Mubarak is gone, and with him, so is the history of Egypt, shovelful by shovelful

Fifty seven hundred incidents is a far higher figure than has been emerging from Egypt where the lack of news tends to create the impression that with the re-creation of the Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs and re-establishment of site guards, the crisis is over. It seems from that, we were seeing only the beginning.

Art of Counting  Deep pits have been dug under numerous homes near temples, allowing looters to remove artifacts at their leisure.  This boldness is immensely costly in a country so thoroughly saturated with antiquities that any stroll in the desert can bring ancient material to light.

Gangs of armed Muslim treasure hunters took advantage of the chaos and began plundering ancient tombs and antiquities storerooms throughout Egypt. The illegal diggings and lootings are ongoing and thought to exceed 5,700 incidents so far, with at least 130 known smuggling attempts out of the country.

Illegal digs near ancient temples and in isolated desert sites have swelled a staggering 100-fold over the past 16 months since a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year regime and security fell apart in many areas as police simply stopped doing their jobs.

“Criminals became so bold they are digging in landmark areas.” including near the Great Pyramids in Giza, other nearby pyramids and the grand temples of the southern city of Luxor, said Maj.-Gen. Abdel-Rahim Hassan, commander of the Tourism and Antiquities Police Department. “It is no longer a crime motivated by poverty, it’s naked greed and it involves educated people,” he said.

But in the security void, the treasure hunting has mushroomed, with 5,697 cases of illegal digs since the start of the anti-Mubarak uprising in early 2011— 100 times more than the previous year, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press from the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police.

Related crimes have risen as well — 1,467 cases of illicit trading in antiquities and 130 attempts to smuggle antiquities abroad. At least 35 people have been killed in incidents connected to illegal digs, including 10 buried alive in the southern city of Naga Hamadi in March when the hole they dug in the ground caved in.

Thieves are no longer simply scouring the far edges of often-unvisited sites. Instead, they dig directly into archaeological mounds close to (or actually in) active excavations and high-traffic landmarks.

There is a simple, understandable reason for this increase–an almost utter lack of security.  Anyone who travelled in Egypt pre-2011 could tell you how many security personnel there used to be throughout the country.  Dozens were perched at every road stop and they often blanketed excavations and tourist sites.  With the disintegration of the infrastructure, however, those security forces simply blew apart like so much dust.

MNBC  After the Egyptian ‘Arab Spring,’ the lack of protection for many archaeological sites throughout the country has caused an increase in the looting and robbery of Egypt’s most ancient and treasured artifacts. 

U.C. Berkeley archaeologist Carol Redmount, who has been excavating and studying ancient sites in Egypt for over 20 years, showed NBC News’ Richard Engel the scope of the problem.  She works 180 miles south of Cairo in a town called Al-Heba.  Her site was completely destroyed by looters in the year and a half since the revolution. 

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