Reports of Looting in El Hibeh

Update March 12th: The El Hibeh expedition has put together a press release and the looting was featured on Egyptian television last night on Al Qahera Al Youm.

Update March 10th: Excavator of the site Carol Redmount is posting to a newly founded Facebook group ‘Save El Hibeh Egypt’. For those without Facebook access, Glenn Mayer has posted her appeal in the comments on this page.

This Egyptian news video (click here to view) reports on looting in El Hibeh. Photographs of ransacked tombs and scattered human remains are shown from the 7.20 mark. These heartbreaking images bear witness to a heartless attack on Egyptian history and human dignity. An article about the looting has also been posted to alwafd.org and Glenn Meyer has provided a translation of the Arabic:

“While political parties are wrestling to reformulate the constitution and members of parliament are competing to gain as much media attention as they can. While politicians are busy attacking / defending the Military Council and economists are concerned about the bad financial situation of the country. While the Ministry of Interior is busy with the battle over whether to allow beards or not, while other activists are jostling to impose their opinions in the media throughout Egypt and while the elite are busy with these cases, there is a mafia is devoted to looting antiquities what the ancient Egyptian civilization left us. They are no longer practicing their crimes in darkness, but in the middle of the day with bulldozers while the Ministry of Antiquities and the police are in silent!!”

Because the Bulldozer has no heart and the mafia has no conscience, they have destroyed priceless antiquities, demolished temples that were beacons for the world, desecrated tombs and looted mummies leaving them in open air.

Horrible information has emerged about crimes that these antiquities mafia are committing in many areas in Egypt such as in Abu Sir, Abu Rawash, Sakkara and Beni Suef etc. Tonnes of Egypt’s antiquities have been stolen in the last couple of months, much of it transferred by trucks to hiding places controlled by this mafia.

The Egyptian soil still contains much that excavations continue to find, these excavations are conducted by specialized people under the protection of the state with the support of officials. Police have withdrawn from all the antiquities sites leaving them to thieves who do what they like.

It is unbelievable what is happening now to our history, you can just go to el Heba, Feshn office, Beni Suef and you would see an example of this wonder.

El Heba contains an exceptional collection of antiquities extending from the Pharaonic dynasties to the Coptic and Islamic Periods.  Antiquities that provide information about three consecutive periods of Egypt’s history.

Because of is very dry environment, the pharaohs chose el-Hiba to establish a Pharaonic archives center where they kept copies of papyrus documents, laws and stories. King Sishonk constructed a large temple similar to the temple of Karnak and sealed his name on every single stone.

Ancient factories were built around the temple and workers built their houses around these factories.  They built two huge cemeteries at the east and west sides of the city and surrounded it with fence to protect it.

When the Coptic era started in Egypt, the place became a unique area containing many Coptic antiquities and the same happened during the Islamic Period.

In short, El Hiba is an example of a rare location that contains antiquities from three different eras, Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic.  When this city was discovered in 1896 by the Egyptian Egyptologist, Mr. Ahmed Kamal, this was a great discovery.

Foreign missions started to come to this area with the hope of uncovering the antiquities while local police provided a specialist protection to this site.

As soon as the Egyptian revolution started and the police withdrew, the police left the area to the looters to find these priceless treasures.  The leader of the El Hiba mafia is a man called “Abou Atia,” who escaped an execution order. He has got hold of a bulldozer and hired tens of men equipped with guns and dynamite and are currently digging el Hiba looking for antiquities and gold within the tombs.

However, Abou Atia’s gang took different kind of antiquities from el Hiba, some of these have been moved to private magazines in order to be sold.  Tens of tombs were robbed, some mummies and sarcophagi were kept in places and others were left in the open air, small statues and some golden pieces were also stolen from the tombs.

Abu Atia’s gang has been looking for antiquities for a year now, they have dug 400 holes in the 2km city, the depth of some of these holes is more than 15 meters.

Because of this mafia, the beautiful and the important city of Hiba has turned into a battle field that our predecessors’ skulls and bones scattered all over the ground.  The whole area is covered by holes that these looters have made, the temple, most of the houses and tombs dated to 1700 B.C. are now demolished.

So the Ministry of State for Antiquities has found no one to protect them and it looks as though the Ministry believes that their only possibility is to protect the Egyptian Museum.

Sadly, foreign missions are more concern about Egyptian history / antiquities than the Egyptians themselves.  Are we waiting to ask the international community to interfere to save out heritage after we failed in protect it?

I met with Dr. Carol Redmount, specialist in Egyptian antiquities and a Professor at Berkeley, California and I asked her about what she observed after the latest security chaos.  Sadly she said that the condition of the Egyptian antiquities is painful after the Egyptian authorities left it with no protection against the looters.  She said, I live in Egypt many months every year and I visited all the antiquities sites in Delta and I have a passion for them that I feel they become part of me.

Q.     Did you visit El-Hiba in Beni Suef?

A.     I did, and I spent many years there excavating from 2001 – 2007 under
Egyptian supervision and I returned back in 2009.

Q.    How did you see this area?

A.    It is a complete antique city, very beautiful and the only one that
tells how the regular Egyptians used to live in the Pharaonic time because most of the habitants were regular people, farmers or workers.

Q.    Did you know what happened to this area in the past months?

A.    Unfortunately I knew, some people called me and told me about these
crimes happened in Al Heba, then I called the people at the inspectorate office and informed
them.

Q.    What did they say?

A.    We are so upset

Q.    Just upset?

A.    No, they said they tried to protect the city and they informed the
police and asked for help

Q.    What was the police answer?

A.    Nothing

There is only one meaning to what the antiquities expert said, this is that the Egyptian authorities protect the Egyptian mafia.

I express one phrase to these people who are protecting this mafia, that Dr. Andy Daily, an American Professor of History said to me “I love Egyptian history and every Egyptian must feel shame of what’s happening to the Egyptian antiquities from this mafia”. We really
need to feel shame.

An article in the French newspaper Le Monde also discusses looting and illegal construction occurring in a number of other sites throughout Egypt, particularly Aswan (a rough English translation is available here).


 

Update March 12th: Here is the press release issued by the El Hibeh expedition and also a link to the latest Egyptian television coverage.

Press release on the looting of El Hibeh
–The El Hibeh Expedition

Massive looting of archaeological sites in Egypt continues as security forces turn a blind eye to thugs plundering Egypt’s cultural heritage.

After Egypt’s revolution, priceless artifacts were stolen from the nation’s world-famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo as well as from innumerable storehouses scattered throughout the country.

Today the continued plundering of archaeological sites, which comprise Egypt’s cultural heritage in its most pristine state, presents an even more critical challenge as sites are often remote and protected by low-paid guards and state security seems unable or unwilling to halt the mayhem.

El Hibeh is one such site. On the east bank of the Nile in a particularly impoverished area of Egypt three hour’s drive south of Cairo, the archaeological site occupies about two square kilometers and includes cemeteries and the ruins of a walled ancient provincial town with a limestone temple, industrial facilities, houses and possible fort and governing residence. The remains date from the late Pharaonic, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and early Islamic periods (approximately 11th century BCE to eighth century CE). Hibeh is of special importance because it is one of very few relatively intact town sites remaining in Egypt and because of its extensive archaeological deposits dating to the Third Intermediate Period, Egypt’s last “Dark Age” and an era particularly poorly known archaeologically.

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The Women of Egypt and Egyptology: ancient, past, and present

In honour of international Women’s Day, an offering of a brief post celebrating the women of Egypt.

Women in Egypt were probably better off than in other ancient cultures, as they could travel and conduct business freely, retain control of their dowries, divorce their husbands, and inherit property, but their lot was still not an equal one and the rudimentary medicine of the age meant childbirth could often spell a death sentence. Nevertheless, there are many inspiring women of the age, not least the dazzlingly influential queens of the New Kingdom. Queen Ahhotep was praised by her son King Ahmose as ‘one who cares for Egypt. She has looked after her (Egypt’s) soldiers; she has guarded her; she has brought back her fugitives, and collected together her deserters’. She was awarded the military honour, ‘the golden fly of valour’.

Many Eighteenth Dynasty queens used powerful, kingly imagery. For example, Tiye appears as a sphinx at the temple dedicated to her at Sedeinga, Sudan, and Nefertiti is depicted smiting foreign enemies.

As Laurel Ulrich’s oft-quoted saying goes, well-behaved women rarely make history: Cleopatra VII, the famed last queen of ancient Egypt, came to the throne at 18 and was supposed to share power with her 10-year old brother, but instead took control of the country for herself. She was the first member of her Macedonian-Greek ruling family in almost 300 years to actually learn the Egyptian language!

As well as the ancient women who continue to fascinate us today, the achievements of women in Egyptology, both the pioneers of a hundred years ago, and the scholars of today should also be celebrated. Amelia Edwards, author of ‘A Thousand Miles Up the Nile’, is justly celebrated as instrumental to the foundation of the Egypt Exploration Society, the Petrie Museum, and the Egyptology chair at University College London. She bequeathed the foundation to UCL as it was the only place in England at the time where degrees were given to women.

But in addition to Amelia, there are many other women (too many in fact to enumerate here), often overlooked, who made significant contributions to the early development of Egyptology. Margaret Murray worked at Manchester Museum, excavated alongside Petrie, was an active suffragette, and was appointed Assistant Professor of Egyptology at UCL in 1924.

Many early Egyptology greats were accompanied to Egypt by their wives who helped run the excavations, as well as recording and drawing finds. Winifred Brunton, wife of Guy Brunton, drew all the illustrations for his publications of sites such as Qau el-Kebir and Badari, and drew the objects found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. She also painted very beautiful reconstructed portraits of Egyptian rulers. Lady Hilda Petrie even joined an all-woman expedition to the tombs of Saqqara.

Today, women in academia are still underrepresented; the higher up, the fewer women. As this study shows, in the US, only 24% of full professors are women and they earn 20% less on average. As such, today on Twitter, I’ve been gathering suggestions of inspiring women Egyptologists from around the world today. This very very short list only beings to scratch the surface, in terms of both individuals and their achievements, and there are so many more scholars I’d like to add, but the exercise has certainly made me think about just how many great women Egyptologists are out there! I hope readers here will share their own suggestions here in the comments.

  • Janet Richards has done great work on Egyptian society and social hierarchy, especially her Society and Death in Ancient Egypt. You can also read about her work at the tomb of Weni the Elder.
  • The work of Dorothea Arnold, curator of Egyptian art at the Met, has influenced our understanding of the Old and Middle Kingdom. You can read her paper ‘Amenemhat I and the Early Twelfth Dynasty’ here and watch her discuss the tomb of Perneb in an iTunes U video.
  • Yvonne Harpur’s ‘Old Kingdom tomb scenes’ is a great achievement and her online Scene-details Database is a very useful tool.
  • Willeke Wendrich & Elizabeth Frood lecture at UCLA & Oxford and edit the online UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, which makes available online introductory but scholarly articles.
  • Julie Anderson of the British Museum excavates at Dangeil in the Sudan & discovered the most southerly royal Egyptian statue yet found.
  • Kate Spence who lectures at Cambridge has excavated at Amarna, and in this video she introduces Akhenaten, his religious revolution, and his new capital at Amarna.
  • Ann Macy Roth is associate professor at New York University and Director the Giza Cemetery Project. Online you can read her book A Cemetery of
    Palace Attendants
    and articleLittle women: gender and hierarchic proportion in Old Kingdom mastaba chapels’.
  • Janine Bourriau, Elisabeth O’Connell, Renee Friedman, Salima Ikram, Patricia Spencer, Gay Robins, Joanne Rowland, Dominique Valbelle, Christina Riggs, Maria Cannata, Angela McDonald, Angela Tooley, Rosalind Janssen, Rita Freed, Denise Doxey, Joyce Tyldesley, Lana Troy, Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood,  Janet H. Johnson, Diana Craig Patch, Catharine H. Roehrig, Patricia Usick, Susanne Woodhouse, Marie Vandenbeusch, Chloe Ragazzolli, Nadine Moeller, Lynn Meskell, Katja Goebs, Sally-Ann Ashton, Hourig Sourouzian, Irene Forstner Mueller, Emily Teeter, Lise Manniche, Fayza Haikal, Ola El Aguizy, Tohfa Handoussa, Zeinab El-Kordy and many many many more

In the meantime, in Egypt itself over the past year, Egyptian women have made some remarkable achievements in striving for equality, but the struggle is ongoing:

In the country’s first election after Mubarak’s ouster, parliament saw very low female representation. Eight women elected and two appointed women make up less than 2 percent of the 508 seats in the People’s Assembly. Considering the proportion of women who applied, the chances weren’t big. In Cairo for example, only 80 women ran compared to 1,010 men. –dailynewsegypt.com

However, today thousands of women marched the streets of Cairo in protest. Presidential hopeful Khaled Ali, who was among the protesters, said everyone should support the demands of Egyptian women. “Women are an integral part of Egyptian society and the Egyptian revolution, and so [they have] to be fairly represented in the constitution and constituent assembly,” he said, suggesting that women constitute at least 30 percent of the assembly.

This excellent slideshow celebrates some of the many who are striving for women’s rights in Egypt today.

Prominent columnist Mona Eltahawy also joined the march saying that as a feminist, she believes “the women’s revolution is the most important revolution.”

“Women in Egypt have two revolutions; one against an oppressive regime and one against an oppressive society,” Eltahawy told Daily News Egypt. Eltahawy added that the large turnout sends a strong message that women are an integral part of the revolution and are demanding their rights. “We are here and we are not going anywhere,” she said.