Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Interview with Hawass: Egypt’s 'Indiana Jones' Says New Theory on King Tut’s Tomb is Wrong

CAIRO — The antiquities sector in Egypt has been shaken by several crises over the past four years. Home to many of the world’s antiquities, Egypt has been losing its historic legacy on a daily basis. Years of instability helped expand illegal excavation activities, and via smugglers, ancient Egyptian artifacts are now sold in major auctions around the world. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Antiquities once again tried to draw the world’s attention to its monuments, this time by focusing on a new potential find in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, in what Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh al-Damaty described as “the discovery of the century.”

Al-Monitor interviewed Egyptian archaeologist and former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass, who spoke about the main challenges facing Egypt in this field and offered his take on possible solutions.

The text of the interview follows.
Al-Monitor:  What do you think are the main causes for the crisis plaguing the archaeological sector in Egypt, which faces continued smuggling of antiquities and neglect of archaeological sites and museums?

Hawass:  The security turmoil in the aftermath of the January 25 Revolution has given rise to more illegal excavation in the areas surrounding historic sites and under private homes. Nearly two-thirds of Egyptian antiquities were smuggled abroad in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Antiquities trafficking is ongoing, but to a lesser degree thanks to strict security measures at historical sites and their vicinities. Several museum-looting and antiquities-trafficking incidents took place in the wake of the revolution. Moreover, the decline of tourism led to inadequate funding of antiquities bodies who, as a result, have been unable to develop museums and sites.

Al-Monitor:  How should the government deal with the issue of antiquities trafficking?

Hawass:  I would suggest ongoing training of the personnel guarding historic sites in order to improve their performance. The antiquities law should be amended to ensure that the act of theft is dealt with as a felony rather than a misdemeanor. I would also suggest the reinstitution of antiquities seizure units at airports and ports, as well as the establishment of advanced warehouses to preserve the discovered artifacts, just like the 60 warehouses established by the military.

Al-Monitor:  What is the nature of cooperation between the Egyptian government and other governments to combat antiquities trafficking?

Hawass:  Cooperation usually takes place between the Ministry of Antiquities and Egyptian embassies and consulates around the world. The Egyptian consul in New York, Ahmed Farouk, said that Egyptian embassies take the necessary measures to stop any Egyptian antiquities auctions abroad whenever information is available. Illegal artifacts are then returned to Egypt. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also cooperates with foreign governments in this regard, and the ministry has been able to retrieve 700 smuggled artifacts. However, a considerably larger number has yet... Read All  Interview.

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