Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Looted antiquities feed terror fears

Floating sarcophagi found in a canal near Minya this week are authentic, raising concerns over increasing illicit excavations, reports Nevine El-Aref

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Earlier this week inhabitants of the Deir Abu Nawas village in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya were astonished to see what seemed to be coffins floating in the Oda Pasha Canal that runs alongside the village.

At first they thought they could be the bodies of people, but coming closer they realised they were wooden sarcophagi with painted human faces and bodies.

The villagers immediately called the Tourism and Antiquities Police in order that investigations could start into where the coffins came from. A committee from the Ministry of Antiquities, led by ancient Egyptian Antiquities head Youssef Khalifa, embarked on an inspection tour to determine their authenticity.

In an interview after the tour, Khalifa told Al-Ahram Weekly that preliminary examinations have revealed that the sarcophagi are genuine pieces from the late Graeco-Roman period and that the mummies they contained were in a poor state of conservation, though still wrapped in their original linen.

The lids of the sarcophagi were anthropoid in form, in other words bearing human faces and bodies, and still had traces of colour on them. However, they did not bear any inscriptions, making it difficult to know who was originally buried in them, Khalifa said.

He said they had probably been uncovered during illegal excavations carried out near the canal, with those responsible throwing them into the canal after having failed to sell them or because of tight security measures in the area.

If this theory is true, it will be the second time in two weeks that gangs have failed to smuggle antiquities out of Egypt. Last week, Spanish police prevented hundreds of ancient Egyptian artefacts, discovered hidden in cheap vases during an inspection of a shipping container from Alexandria at the port of Valencia on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, from being smuggled into Europe.

 The inspection was part of a broader European crackdown on looting and the illicit trafficking of cultural objects.

The recovered artefacts include canopic jars, the vessels used by the ancient Egyptians to preserve the vital organs of mummified individuals; a statue of the goddess Isis; a black granite bust of the goddess Sekhmet; and a limestone head of the god Amun. A number of alabaster and clay vases and bronze and limestone statuettes were also found.

The Spanish police arrested one Spaniard and four Egyptians as part of the investigation. The objects are now in Madrid’s National Archaeological Museum pending transportation back to Egypt.

According to a 31 January article in the UK tabloid newspaper the Daily Mirror, the smugglers intended to use the proceeds of the sale to fund the Islamic State (IS) terror group.

The article read, in part, “A gang of alleged antique smugglers has been arrested after being suspected of selling stolen Egyptian relics to fund Islamic State terrorists.”

It continued, “The plundering of antiquities, particularly from the Middle East, has skyrocketed since the fighting, with much of the money landing in the pockets of terrorists, say archaeologists and international watchdogs.

“Officials from the Spanish civil guard who carried out the operation said they believed the money raised was going directly to fund jihadists.”

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