Over the last week or so, disturbing news has surfaced about damage being done to sites in Egypt by looters. The catalyst has been damage to a site at el-Hibeh being worked on by Dr Carol Redmount from UC Berkeley. Dr Redmount has kindly permitted me to quote in full an email she sent me describing the situation, which is below.
She has also set up a Facebook group entitled Save el-Hibeh Egypt
There is a very good (or depressing) article in Le Monde
Here is Dr Redmount's email:
[The newspaper article to which Dr Redmount refers is now at http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/er/newsdir/ElHibeh-Wafd-Article.
pdf The file is 5.5mb]
I got to Cairo and signed our contract with the Antiquities people as usual (and I had refused to buy plane tickets until I had heard our security clearances were actually through). The day before we were supposed to start work local security yanked our clearances. It seems there is a local "gangster" from the village south of the site with a "gang" who is ruthlessly looting and destroying the tell. I knew it had been looted after the revolution, when so much destruction occurred everywhere, and that sporadic additional looting had occurred, but the scale of the current destruction is horrific. This "criminal", as he is also referred to, has even threatened the local Antiquities inspectors. Evidently our local inspectorate has tried to get the pillaging stopped, but to no avail. No one is listening and security is unwilling or unable to do anything about the situation. So the net result has been that we have been unable to work so far and the tell continues to be destroyed.
It is deemed too dangerous for us to go to the site. We were trying to arrange to have our study materials moved to the SCA storehouse at Ahnasy el-Medinah so we could study it there (a royal pain, but better than nothing), but security is now refusing to let us set foot at all on the east bank of the tell, so we can't even get access to our storeroom to select the materials to study. (We've already driven past the site more than once because it is on the fastest route back to Cairo; last time we traveled we saw about ten men openly looting in broad daylight. Previously we were told they carried out their work at night.)
So, in desperation, when the local non-profit international high school in Cairo with which we are working to set up an outreach program was contacted by the media, I blabbed. The results you have below.
As all other approaches had failed (I'd been trying to get an appointment with the minister, without success), there was no other option. If something isn't done soon there will be little left of the site, and I'm not about to stand by and let it get destroyed without at least doing my best to get the looting stopped. We're also trying to get into the international media (preferably via the Egyptian mogul, to keep it local) to keep up the pressure and embarrass people enough to do something about the looting, rather than just sweeping it under the rug again.
Interestingly enough, a few hours after the media broadcast, Abdel Maqsoud and another SCA official were on a different t.v. channel presenting, in great detail, a list of all the storehouses and contents that had been looted, from the Delta down to Aswan. And once the newspaper was out I magically got an appointment with the new Minister of Antiquities, who probably isn't very happy with me. I was also advised by the media mogul, seconded by other Egyptians present (in my group, not his) that the best way to protect yourself in Egypt was to go completely, rather than half public. Hence our names and affiliations in the article.
And now that we've poked the hornet's nest, we're waiting to see how badly we're going to get stung. So far we haven't been deported. Wish I knew if that was actually a joke. People are referring to the situation here as the Fourth Intermediate Period, and it's a pretty good description.