Thursday, January 17, 2013

Egypt's antiquities under threat

In this more than 4,500-year-old pharaonic necropolis, Egypt's modern rituals of the dead are starting to encroach on its ancient ones. Steamrollers flatten the desert sand, and trucks haul in bricks as villagers build rows of tombs in a new cemetery nearly up to the feet of Egypt's first pyramids and one of its oldest temples
The encroachment also reflects the turmoil of today's Egypt, two years after the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubark
Polis, still in disarray since the revolution, do nothing to enforce regulations. Fired up by the sense of rebellion against authority, Egyptians feel little fear of taking what they want, sometimes to redress neglect or corruption by authorities, sometimes just for personal gain. Also, as the new pislamist rulers and their opponents struggle over the country's identity, experts fear Egypt's ancient monuments, which hard-liners see as pagan, could pay the price in neglect

Pyramid near the Dashour necropolis

In the case of Dahshour, villagers say their cemeteries are full and authorities don't give permits or land for new ones. So they took matters into their own hands and grabbed what they insist is empty desert to erect family tombs
"The dearest thing for us is burying our dead," said Mahound Abdel-Kader, a resident of nearby Manshiet Dahshour. "This land here is wide and flat, it's a valley. Where are the antiquities they talk about? ... We have no antiquities here"
He said nearby land had been set aside to expand the cemetery but after the revolution it was seized by armed local "thugs" who started building houses on it and selling off plots, a common problem with Egypt's new lawlessness
Like many others, he resented the authorities' concern over antiquities and tourism that the villagers say benefit only rich Egyptians, corrupt officials and foreign archaeologists, with no gains for the poor

Inscriptions found on tombs at the Dashour necropolis

The problem is not just at Dahshour. An explosion of illegal building the past two years is endangering Egypt's ancient treasures around the country, authorities say. Locals living next to some of most beloved pharaonic sites — including the famed Giza Pyramids outside Cairo — are seizing land, building homes, laying farmland or selling off parcels, said Mahound Youssef, head of antiquities for Dahshour
At the same time, looting has become more brazen in many places. Just a few weeks ago, several guards at Dahshour were shot and wounded when they confronted thieves doing an illegal dig during the night, he said

The pyramids at Giza
News report here.