Egyptian police have stopped an attempt to expand a modern graveyard right next to the ancient site of Dahshur, home of the Bent Pyramid, Ahram Online reports.
The pyramid had already been damaged earlier this year by the encroaching cemetery. Authorities stopped construction at that time, but now new incursions are threatening the site. In the more recent incident, police arrested one man and are looking for three more.
The pyramid, which reopened to the public in 2009 after many years of being closed, is believed to have been built by the Pharaoh Sneferu. It gets its name from the fact that its upper portion slants at a different angle from the lower portion. Egyptologists believe that as the structure was being built, engineers changed their design out of fear that it would collapse. As a result, the bottom part of the pyramid rises up at a 55º angle, then transitions to 43º as it nears the top.
Dahshur is a royal necropolis and several other pyramids and tombs are in the area.
This is just one of a series of incidents that are threatening Egypt’s priceless ancient heritage. Continuing political chaos and a lack of sufficient security are making archaeological sites easy prey for “developers” and looters. Last month an entire museum was looted. Most artifacts were stolen. Those that couldn’t be moved were destroyed, with vandals smashing statues and burning mummies. The economic crisis in Egypt is fueling much of the theft, and a rising Islamist movement that has no respect for pre-Islamic cultures is creating an atmosphere of callousness.
Since the January 2011 Revolution, Egypt has been suffering social and political unrest, and its tourism industry has been hit hard.
Now the tumultuous situation is affecting one of the nation’s main sources of income – its ancient heritage. Al-Ahram Weekly investigated several reports of damage at ancient sites and found a dire situation of neglect and willful destruction. At the ancient capital Amarna, farmers spread their fields onto the archaeological site. Part of the Graeco-Roman site of Al-Bordan got bulldozed when “developers” built holiday homes for themselves. At the ancient city of Iwn, a group moved in and built a car wash right on top of some ancient buildings.
In some places the destruction has been stopped. Police stepped in at Amarna before any serious damage was done. In others, the damage is already done and is even continuing.
The most famous site to suffer damage is Dashour, site of the famous Bent Pyramid (shown here in this Wikimedia Commons image). Part of the pyramid was damaged when locals built a cemetery nearby. Others in the area see the value of the site and staged a protest at the pyramid, holding up signs that said, “God does not bless a nation that ruins its heritage,” and, “Heritage is our past, present and future. Let’s protect it with love and respect.”
A growing Islamist movement in Egypt has been blamed for the recent upturn in disrespect for ancient sites, but the Al-Ahram reports that even Cairo’s ninth century Ibn Tulun mosque has suffered neglect and the area next to the walls is being used as a refuse dump.
Tourism is one of Egypt’s main sources of hard currency. With tourist numbers down, police and archaeologists struggle to get the funds to protect the sites that generate income, thus creating a vicious downward spiral.
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.
The Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim has announced that the Avenue of Sphinxes in Luxor will reopen in March after a long period of restoration.
Luxor is a sprawling complex of temples and one of the greatest monuments of the ancient world. The Avenue of Sphinxes is a long road stretching 2.7 kilometers flanked by hundreds of sphinxes. It was built by the Pharaoh Nectanebo I (ruled 380-362 BC) to replace and earlier one built by Queen Hatshepsut (ruled 1502-1482 BC).
While some stretches of the avenue have always been visible, much of it was buried or destroyed over the centuries. Now the entire length is being restored as part of an ongoing project to improve the entire site.
The opening is planned to coincide with next year’s Berlin International Tourism Market. Egypt is anxious to draw tourists back to the country after the recent political instability. Considering the current protests in Cairo, the government has a lot of work to do before March.
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.
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.