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Archaeological Field Work in Egypt After the Revolution

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#1 Ken Gilmore

Ken Gilmore


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Posted 31 July 2013 - 06:09 AM

Those who remember the theft of antiquities in Iraq during the recent war may be wondering whether the Egyptian revolution which toppled Mubarak has resulted in similar archaeological vandalism and theft. In addition, they may be wondering how archaeologists are faring in the new environment. Renown Egyptologist James Hoffmeier reports:

In January 25, 2011 the Egyptian revolution that toppled the thirty-year dictatorial reign of Hosni Mubarak began. On February 11th, Mubarak resigned. While the political news gripped much of the world, reports of some looting in the Cairo museum surprised everyone. Though limited in scope, security was quickly tightened and a human chair of volunteer guards locked arms around the historic museum. What happened to the museum seemed like a replay of the vandalism that occurred in Baghdad during the Iraq war of 2003, although the losses from the Cairo Museum were minimal. After only a brief interlude, the museum reopened.

Also like the war in Iraq, archaeological sites all over Egypt were plundered for their antiquities in the aftermath of the revolution. This remains an ongoing predicament. Even more distressing, many storehouses of the Supreme Council for Antiquities (now known as the Ministry of State for Antiquities, MSA) were plundered and hundreds of artifacts disappeared. This even happened at Saqqara. The MSA magazines in north Sinai, where the finds were stored from my excavations at Tell el-Borg, were likewise robbed. Pickup trucks drove up to the secure magazines, so the story goes, with well-armed Bedouin. The few guards and antiquities police were overwhelmed. The trucks were loaded up with boxes of stored artifacts and the thieves drove away. Also, in this storage facility were the thousands of sherds and artifacts from Israeli excavations in the Sinai during the occupation of 1967-1982; they were returned to Egypt in the 1990s. I was subsequently advised by an MSA official that the stolen material had been recovered, although I have not been able to verify this in person yet.

Overall, it appears to be a mixed picture, with instances of looting and intimidation setting back research:

Since 2001, Carol Redmount from Berkeley has been directing excavations at El-Hibeh, an important site from the 3rd Intermediate through Coptic periods. The site was and continues to be looted by a local mafia. Redmount returned recently to find countless robbery pits with human bones, mummy wrappings, and coffin fragments scattered around the holes. But the local mafia has been so intimidating that even the tourism and antiquities police would prefer to stay away, so Redmount and company were only able to gather some of the exposed material and have a study season. The future remains uncertain for work at El-Hibeh.

Despite this, work still manages to continue in some form:

Other Delta sites continue to be investigated. Penelope Wilson will be back at Sais, Joanne Rowland at Tell Quesna and the Minufiya survey, Eva Lange at Buto, a Polish team at Tell Farakha, and two projects at Tell el-Daba‘ (Manfred Bietak is finishing the excavation of the Hyksos palace, while his successor Irene Forstner-Müller works elsewhere on the site). After some years out of the field, Edgar Pusch plans to return to fieldwork at Qantir/Pi-Ramesses. Without mentioning every Delta project or those elsewhere in Egypt, it is clear that despite the challenges and problems for archaeologists, nearly all of the projects that had been excavating before January 2011 are still at work or are back after a brief hiatus. Given the ongoing plundering of sites and theft of antiquities, it is imperative the Egyptologists soldier on, and they are.

You can read the full article here at the Ancient Near East Today blog.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

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