Digital awareness in the time of looting

Anna SchwartzCommentaryLeave a Comment

Mummy mask from El-Hibeh

The Egyptian uprising, which began in early 2011 and led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak and the establishment of a transitional government under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), has had a devastating effect on archaeological sites throughout the country. Since the beginning of the revolution, illegal digging and looting at Egyptian archaeological sites, as well as break-ins at artifact storehouses, have increased 100-fold. This increase can be attributed to a number of factors, including the breakdown of security and order across the country, political instability, economic necessity, backlash against the old regime and old-fashioned greed. El-Hibeh is one of these threatened archaeological sites.

Located approximately 200 miles from Cairo, the ancient city mound was founded during the Third Intermediate Period, and contains remains from the Pharaonic, Ptolemaic, Roman, Coptic, and early Islamic periods. Carol Redmount, an archaeologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has been excavating there since 2001. As early as June 2011, her team began receiving reports and photographic confirmation of extensive looting occurring at the site. Egyptian officials claim marauding gangs of looters, many of who allegedly escaped from jail during the revolution, are now robbing Egypt of its precious cultural heritage.

In an interview with PRI’s The World, Redmount describes the site in May 2012:

[The] cemetery has been thoroughly looted, body parts are strewn everywhere, pieces of mummies have been left out in the open. Bones are everywhere. Now they’re are largely dis-articulated, sometimes you can see the packages of mummy cloths, jawbones, skulls, sometimes toes still with flesh attached. It’s horrific.


Looted mummies at el-Hibeh (Dr. Robert Yohe)

In response to the looting, Redmount launched the Facebook page “Save el-Hibeh Egypt.” The goal is to raise awareness not only about el-Hibeh but about the extensive looting occurring across Egypt—and the site appears to be doing just that. With over 1,700 members, the archaeology community and other interested parties are using the page as a forum for discussion, generating awareness via reports and photographs from the field, as well as sharing the latest news coming out of Egypt. Web-based social media like Facebook has the potential to play a pivotal role in raising awareness about threatened cultural heritage around the world. If these sites can ignite a multi-country revolution, why can’t they help prevent the looting and illicit trafficking of antiquities, as well? Lend your support and join “Save el-Hibeh Egypt” today!

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Anna Schwartz

Anna Schwartz is currently a Museum Studies graduate student at New York University. Prior to attending NYU, she lived in Israel for two years and attended graduate school at Tel Aviv University where she studied Middle Eastern history. Anna is interested in the intersection of antiquities and politics, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia, and how museums can act as a hub for fostering dialogue and promoting cultural exchange. She also holds a B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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