Wednesday 30 April 2014

The Loss and Looting of Egyptian Antiquities

Salima Ikram, 'The Loss and Looting of Egyptian Antiquities', Epoch Times April 29, 2014.
For the tomb robbers, theft takes a variety of forms. Individuals may dig several holes in sites hoping to find objects that they can sell [...]. These holes are so numerous that they are clearly visible on satellite images. This unsupervised digging contributes to the destruction of sites, not only because objects are stolen, but also because the sites’ context and history are compromised. Organized mafias pose an even greater danger. These individuals were significant antiquities traders in the past, and have now become more dominant due to the power vacuum and high demand for their products. These mafias have organized with networks that extend to Europe, North America, the Middle East, and possibly the Far East. They have access to boats leaving from unsecured ports in the Red Sea and on the Mediterranean coast, thereby allowing for easy export of their illegal merchandise. Armed gangs enter sites and methodically remove decorated parts of tombs and temples, destroying the structure and adjacent sections of monuments. They sometimes even use heavy machinery to accomplish their work, destroying entire buildings in the process. Since 2011 these mafias have employed villagers throughout Egypt to dig at sites and bring them objects to purchase, with the result that small-scale looters are encouraged. Stories spread by word of mouth of the amounts of money that the objects fetch, often greatly exaggerated, have particularly increased the number of small-scale looters.
In order to help protect the heritage, US authorities are proposing joining the other nations who also are states party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, in scrutinising the ancient Egyptian artefacts coming across their borders at this difficult time. For some reason, US dealers and collectors want to stop this. They do not read articles like Ms Ikram's and consider what they can do to help. Probably they do not think all that much at all about anything other than their own selfish needs.

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