Antiquities and Archaeology
Controversial security walls help protect Egypt’s antiquities
Archaeological sites saved from rampant looting and encroachment
By Garry Shaw. Web only
Published online: 30 April 2014
As looting continues at archaeological sites across Egypt, controversial security walls built in Cairo before the 2011 revolution have helped to protect vulnerable sites. In recent months, the archaeological site of Deir el-Ballas, about 40km north of Luxor, has been damaged by looters and encroachment, reports Peter Lacovara, a senior curator at the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta who excavated the site in the 1980s and recently revisited the area.
Before the 2011 revolution, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) initiated a programme of constructing concrete security walls around archaeological sites in an effort to define the areas and to protect them from unauthorised visitation, looting and development. The first of these was completed at Giza in 2008, to prevent a the neighbouring village and the cemeteries of Nazlet el-Samman from encroaching any further on the pyramid site, as well as to block illegal entry to vendors. Walls were also built at Abydos in Middle Egypt and around the palace site of Malkata in Luxor.
At the time, the walls’ construction drew criticism from local communities, especially from the villagers of Nazlet el-Samman who complained that the structures blocked not only their access to the site but also the much-needed income from tourists. Others complained that the walls damaged the sites’ aesthetic appeal.
In the face of rampant looting, however, the walls appear to have been successful. According to Lacovara, “the walls at Malkata, Giza and Abydos have generally stopped expropriation of land and minimised looting in contrast to similar sites without such protection,” adding that site inspectors at Deir el-Ballas hope to persuade the local governor to build a security wall around what remains of the site to help protect it from further damage.
Two Coptic stone artefacts vanished from the Open Air Museum at Luxor Temple. The two objects, carved in the shape of lions or cats and dated to the Medieval period, had been secured to a platform by metal bands. One of the slots was found empty, while the other contained an inscribed block, put in the artefact’s place, apparently to make its disappearance less obvious.
The theft occurred between noon and 6pm on 10 April in an area patrolled by a single guard, though the museum as a whole is protected by police and temple guardians and surrounded by a chain fence. Local authorities are taking the theft seriously, and have reportedly questioned 140 people, according to the online magazine The Luxor Times.
The Open Air Museum, which opened in 2010, displays architectural fragments found during excavations around Luxor Temple over the past 50 years. When arranging the pieces for display, conservators discovered that many of them could be fitted together. This enabled the restoration of the temple’s lost walls, some of which were dismantled through the millennia by people in need of readily available building materials.
Meanwhile, in the Faiyum Oasis, police have arrested a gang attempting to sell a collection of 11 ancient artefacts, including three mummies and five mummy portraits dated to the Graeco-Roman period. According to Ahmed Abdel-Aal, the Faiyum's head of antiquities, the artefacts seem authentic, and are absent from official records, indicating that they were probably excavated illegally.
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