Looters have done severe damage to Dutch archaeological digs in Egypt, says Maarten Raven, Egyptologist at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities. He was due to visit one of the digs this week, but was forced to cancel his trip due to the massive political upheaval in Egypt.
The disrupted digs are in Saqqara, not far from Cairo, where the Dutch museum has been overseeing an archaeological project since 1975. The site, where people were buried for a period of over 4000 years, is also home to Egypt’s famous step pyramids and monuments to entombed pharaohs from the 14th and 13th centuries BC, the time of Tutankhamen and Ramses the Second.
Dr Raven explains “There are still corners of the site which have yet to be properly explored. To this day, we are discovering burial monuments belonging to the highest-ranking officials in Egypt.” He says unofficial reports have reached him of looting at the dig, day and night. “There is no security, only total anarchy. Armed gangs are unearthing artefacts illegally all over the country. Pyramids and sealed private graves have been broken open, storerooms and depots have been plundered.”
As Dr Raven suggests, looters have also wreaked havoc outside of Saqqara. Their main targets are museum warehouses, where ancient treasures are stored. Last week, robbers forced their way into the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Most likely in search of gold, they destroyed two mummies and ancient statues.
“The people of Egypt have been kept in the dark,” says Dr Raven. “They are incapable of estimating the value of these treasures for their national identity, to say nothing of world heritage. Now the only law is the will of the strongest. I’ve always been afraid this would happen. All we can do now is look on and weep.”