Sunday, March 10, 2013



LOOTING has been going on for months at ANTINOOPOLIS, one of Egypt's largest archaeological sites, according to an independent archaeologist who says the site is "being destroyed systematically" by residents amid a complete failure from the government to protect the site.

This blog broke the news on Friday of WIDESPREAD PLUNDERING AT ANTINOOPOLIS.

Experts say Antinoopolis is the latest example of a widespread LOOTING EPIDEMIC that is sweeping Egypt all up and down the Nile Valley. Under the guise of "clearing farm land" or "expanding cemeteries" villagers are in fact plundering archaeological sites.

Looting has been going on at Antinoopolis since at least December, according to Monica Hanna, a researcher with the University of Humboldt in Berlin.

She told "Egypt Independent" online that she received that information from archaeologists who work at the site of the ancient Antinopolis, saying the site faces grave danger.

Hanna's appeal came after an Egyptian archaeologist, Dr Salima Ikram, issued an alert via Facebook last week that the archaeological site adjacent to the village of Sheikh Abada was being plundered and plowed under.

"Sheikh Abada, ancient Roman Antinoopolis, south of Malawi, in Middle Egypt, is being destroyed systematically," Dr. Ikram said in a frantic appeal for help on Facebook.

"The hippodrome, as large as the Circus Maximus in Rome, has been flattened and laid out with cemeteries," she added.

"The northwestern corner of the walled city has been bulldozed for agriculture, and the area near the Ramesses II temple has been bulldozed and levelled as the town is expanding there," she said in an urgent appeal to archaeologists around the world.

"We need to stop this. Archaeologists are meeting with the Ministry of State for Antiquities," to see how to restore order in that part of Upper Egypt.

The case of Antinoopolis was brought to light last December when some media outlets reported that the site was witnessing fierce excavation and demolition campaigns in an attempt to reclaim the land for agricultural use.

Some residents reportedly demolished a large area of ​​archaeological ruins and crypts made of mud-bricks in the Roman necropolis and prepared the area for planting after looting the site.

Hanna, however, told Egypt Independent in a phone call that the situation is getting worse, similar to what has happened to the archaeological site of Dahshur. In January, residents began digging a cemetery on a piece of land in the vicinity of the Temple Valley in Dahshur, an area that has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1994.

"There is a systematic construction of cemeteries on archaeological sites and the scenario is repeated everywhere," she said, adding that neither the state nor the police are protecting such areas.

She also said that the construction of cemeteries is often a cover to dig up antiquities.

"We are losing the archaeological sites forever. If a home is built, the state can later remove it and retrieve the land. But once the dead are buried, it is impossible to do so," explained Hanna.

Hanna launched a "Save Antinoopolis" campaign in order to shed light on the crisis facing the important archaeological site.

Moreover, she said that Ministry of Antiquities has been unable to confront the destruction of Antinoopolis, which includes archeological finds dating from the pre-dynastic period, the Middle and Modern Kingdoms, and the Ptolemaic period.

The site became famous during the Roman era after Emperor Hadrian established a huge Roman-style city named for Antinous, filling it with theaters, temples, schools and other historic buildings. 

Many of the buildings were still standing during the French invasion of Egypt in the late 18th Century, and scholars later wrote about it in the book "Description de l'Égypte."

The city flourished after the age of Hadrian until the Antinoë region became one of the largest regions of Egypt and included most of Upper Egypt, starting from the South of Fayoum until Sohag, with Antinoopolis as its capital, site of the the wretched modern village of Sheikh Abada.

The importance of the region continued during the Byzantine era. By the spread of Christianity, the city became home to a large diocese. It also remained important during the Islamic eras, as its name became Ansena.

Last year, archaeologists at the site announced that they had located a Roman cemetery dating at least as early as the mid-second to mid-3rd Century AD.

Attacks against Egypt's historical sites began during the 18-day uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak, when some managed to get into the Egyptian museum in Tahrir Square. Later, with the security vacuum around the country, many more archaeological sites were looted or vandalized.

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