El Hibeh update 22 March

Dr Carol Redmount of the Hibeh Excavation Team has spent some more time at the site:

I am very pleased to report that we have just finished six days of work studying pottery and objects from our previous excavations in Hibeh. It’s an hour and fifteen minutes commute each way, but we are so happy to be working at all. We thank the SCA and especially Mme. Nadia Ashour, Director of the Beni Suef Taftish and Mr. Atef Helmy, who is in charge of the SCA Ihnasya storehouse and who has most generously permitted us to work in his office. The long commute makes for long days and I am usually exhausted by the time we reach our dig house, and so I am behind on all my correspondence. Friday is my day to catch up. And I am very, very happy to be working.

I am delighted to report that Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Ayedi, Mme. Nadia’s boss and a very high official in the SCA who is in charge of all of Upper Egypt (I will post his exact title shortly, I want to make sure I have it correctly), visited us on a tour of inspection of looting of Upper Egyptian sites. He came to us at the Ihnasya Storehouse accompanied by Mme. Nadia Ashour, Director of the Beni Suef Inspectorate and several other SCA members of the taftish. We had a very productive conversation at Ihnasya, and he told me that the issues of looting sites and protecting Egypt’s cultural heritage, including Hibeh, had already been discussed in parliament and would be discussed again. This was wonderful news. He then also generously gave permission for our whole team to visit the site as part of his tour of inspection. We were thrilled as so far I was the only one who had been able to see Hibeh. Our next stop was the Spanish mission at Ihnasya el Medinah, where I was able to meet Carmen Perez Die for the first time (she usually works in the fall and we usually work in the summer), an unexpected pleasure. She graciously showed us around the site in general and her current work, and pointed out several looting holes, one very deep, 6 meters or more, and other damage to the site after the revolution. I later heard there were 54 looting holes on the site. Our next visit was to Hibeh, a little over an hour’s drive.

We arrived at Hibeh where our delegation, headed by Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Ayedi, whom we cannot thank enough for permitting our team to accompany his site inspection visit with members of the Beni Suef taftish and to take photographs. We were met by a number of Beni Suef security officials. We began our inspection from the north, beginning with the two cemeteries, the larger one Graeco Roman (probably Ptolemaic through Late Roman eras; the Late Roman mummies may be Coptic), the smaller one, where we had worked in 2009 and 2006, almost certainly non-elite Coptic. The mummy featured in the newspaper article was still there, and the plundered tomb with the gorgeous uraeus frieze was still visible. The thieves or their accomplices seem to have made some effort to cover up some of their handiwork, as I discovered when I compared pictures from July with those taken on our first visit with Mme. Nadia earlier this week. Bones and mummy cloth are still scattered all over, along with sad remnants of the desecrated bodies–tufts of human hair, a small braid, a pair of toes, matting, jaw bones, skull bones, every type of bones. It was horrible. Everyone was shocked. We next moved through the North Gate into the city mound itself. Immediately holes are visible everywhere. Some of these holes are many meters (8 or more at a guestimate) deep. As we proceeded through the site there was evidence of looting everywhere. Several vaulted tombs had been opened and emptied. Other structures had been dug up. Every single excavation area where we had worked since our first season in 2001 had at least one looting hole in it. At the southern end of the site it was clear that a number of areas had been badly disturbed and then filled in again. Wheelbarrow marks going in two directions could be traced in the dirt. My team and I accompanied the larger delegation for much of the visit and had photographs taken in solidarity with our Egyptian colleagues. We also raced over the site taking as many pictures as we could for scientific purposes. We must document how things have changed from our last season of excavation so that if and when, god willing, we are able to return to our work at the site we will have some idea of how to proceed. Dr. Ayedi made a thorough inspection and even proceeded to the cemetery east of the town mound (tell) to see the looting of burials there. All of us, Egyptians, Americans and Canadians, were appalled by the devastation at Hibeh. There is not a single area of the site that has not been violated. One of my Ph.D. students also told me that she saw a man on a motorcycle come over the hill while we were at the site; he took one look at the people on the tell and turned around immediately and fled.

We wish to express all our thanks and gratitude to Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Ayedi of the SCA for visiting and inspecting the site, for permitting us to come with him on his inspection. We are especially grateful for his permission to take photographs and for his permission to return to visit the site to try and reclaim as much scientific data from the looting as possible in the time remaining to us for our work. Mme. Nadia has made an official report on the condition of the site and is doing and has done her best in the past to get the site protected. Hibeh’s situation is especially problematic because of the criminal organization headquarted in the village just north of the tell that is coordinating the massive looting and violation of the tell. While we are making great progress, and the SCA is doing and has done its best to try and ensure the protection of Hibeh, the site remains unprotected. We are doing our best to help the SCA and our Egyptian colleagues win its struggle to achieve protection for the site. With your help we are making a difference, and I thank everyone, Egyptians and foreigners, from the bottom of my heart, for all your support in our struggle. Without adequate security, the looting will continue day and night. I cry for Hibeh. And for all other sites like it in Egypt.

We wish to say especially that we stand in solidarity with and are ready to help in any way we can all of our Egyptian colleagues at the SCA, all of the Egyptians who have joined this facebook site, and all Egyptians everywhere who care about and work for the preservation of their heritage. We also recognize the wonderful and important contributions of all those non-Egyptians who care so much about protecting the cultural heritage of Egypt and who have worked tirelessly with us and with our Egyptian colleagues to do whatever they could to help protect Egypt’s archaeological sites. We are proud that our facebook site has enabled all of us–Egyptians and non-Egyptians–to work together harmoniously, productively and collaboratively for the greater good. We thank you all, and we honor you all. And may our just cause succeed, and may Hibeh and all Egyptian sites and Egyptian cultural heritage be protected for the future of Egypt and all its citizens, and for the future of the world and all its citizens.

Here’s a link to some video taken at the site… http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150700696664354

Will add some images here as soon as I can, am travelling so it’s not so easy. There’s lots of new and awful images at the FB group page at http://www.facebook.com/groups/337119989673652/

One response to “El Hibeh update 22 March

  1. Pingback: A Petition to stop the Looting of Egypt’s Archaeological Sites « archaeologicallinks

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