Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Looting at Antinopolis

Another alert in the blogosphere to another site in danger from encroachment and looting in post-Revolution Egypt (Francesco Tiradritti. 'The battle for Egypt’s ancient Roman site, Antinopolis'  Published online: 21 May 2013). This lies in the vicinity of Minya, a region already noted for lawlessness when it comes to antiquities and looting.
Antinopolis, located near the Nile over 30km south of the nearest large town, Minya, is being damaged by encroachment and digging for artefacts. The well-preserved Roman hippodrome has now been swallowed by the ever-expanding cemetery for Sheikh ‘Ibada, the neighbouring small town. Large areas are being prepared for redevelopment and parts of the ancient necropolis on the north of the site have already been converted into farmland. 
The alarm was raised by Rosario Pintaudi (an Italian archaeologist from the Vitelli Papyrological Institute, Florence), together with Jay Heidel (Chicago University’s Oriental Institute). there was a meeting with  Mohammed Ibrahim, the former minister of antiquities (reportedly: "who only promised to address the matter when he realised that a nearby temple, built by Rameses II, is also under threat").
Raymond Johnson, the director of the archaeological mission from the University of Chicago in Luxor, says: “This is a disgrace, it’s a real tragedy. After the meeting with the minister they increased the number of guards, but many of them are from the same families as those that pillage the site.” [...] “It’s a battle,” says Pintaudi, “groups of children pass by us, grinning, armed with spades with which they dig out artefacts and sell them. People don’t like our presence here.”
The photos should be studied by those who advocate "punishing looters". The Google Earth photos of the site go up to 22.2.2013 and the encroachment can be seen, the modern town has extended some 50 m into the west side of the Roman site and the extension of the cemetery onto one arm of the hippodrome bank can clearly be seen (the bank appears to have been eroded, and then levelled(?). On the other hand, one can clearly see the constraints of the site, the cemetery is already huge (compared to some up and down-river) and the town's population no doubt expanding. Most of the usable (ie flattish) land  is occupied by a complex of several overlapping archaeological sites covering an area of 3.6 x 1.1 km behind the town. It is pretty obvious that this has been a severe constraint on the development of the town for a number of decades. How can further development on this site be managed sustainably (or in fact, can it)?

Antonous the Gay God's website hits.
Antinopolis has a web-presence independent of the archaeological issues, it's regarded by a certain interest group as the city of "Antonous, the Gay God".   It seems (see cluster map) that he has a lot of devotees. Maybe they'd be interested in helping do something about the damage to this site?

As for any looting going on, I expect we will now be hearing from the foreign collectors (who say they have the "rights" to collect and preserve the world archaeological heritage if they want to) that since the brown-skinned people and 'corrupt local authorities' are not going to protect the sites from the looters, then it is theirs by rights. By buying the little bits the looters are searching out, they claim they are "protecting them" (the little looted objects). I would say the fact that people with no scruples and self-serving (pseudo) arguments will willingly buy things like this without even batting an eyelid let alone asking any searching questions is the main reason why these people are digging into these sites, smashing what they cannot sell. If world opinion turns against these unscrupulous collectors and dealers, shames them into changing their ways, the looters lose their customers. But then, how much shame do these collectors have anyway? Enough to make them start asking their suppliers for some frank answers to some pretty straightforward questions? Enough shame to clean up this dirty and destructive market? Have a look on any antiquities site, have a look on some of the internet auction venues. Where are all those little artefacts coming from? Where have all the little artefacts dug up on sites like Antinopolis gone? What actually are the reasons for assuming that the one question does not answer the other? Ockham's razor is poised above the "it's from an old collection, but I cannot document that" argument, surely. Let's STOP this now. 

Vignette: Children with shovels at Antinopolis

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