Monday 25 March 2013

Looting at Dashur

In Egypt, lootable archaeological sites were guarded well for decades but after Mubarak's ouster the once-feared police services simply melted away. The elimination of the state's police services has left a security vacuum in Egypt and is an open invitation to trespass without fear of reprisal. Until 1996, the 4,500-year-old Dahshur royal necropolis was a closed military zone. It has never been properly surveyed:   
DAHSHUR, Egypt — An Egyptian archaeologist points to fresh motorcycle tracks on the desert sand, traces left by the gangs who dig under the cover of darkness for Pharaonic treasures. Dozens of burial tombs untouched for millennia lie open and ransacked of their contents. Mounds of earth signal the location of other illicit excavations. The looters "work from sunset to sunrise. It's systematic; it's open; it's in front of everyone," says Monica Hanna, 29, an archaeologist. 
Hanna has been documenting the looting at Dahshur. "It is history for everyone that is being lost." she says. Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the plunder of archaeological sites appears to have become more widespread, and more professional. Activists say looting that was once erratic has now become sophisticated and it is satisfying a thriving demand in Europe for Egyptian antiquities smuggled out of the country. Collectors who buy this stuff among their no-questions-asked purchases are financing these looters:
The thieves are organized in gangs; some are armed and violent. [...]  They come every night, sometimes in groups of up to 40 and armed with machine guns, say custodians at the sites. They work with sophisticated equipment to move mounds of sand that have protected the dead for thousands of years. Guards hired to protect the sites have not had success in trying to stop the looters; three were badly injured in confrontation two months ago. [...]  says Sayeed Hussein, 32, a custodian at the site. "How am I supposed to approach an armed gang when none of us have weapons?"[...] thieves have removed valuable statues from the tombs, and that even a small item can sell for about $600 on the black market.  In a country where many live on government handouts, $600 is a small fortune.
The items recovered can be sold to buyers at a tidy profit, you can see them being sold no-questions-asked (and no proper indication of how and when many of them actually came on the market) in several hundred online venues.

Is the answer to reimpose a repressive police presence in the source countries, or to attempt to prevent culture criminals from profiting from an open, non-discriminatory and clandestine antiquities market?

Catrina Stewart, 'Egyptian tomb raiders persist under poor economy', USA Today   March 24, 2013

1 comment:

Larry Rothfield said...

Surely there are other options apart from the first, and in addition to the second.

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