Egyptian Police Stop Modern Burials Near Pyramid

pyramid
Wikimedia Commons

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.

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.

As Egypt’s Tourism Industry Languishes, Antiquities Under Threat

Egypt
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.

Egyptian Mummies Weren’t Given Enemas, Study Shows

mummies
Ancient Egyptian mummies have been an object of fascination. The Greek historian Herodotus, who lived in the fifth century B.C., visited Egypt and wrote a description of the mummification process. Since no ancient Egyptian text survives, his account forms the basis of many descriptions in modern books and museum displays.

Now a new study by two Canadian scientists suggests Herodotus may have gotten it wrong.

Yahoo News reports that two of the key points in Herodotus’ account – that the internal organs were dissolved with cedar oil enemas and the heart was always left in place – don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. Researchers have examined studies of 150 mummies and put seven through CT scans and found little evidence of cedar oil. Also, in three-quarters of the mummies the heart was missing.

Herodotus also said that the brains were removed with a hook pushed through the nose. The study shows brains in about a fifth of mummies.

So why did Herodotus get it wrong? The study’s coauthor Andrew Wade of the University of Western Ontario says mummification was a lucrative business and its secrets closely guarded. In other words, Herodotus was handed a line. Imagine a bunch of mummy makers drinking wine by the Nile after a busy day at the office and laughing about that clueless Greek who showed up asking questions. “Cedar oil enemas? Yeah, save that for the tourists!”

Another possibility is that the mummy makers cut corners. In many animal mummies, used as offerings to the gods, researchers found only partial skeletons or wrappings that contained nothing. Temples made lots of money selling animal mummies to the faithful, and they created fakes to increase profits.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University has a longer account of Herodotus’ writings on mummification here. The study was published in the latest issue of HOMO: The Journal of Comparative Human Biology.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Pyramids Discovered In Egypt And Sudan

pyramids
You’d think archaeologists would have found all the pyramids of Africa by now, but two recent discoveries show there’s a lot more discovering to be done.

A team of archaeologists working in Luxor, Egypt, have just announced they’ve discovered the pyramid of Khay, a powerful vizier of the Pharaoh Ramses II (ruled 1279-1212 B.C.). The pyramid was made of mudbrick and originally stood 49 feet high.

In the seventh and eighth century A.D. it was dismantled and turned into a Coptic Christian hermitage. Hieroglyphic writing on the surviving bricks told the archaeologists to whom the pyramid belonged.

Earlier this month, archaeologists announced they had found the bases of at least 35 broken pyramids at the site of Sedeinga in Sudan. They’re about 2,000 years old and belong to the kingdom of Kush, which lasted from c.1000 B.C. to 350 A.D. before finally being conquered by the Empire of Axum in Ethiopia. For almost a hundred years from 747-656 B.C., the Kushites ruled Egypt as the 25th dynasty.

The Sedeinga pyramids really just pyramid-shaped tombs. The largest measures 22 feet to a side, while the smallest is only 30 inches to a side. Others in Sudan, such as those at Meroë, are much more grandiose. Those at the pyramid field at Nuri, shown here courtesy Vít Hassan, are up to 150 feet tall.

Last year, a satellite survey conducted by Dr. Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama found 17 suspected pyramids.

So how could these pyramids go missing? Well, most pyramids were much smaller than the famous ones at Giza and Saqqara that we always see pictures of. Shifting sands and erosion helped hide them. In the case of the Sedeinga tombs, later people took stones from them to build other structures.

Even some sizable pyramids have all but disappeared because they were made of inferior materials. Some of the last pyramids of Egypt are barely visible today because of shoddy workmanship or having been made with mudbrick instead of stone.