Egypt’s Ancient Heritage In Peril As Turmoil Continues

Egypt
Mallawi Museum One of the stolen artifacts.

The political instability in Egypt is taking a heavy toll on the country’s ancient heritage.

Thieves have taken advantage of the chaotic situation to steal artifacts to sell on the illegal antiquities market, while vandals have been satisfied with simply destroying them.

Both groups recently struck at a museum in Mallawi, about 190 miles south of Cairo. When supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi held a protest in the museum’s garden, thieves took advantage of the police being distracted to break in and steal more than a thousand artifacts. When vandals saw the museum was open and unguarded, they rushed in and smashed up the place.

National Geographic has published some sobering pictures of the destruction. The museum has put up a Facebook page detailing what has been stolen in the hope that it will make it harder for the thieves to sell the artifacts.

Looting has been reported at numerous museums and archaeological sites around the country. Instability and lack of income from tourism also means many archaeological sites are suffering from neglect. There may be a political motivation for some of the thefts. Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram quotes Mokhtar Al-Kasabani, professor of Islamic Archaeology at Cairo University, as saying the thefts are to raise money for the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya. The Muslim Brotherhood is Morsi’s party, and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya (Islamic Group) was allied with him when he was in power.

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya claimed responsibility for a 1997 terrorist attack in Luxor that killed 62 people, mostly tourists. So it appears fundamentalists are destroying Egypt’s past in order to raise money to endanger its future.

State Department Strengthens Warning Against Travel To Egypt

Obama Condemns Violence in Egypt

The State Department strengthened the intensity of its warning against travel to Egypt on Thursday. Overriding an earlier warning issued on July 3, the new alert advises U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Egypt at this time and asks Americans currently in the country to leave.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer travel to Egypt and U.S. citizens living in Egypt to depart at this time because of the continuing political and social unrest. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on July 3, 2013.

The announcement followed a new series of protests in Cairo, which have caused more than 500 deaths at this writing.

For the full warning, visit the State Department’s website.

Egypt Reopens Important Tombs At Saqqara


Despite facing political turmoil, authorities in Egypt have been forging ahead with renovations of key archaeological sites. Last week saw the renovation and reopening of two important tombs, the Serapeum and the tomb of Akhethotep & Ptahhotep.

The Serapeum dates to 1390 B.C. and was a tomb for holy bulls. I visited in 1991 and the memories of the gloomy underground corridors and giant sarcophagi are still vivid in my mind. It was closed in 2001 due to water leaking inside and shifts in the earth that threatened the underground structure.

The tomb of Akhethotep & Ptahhotep housed a father and son who were both high officials for the last two pharaohs of the Fifth Dynasty around 2375 B.C. The double tomb is brightly painted with scenes of religious rituals, agriculture, hunting, and children playing.

Both tombs are at Saqqara, 30 kilometers south of Cairo and the site of Egypt’s first pyramid.

Authorities plan to open five more tombs soon. The government has spent millions of dollars on this work and hopes to lure back tourists who have been scared away by the recent unrest.

Check out this video from the Chinese-American NTD Television for some striking visuals of these two ancient tombs.

Egypt Protests Scatter Cruise Ships, Concern Tour Operators

EgyptEgypt’s tourism business has been suffering since the 2011 uprising that forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down. This week, in response to protests in Egypt, the vital industry received another blow as cruise lines and tour operators began making alternative plans.

“In an abundance of caution, Royal Caribbean International has decided to cancel Mariner of the Seas’ next port call to Egypt,” says a notice sent to travel agents Thursday. “Mariner of the Seas, which departs Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy, on Saturday, September 15, will no longer call on Alexandria, Egypt, on Tuesday, September 18. Instead, the ship will now call to Sicily (Messina), Italy, on, Sunday, September 16, and Valletta, Malta, on Monday, September 17.

That caution also applies to sister lines Azamara Club Cruises and Celebrity Cruises. It’s the up side to cruise ships, often called “floating resorts.” When trouble presents itself cruise lines simply sail in another direction.

Princess Cruises, the first to return to Egypt after the 2011 uprising, is staying the course, for now. “We haven’t made any changes yet to our upcoming calls to Egypt,” Princess Spokesperson Karen Candy told Gadling. “We’re closely monitoring the situation and will of course make any changes we feel necessary in order to ensure our passengers are safe.”

Security, it seems, is an ongoing problem in Egypt. Last Sunday, about 150 tour guides demonstrated outside of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, saying the lack of security is complicating attempts to lure tourists back.

“There is no security. This is not a joke,” Dina Yacoub, a 29-year-old guide told the Associated Press in a Washington Post article published just before this week’s anti-American violence in Libya, Yemen and Egypt this week. “We are asking tourists to come back … how would they unless there is security?”

The cruise line positions this week mirror their posturing after the 2011 unrest/chaos when they played it safe by keeping ships and passengers out of harms way.




[Flickr photo by archer10]

Egyptologists get back to work despite continuing tensions

Egyptologists
Egypt has been in the news again this week with more tensions between the people and the army. What has received less coverage is the fact that Egyptologists are quietly resuming their work after an unwanted vacation. You can’t keep a good Egyptologist down, and these folks are busy making discoveries and taking care of the country’s fabulous monuments. Old projects are getting back into gear, and new excavations are starting up.

An international plan to protect the fabulous temples at Luxor from ground water has resumed operations. The water is eating away at the foundations of Luxor, Karnak, and other temples and the team hopes to divert it to a nearby reservoir.

Earlier this month, construction workers stumbled upon an ancient tomb with a hieroglyphic inscription in the suburbs of Cairo. An archaeological team hurried to the site and discovered it dated to the 26th Dynasty (c.685-525 BC).

A lot of looting happened after what the Egyptian press refers to as the “events in January”. Luckily, some of it is being recovered. Egyptian Tourism and Antiquities Police recovered a painted limestone relief that had been stolen from a warehouse.

Some Egyptologists are making discoveries without even going to Egypt. Dr. Aidan Dodson of the University of Bristol, UK, walked into the Torquay Museum and realized a sarcophagus they had on display was an extremely rare one intended for royalty. Further investigation revealed that the child that had been buried with it was in fact 1,000 years younger than his casket. Elaborate coffins were expensive, so the grieving parents decided to save some money, dumped out the previous occupant, and put Junior inside.

Hopefully this field season will be a good one, and there’ll be plenty of Egyptology news to talk about here on Gadling.

[Karnak photo courtesy Sean Ellis]