Monday, 8 August 2016

"Live Science" on Egyptian Looting

Owen Jarus takes a rather dramatic line in his recent Live Science article: ' Blood and  Gold: Children Dying As Egypt's Treasures Are Looted' (August 8th, 2016). The article was quickly followed by a text by a trade lobbyist denying it all and sniping "Live Science blames Western collectors at behest of advocates with ties to Egypt's military dictatorship". This of course deflects attention from the main issue. People (not even 'brown skinned natives') living in a hot country are not scrabbling around in the dust and dirt on rubble-fille3d archaeological sites for fun. They do it to get artefacts, bits of pot, carved stone, painted wood etc. They only do this because somebody will give them money for these items. The reader can work out for themselves why the international antiquities trade associations pay lobbyists to try and draw attention away from that with sniping and the not-infrequent personal attacks on conservationists.

One of the sites mentioned in the Live Science text is Abusir el-Malek where the looting was documented taking place on a shocking scale several years ago (several times mentioned on this blog), I do see how it is possible for trade lobbyists to deny it is happening and that the rise of an international no-questions-asked trade in the items obtainable from sites like this being the main motor.

The article focuses on the damage the looting does to more than just the archaeological sites.
Children forced to work in dangerous conditions to pillage historical sites have died. Antiquities guards were gunned down within an ancient tomb they were trying to protect. Mummies have been left out in the sun to rot after their tombs were robbed. And looting pits have pockmarked ancient sites in such vast numbers that words cannot adequately describe. [...] 
The situation involving children is shocking:
"Children have been used primarily to reach small burial shafts and tunnels. Unfortunately, many children have lost their lives in the process," wrote Monica Hanna, an Egyptologist working with Egypt's Heritage Task Force, in a paper she published in the book "Countering Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods" (ICOM, 2015). In fact, more than 25 children, employed by professional antiquities gangs, died last year in shafts in Abusir el-Malek, Hanna told Live Science. Little of the money from the sale of artifacts goes to the children's families, Hanna said. Instead, most of it ends up in the pockets of antiquities dealers and middlemen, who smuggle it out of Egypt and into other countries, such as the United States. "Many of them [the middlemen] are part of the international mafia that smuggles drugs and arms in the region," Hanna said, according to her research and that of her colleagues. Hanna said buyers of Egyptian antiquities should know that "the object you buy does not only have a child's blood on it, but also [that] looting activities have completely destroyed the site similarly to what ISIS does to other archaeological sites in the region." [Reclaimed History: 9 Repatriated Egyptian Antiquities]
The connection between looting and the activities of armed criminal gangs is also clear:
Two guards — Mustafa Ali, 36, and Asrawy, 56 — were gunned down by a group of robbers on Feb. 20, 2016, while inside a 4,000-year-old tomb at the site of Dayr al-Barsha,according to a team of archaeologists working at the site. Both guards left behind families, including a wife pregnant with twins. (A GoFundMe page was set up by the archaeological team working at Dayr al-Barsha to help out the families of the two killed guards.) They died in a hail of bullets. "Over 20 bullet holes impacted in the relief decoration on the walls of the exterior room and two large blackened blood stains on the floor indicate the spots [in the tomb] where Asrawy and Mustafa were murdered," the archaeological team wrote in a statement on the web page. 
The article then goes on to say how the artefacts which are looted get 'laundered' by the no-questions-asked market to make "looted and smuggled antiquities look like they are part of the legitimate market [...] "Suddenly, an artifact that was ripped out of the ground last month is indistinguishable from one that's been in a private collection for decades, and which is entirely legal to export and sell", and the problems US Customs have identifying imports of illicit antiquities.

Vignette: On its way to the foreign market? 

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