Egypt’s archaeological sites are “in grave danger” from looters, according to the country’s chief antiquities official,Zahi Hawass. It’s just a few weeks since he downplayed the problem of looting despite a break-in at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo during which mummies were smashed and statues broken. At the time he insisted that “the sites of Egypt are safe”.
But yesterday Hawass posted a long list of affected sites on his blog, cataloguing instances of damage and theft across the country. He said that looters have broken into warehouses and tombs at sites including Saqqara, Dahshur, Giza and Abusir. Objects taken include inscribed blocks, and one important 19th-dynasty tomb in Tell el-Maskhuta, near Ismailia, was destroyed. Illegal excavations are also occurring at many sites.
There is little information about the extent of the damage, or what items have been stolen. “There’s no clear information, it’s very confusing,” says Frank Rühli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. He had to cancel a research trip to Saqqara last month but is hoping to return this summer. “It breaks my heart if anything is damaged.”