As Tourism Collapses, Egypt Sees a Rise in Antiquities Looting

Conde Nast Traveler
Photographer: Susan Hack

Photographer: Susan Hack

Egypt's latest turmoil has not only caused a further collapse in tourism but also a vacuum around deserted heritage sites that has led to a surge in antiquities looting. The sands around the Bent and Red Pyramids at Dashur, for example, are now pocked with pits left from illegally excavated shaft tombs, such as the one I photographed here from horseback. Egyptian archeologists, who have taken to social media to alert the local and international community to the threat from illegal digs and land appropriation, hope that the new army-backed regime will place a higher priority on protecting Pharaonic and early Christian patrimony. The former Ministry of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, once told me that Egypt is so rich in antiquities that perhaps as many as 75 percent of known sites have yet to be fully excavated, particularly in the Nile Delta. The urgent challenge is to secure not just existing museums and monuments but also future tourism resources and evidence that enhances understanding of ancient Egypt's culture and history. Meanwhile, Monica Hanna, an archeologist who has been documenting incidents on Twitter at @monznomad and at the Save the Egyptian Heritage Facebook page, likens the thefts that followed the August 14 army clearing of two major pro-Morsi protests in Cairo to a gold rush. "Looting, treasure hunting has been going on since ancient Egypt, thousands of years," Hanna told the higher education journal Al Fanar. "Lately, it became like a gold fever."

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