Poor Egyptians dig up homes in search of antiquities

The TimesBel Trew, Matariya
An illicit trade in antiquities is booming in Egypt helped by a growing number of people illegally digging under their homes for treasure.

The authorities are struggling to stop the digs and have raised the maximum sentence for illegally selling antiquities from seven years in prison to life, but the collapse of the economy and the currency has encouraged the trade.

“In our business we deal in dollars most of the time so if you sell something for $10 which was worth seven Egyptian pounds, it’s now worth 18,” one antiquities trader said. “That’s more than double. The business has become more profitable for many people.”

He has worked as a broker for 17 years, acquiring antiquities from looters and selling them to buyers in Europe and the US. He said that a new wave of opportunists had started digging under their homes. The busiest areas are two poor districts of Cairo that sit on top of the ancient city of Heliopolis, which was populated from the pre-dynastic period to the Middle Kingdom, up until 1800BC. “The devaluation could be the reason why many more people who live in areas like Matariya and Ain Shams districts have begun digging only recently,” he said.

Between 2011 and 2014 the country lost $3 billion in artefacts taken from sites and museums, according to the International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities. Whole sites, including the 4,000-year-old Dahshur necropolis and Abusir cemetery, have been gutted.

Poor Egyptians are using desperate means to make money as inflation soars and energy and fuel subsidies are cut. Now that the value of the dollar has doubled many are trying to find ancient objects to sell internationally.

Read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/poor-egyptians-dig-up-homes-in-search-of-antiquities-vmcv8mzdn


Antiquities experts call for war on Isis looting in Syria and Iraq

The TimesBel Trew, Tripoli
British antiquities experts are calling for an international body to investigate and repatriate stolen artefacts to counter the looting and sale of antiquities from the Middle East.

The pillaging of archaeological sites and museums as well as illicit digging has surged in the security breakdown that followed the 2011 Arab Spring, becoming a multibillion-pound trade.

Satellite imagery of areas in countries such as Egypt and Syria now shows pock-marked landscapes, where opportunist thieves, including jihadist groups such as Islamic State, have dug for treasures to be sold on international markets.

Neal Spencer, keeper of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum, said that the only way to try to stop antiquities trafficking, and with it the destruction of ancient sites and thefts from museums, was for better international co-operation and the creation of a full database of objects.

“Archaeologists, museums, law enforcement bodies and reputable art dealers and auction houses must collaborate to create an open, transparent and freely accessible online platform to trace objects moving around,” he told The Times.

Read full article here: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/antiquities-experts-call-for-war-on-isis-looting-3xz5d59lt


Hobby Lobby under investigation over sale of 5th‑century Bible fragment

The TimesBel Trew, Cairo
Egypt is investigating the possible illegal acquisition of national artefacts by an American craft store company, including a 5th-century fragment of the Bible that was displayed at the Vatican.

Hobby Lobby, owned by the multibillionaire Green family, agreed to forfeit 5,000 artefacts this month after a US federal investigation found that they came from Iraq and were shipped under false labels via the UAE and Israel.

The Oklahoma company, which began acquiring historic items in 2009 to set up the Museum of the Bible in Washington, had to pay an additional $3 million to settle civil cases.

The forfeited items include tablets covered in cuneiform, an ancient system of writing. Egyptian officials have raised the alarm about other items within the Green Collection, including 1,600-year-old New Testament fragments.

A spokesman for the repatriations department of the Egyptian antiquities ministry told The Times: “We have launched an investigation into the matter, contacted the embassy abroad and the foreign ministry to try to find more details.”

Read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hobby-lobby-under-investigation-over-sale-of-5th-century-bible-fragment-thvs8zq93