scottish Parliament for the second day in a row, this time to demand a revote of the September 18 referendum.
While yesterday’s “Rally For A Revote” saw the return of Saltires and Yes banners to Holyrood, it did not match the turnout for the “Voice Of The People” rally held on Saturday, when up 3000 people ...
|More News » |