Egypt accuses thieves of trying to steal an ancient statue with a crane
“The Crown has ordered the arrest of three suspects for four days pending investigations,” the statement said Tuesday, without identifying any of their names.
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It was not immediately clear how much progress the alleged thieves had made in dislodging the 10-tonne sculpture from its position before they were apprehended by police, or whether the statue had been damaged in the process.
“It’s about 3 meters [yards] long and 1 meter wide,” officials said of the artifact, adding that scholars have confirmed its status as an antiquity. “The effects of the digging operation were noticed around,” the statement said, also noting that the nearby area was not fenced.
A photograph shared by the Home Office showed three individuals with blurred faces standing next to the statue with a shovel, pickaxe and two buckets.
Ministry officials said the statue of Ramses II, who ruled ancient Egypt in the 13th century BC, was made of granite.
Prosecutors said they found videos of excavation work and statues – including possible antiquities – in messaging apps on the suspects’ phones. They ordered investigations into other people who may have helped the suspects.
Egypt’s Aswan Governorate, located about 800 kilometers up the Nile from Cairo, is home to a number of magnificent archaeological treasures, including the Abu Simbel complex, built by Ramses II himself. Facing four colossal 68-foot statues of the ancient pharaoh, the site’s Great Temple was hewn out of solid rock and is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Protected Site.
The theft of ancient treasures from protected sites for resale on the black market has long been a major concern for Egyptian authorities.
In 2013, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, wrote in the Washington Post that “looting is an age-old business and a crime that Egyptians will undoubtedly fight for years to come.”
A study of satellite images, published in 2016 in the journal Antiquity, found that the looting of archaeological sites in the country was even visible from space and reached even higher levels after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.
“Thieves are raiding our archaeological sites and selling their finds to the highest bidders,” Ibrahim wrote at the time. “They are taking advantage of Egypt’s security situation to plunder our nation’s economic future and steal our children.
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Sarah Parcak, professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, has researched patterns of looting across Egypt and said it has been happening since ancient times.
“You have thousands of sites and while the main sites, the tourist sites, are well guarded, some of the more rural sites – it’s impossible to have full time site guards,” she said. during a telephone interview. “What drives people to loot the sites? This is not necessarily a get-rich-quick scheme. Most often, people who loot do so because they need to feed their families.
She did, however, admit that the latest incident, targeting an entire statue, was on a “different level”.
“To loot a 10-ton statue, I mean, it’s not like you can put it in the back of your car and drive away,” she said. “I’ve moved multi-ton stones in Egypt and it’s a process that takes days, and it’s not safe.”
“I did a lot of research on looting, and in general yes people use equipment on construction sites, but cranes?
In recent years, authorities have made progress in cracking down on the illegal trade in stolen property.
Cairo authorities have facilitated the return of more than 29,000 antiquities smuggled from around the world over the past seven years, Ahmed Khalil, chairman of the board of the Anti-Money Laundering Unit, said in June. money and the financing of terrorism, reported the Egypt Independent.
Earlier this month, Egyptian authorities said an ancient wooden coffin had been returned to the country by the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences after US officials determined it had been illegally taken decades ago. years, reported the Associated Press.
Additional reporting by Ellen Francis.
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