Early this week, eminent University of California archaeologist Carol Redmount launched an appeal to rescue the El-Hibeh archaeological site in Beni Suef, almost 300km south of Cairo, through creating a Facebook group page.
El-Hibeh site is key to understanding ancient Egyptian history, as it is the least disturbed city mounds of the Third Intermediate Period (1070BC – 664BC).
El-Hibeh is the modern name of the ancient Egyptian city of Tayu-djayet which means “their walls”, referring to the massive enclosure walls built on the site by the high priests of Amun at Thebes to separate them from the kings of Egypt at Tanis. This shows the country’s division during the period between the 20thdynasty and the 22nddynasty.
In the Graeco-Roman time, El-Hibeh was known as Ankyronpolis and during the Coptic era it was called Teudjo. The city is estimated to have been built in 1070 BC by the high priest of Amun and lasted for over 1,700 years. It includes remains from ancient Egyptian, Ptolemaic, Roman, Coptic and early Islamic eras.
On the Facebook group page, Redmount posted the story behind the creation of the account. She wrote that after the January 25 Revolution she contacted people in Egypt in order to ensure that El-Hibeh was not subjected to looting like other archaeological sites in Egypt. The lack of security in the aftermath of the revolution had led robbers to raid the ancient necropolis and museums.
Redmount continued that photos sent to her in May, June and December 2011 and January 2012 confirmed that the site had in fact been looted.
She also heard that there were raids going on at night by an unknown person from El-Ogra, the village north of the site, and that no one could catch the person.
“That is where things stood when I came to Egypt in February,” Redmount wrote. When she arrived to Egypt to resume excavation works, which had stopped in 2009, she registered with the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA).
“The day before we were supposed to start work I received a phone call telling me that local Beni Suef security had yanked our permission to work. The upshot was that a local “gangster” from El Ogra… had formed a sort of mafia focused on looting the site,” Redmount wrote. His “gang” has continued to steal from the site on a “massive scale.”
On her way back to Cairo through the eastern desert highway, Redmount saw about ten men openly looting the mound and desert behind. She succeeded in photographing them.
The American archeologist also pointed out that one of the team’s drivers took the same road last Friday and reported that again numerous men were busy with wholesale looting of the site in broad daylight.
“This is an on-going crisis. They are destroying the site,” Redmount asserted. She went on to explain that the MSA officials have tried everything they could to get the looting to stop but nothing appears to have had an effect.
“This is something police and security seem to be ignoring, turning a blind eye to or worse. We started the Save Hibeh Facebook page because we are at our wits end as to what else to do,” Redmount concluded.
“Hibeh is vitally important to understanding the character of ancient Egypt in the Third Intermediate Period, a very confusing and confused historical era for which only limited archaeological resources exist. Archaeology is controlled destruction, but looting is obliteration. It destroys an irreplaceable, nonrenewable cultural resource that belongs to humanity,” asserted Redmount.