Saturday 15 June 2013

Monica Hanna on Speaking Out

Dr. Monica Hanna, an Egyptian archaeologist, surveys the looted graves
at Abu Sir Al Malaq.'You see dogs playing with human bones, children scavenging
for pottery and painted sarcophagi.You also find very well mummified fragments.
It is very macabre,' Hanna says  (Shawn Baldwin | For the Tribune-Review)

Dr. Monica Hanna (Betsy Hiel, 'Egyptologist risks life, career to expose looting', Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 15, 2013) is:
a leader in exposing the antiquity-looting that has exploded since Egypt's 2011 revolution. She appears on Egyptian television debating government officials, takes reporters to looted sites, and encourages Egyptians to protect their heritage. [...] Not everyone appreciates her work; she often receives threatening phone calls: “People say that I am foreign-paid, that I have a foreign agenda, or that I am doing this for personal glory.” A policeman told her uncle that she should stop because “she is bothering really big people.” Salima Ikram, Hanna's former teacher and head of American University's Egyptology unit, is not surprised by the threats: “That means she is doing her job well. She is scaring some of the syndicate people who live around and feed off of the antiquities.” Hanna concedes she may be risking her career: “I might not get future permits to work on archaeological sites from the antiquities ministry. But, then, it's ethics versus career — if I cannot talk about this, then I really have no place to teach my students one day that we have done our best to protect our heritage.” [...] Her commitment arose, she said, because foreign archaeologists were afraid of losing work permits if they spoke up and antiquities inspectors who reported looting were usually ignored.
She details one particularly hairy moment when showing several journalists looting at an ancient burial site:
several men – one with a shotgun slung over a shoulder — threatened her. “I heard one man say, ‘Beat her and take her camera,' ” Hanna said afterwards. When the men phoned for police, she hid her camera's memory card in her shirt. After 45 minutes of argument, she was allowed to leave. “The locals, who are a part of the looting, don't want the photos out there because then their business stops,” she explained. 
It is a pity that such photos do not also shame dealers and collectors into stopping buying the products of such destruction no-questions-asked. They however are inured to images like these, they have always accompanied collecting, and these people feel no responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

To note however is the fact that wherever somebody speaks out, tries to show what is happening, get some debate about whether this is 'right'/important or not, the sole response is threats and insults. Those heritage professionals (I use the term loosely) that should be combating this problem by public education and decisive action are not only shying away from doing either (PAS in the UK, and according to this article MSA in Egypt), but generally try their hardest to prevent any criticism from being aired.

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