Friday, 9 March 2012

Egypt: Reports of Recent Looting in El Hibeh


el-Hiba in the Bani Suwayf governorate is the site of the ancient Egyptian city of Tayu-djayet (t3yw-ḏ3yt), in Coptic times Teudjo. From the late 20th Dynasty to the 22nd Dynasty, al-Hibah was a frontier town, marking the division of the country between the High Priests of Amun at Thebes and the kings of Egypt at Tanis. Recentreports suggest the remains of the town are being devastated by ongoing looting (Margaret Maitland, 'Reports of Looting in El Hibeh', Eloquent Peasant March 9th 2012). This refers to an unconfirmed news report from AlQahera AlYoum with a shocking video, photographs of ransacked tombs and scattered human remains are shown from the 7.20 mark. Maitland gives a translation of the Arabic commentary of the report supplied by Glenn Meyer:
there is a mafia is devoted to looting antiquities what the ancient Egyptian civilization left us. They are no longer practicing their crimes in darkness, but in the middle of the day with bulldozers while the Ministry of Antiquities and the police are in silent [...] Horrible information has emerged about crimes that these antiquities mafia are committing in many areas in Egypt such as in Abu Sir, Abu Rawash, Sakkara and Beni Suef etc. Tonnes of Egypt’s antiquities have been stolen in the last couple of months, much of it transferred by trucks to hiding places controlled by this mafia.[...] Police have withdrawn from all the antiquities sites leaving them to thieves who do what they like. [...] As soon as the Egyptian revolution started and the police withdrew, the police left the area to the looters to find these priceless treasures. The leader of the El Hiba mafia is a man [named in the report] who escaped an execution order. He has got hold of a bulldozer and hired tens of men equipped with guns and dynamite and are currently digging el Hiba looking for antiquities and gold within the tombs. However the gang took different kind of antiquities from el Hiba, some of these have been moved to private magazines in order to be sold. Tens of tombs were robbed, some mummies and sarcophagi were kept in places and others were left in the open air, small statues and some golden pieces were also stolen from the tombs. [This] gang has been looking for antiquities for a year now, they have dug 400 holes in the 2km city, the depth of some of these holes is more than 15 meters. [...] So the Ministry of State for Antiquities has found no one to protect them and it looks as though the Ministry believes that their only possibility is to protect the Egyptian Museum. Sadly, foreign missions are more concern about Egyptian history / antiquities than the Egyptians themselves. Are we waiting to ask the international community to interfere to save out heritage after we failed in protect it?
Well, I am sure foreign collectors will be among those queuing up to buy the freshly surfaced material once the Egyptian mafia get their smuggling networks set up and operating. I am also sure that foreign collectors will be out there in force arguing for keeping those channels open on the grounds that if the Egyptians cannot stop the smuggling unaided, why should they aid them?

The AlQahera AlYoum reporters here accuse the present government and local officials of supporting this mafia,
"the Egyptian authorities protect the Egyptian mafia".
The main evidence of this however seems to be their lack of action, compared to what the writer of the articles assumes the reader will infer would have happened before the January 'revolution'.

The comment about the Ministry only being concerned to "protect the Egyptian Museum" certainly fits what was happening in the months following January 28th 2011 when there were denials that much looting was going on in the rest of Egypt and a virtual news blackout on the subject. This report is one of the first to appear in recent months to suggest that not only was the looting on a much larger scale than was initially suspected, but that it is still going on. I find it astounding that the new Minister of Antiquities has made it a priority to employ even more people in the SCA, and yet when people are needed on the ground to stop this kind of thing and investigate it, there is nobody available to do it. Where are they, and what are they doing?

There is however a problem with this report. The photos showing human remains dragged out of tombs and deposited among rubbish need not reflect recent looting. The coffin packed with crud looks as if the crud has been there a long time. Some of the Luxor tombs - sadly - look a bit like this - and some of it seems to be caused by feral dogs. The photos shown on the report have captions in a European script, not arabic, who supplied them, when and why? There is a reference in the report to a site which is no longer active. Furthermore Google Earth's coverage of the site using photos of march 2011 shows some deep holes all over it and the adjacent areas - but the same holes (with the possible exception of a few in the SE corner of the complex) are already there in photos of 2005 and 2007. How many new holes have appeared since then? To what extent is this report a true reflection of the situation here, and to what extent is it political provocation? This of course is not to say that the site (like many others throughout the country) does not need better protection in the current period of political turmoil.

UPDATE 12.03.12 see now for a revision of the above.



Here is a photo of a destroyed mummy mask from looted tomb at Hibeh, Egypt, 1st c. BC, courtesy of Prof. Robert M. Yohe II, who sent it to us in 2005.

Paul Barford said...

Thanks, I have a feeling that the article is tendentious, possibly part of an attempt to undermine the position of the incumbent minister by a rival or rivals... I bet that's not however how the Black Hat Guys will present it.

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