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Egypt's top archaeologist warns of looting

Egypt’s political upheaval has led opportunists to loot the country’s antiquity sites, says a top archeologist.

Zahi Hawass standing near the broken vitrine containing the damaged New Kingdom coffin.
Zahi Hawass standing near the broken vitrine containing the damaged New Kingdom coffin.
Image: AP Photo/Sandro Vannini, Egyptian Museum, HO

TOP EGYPTIAN ARCHAEOLOGIST Zahi Hawass has warned that the country’s antiquity sites were being looted by criminals amid the country’s political upheaval.

Egypt’s antiquities, he warned, were in “grave danger” from criminals. He called on the youth groups behind the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to step down 11 February to help protect antiquity sites.

“Since Mubarak’s resignation, looting has increased all over the country, and our antiquities are in grave danger from criminals trying to take advantage of the current situation,” he wrote on his website.

On his website, Hawass listed some two dozen archaeology sites that have been raided by thieves since Mubarak’s ousting. The sites include the warehouse used by archaeologist from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art at Dahshour, a pyramids site on the outskirts of Cairo. Hawass also said illegal construction has taken place on antiquity sites.

The list includes ancient Egyptian tombs, Islamic sites and warehouses and are spread across much of the country from the outskirts of Cairo, the Sinai Peninsula and the southernmost city of Aswan.

The looting is part of a crime wave that has gripped Egypt since 28 January, when the police mysteriously disappeared from most of the country following deadly clashes with the anti-government protesters. The army was called out to restore order, but it has been unable to fully take on a policing role.

Archaeology sites have chronically been a soft target for thieves because of their isolated location and the relative ease with which lowly paid guards can be bribed to look the other way.

“The situation looks very difficult today and we are trying our best to ensure the police and army restore full protection to the cultural heritage of the country,” Hawass said on his website.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art joined Hawass in voicing concern over the looting.

“The Met and the entire museum community worldwide are increasingly concerned about what appear to be ongoing, grievous security breaches at Egypt’s historic sites and archaeological digs,” the museum’s director, Thomas P Campbell, said in a statement Thursday.

“The world cannot sit by and permit unchecked anarchy to jeopardize the cultural heritage of one of the world’s oldest, greatest, and most inspiring civilizations. We echo the voices of all concerned citizens of the globe in imploring Egypt’s new government authorities … to protect its precious past. Action needs to be taken immediately.”

- AP

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