Monday, June 17, 2013



MEET Monica Hanna, the bravest archaeologist in Egypt ... boldly standing up to Islamists and looters ... courageously showing the international news media how her beloved Egypt is being stripped of its heritage.

Anyone who can look this fierce and stylish ... defying snipers to take potshots at her ... while showing journalists the shambles of a looted burial site ... well, she automatically wins our respect and admiration.

"You see dogs playing with human bones, children scavenging for pottery," says Hanna, stepping cautiously around grisly remains and deep pits dug into tombs by looters at Abu Sir south of Cairo. (Photo by Shawn Baldwin For the Tribune-Review)

"The first time I saw this, I cried the whole way home," she told the Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW. "I have been coming here for six weeks now and, each time I come, the site looks different — new pits are dug."

Abu Sir is about 100 km (60 miles) from Cairo not far from Antinoopolis. Hanna first broke the news of ANTINOOPOLIS LOOTING to this blog earlier this year.

Sacred to Osiris, Abu Sir was a prime burial ground from 3250 BC until AD 700 for Egyptians wanting to be buried near Osiris.

Archaeologists excavated it in the early 20th Century, and its artifacts are found in museums around the world ... now it is one of the most looted places in Egypt.

Hanna, the Egyptian archaeologist, has surveyed the site repeatedly.

"The looting is pandemic, every night and even in the morning," she says.

Nearby villagers, asked for directions to the site, respond: "Antiquities? Do you want to buy antiquities?"

 As she and several journalists documented looting at Abu Sir, several men – one with a shotgun slung over a shoulder — threatened her.

"I heard one man say, 'Beat her and take her camera,'" Hanna said afterward.

When the men phoned for police, she hid her camera's memory card in her shirt. After 45 minutes of argument, she was allowed to leave.

"The locals, who are a part of the looting, don't want the photos out there because then their business stops," she explained.

Hanna, 30, is a leader in exposing the antiquity-looting that has exploded since Egypt's 2011 revolution. She appears on Egyptian television debating government officials, takes reporters to looted sites, and encourages Egyptians to protect their heritage.

Not everyone appreciates her work; she often receives threatening phone calls: "People say that I am foreign-paid, that I have a foreign agenda, or that I am doing this for personal glory."

A policeman told her uncle that she should stop because "she is bothering really big people."

Hanna concedes she may be risking her career: "I might not get future permits to work on archaeological sites from the antiquities ministry. But, then, it's ethics versus career — if I cannot talk about this, then I really have no place to teach my students one day that we have done our best to protect our heritage."

She is working with three groups to monitor archaeological sites; a website will allow people, including tourists, to anonymously report damaged antiquities.

Her commitment arose, she said, because foreign archaeologists were afraid of losing work permits if they spoke up and antiquities inspectors who reported looting were usually ignored.

"If we Egyptians don't protect our heritage, who will?" she asks.

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