This morning Dr. Gerry Scott gave an update from Cairo on how the crisis is affecting Egypt’s antiquities, sharing what new information he had.
Dr. Scott is director of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), an organization that supports nearly two dozen projects throughout the country and aims to help conserve Egypt’s antiquities. Its work has attracted numerous grants including funding from USAID.
The past few days have seen mass protests, with Egyptian citizens demanding that President Hosni Mubarak, a man who has led the country for nearly 30 years, step down. He has responded by sacking his cabinet and naming new ministers. Among those named is Dr. Zahi Hawass, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who takes on a new cabinet post dedicated to Egypt’s archaeological heritage.
Scott is in Cairo and has been telephoning project directors and archaeologists – collecting information and helping those who want to leave the country get out. His efforts have been hindered by the government’s decision to shut down internet access and cell phone service. Also, with the turmoil outside, he has been forced to work from his apartment.
He said that a number of archaeology teams are choosing to leave, including those at the Dakhleh Oasis and at the Temple of Mut in Luxor.
Dr. Scott has both good and bad news.
The bad news is that there is antiquities damage at the Giza Pyramids. Mark Lehner and his team are currently working there.
“I’ve heard that the team lost some equipment and that there was some damage to the antiquities but I do not know the extent of that at this point,” he said. He also does not know what exactly was damaged. The Egyptian army is now guarding the pyramids and access has been restricted.
Lehner’s team has halted their work for the time being. “The latest I’ve heard is that they are not working until the SCA has had a chance to record what’s happened there.”
One piece of good news is that looters attempted to enter Karnak temple last night but were turned back by local citizens.
“Apparently there was an attempt for some people to get into Karnak temple last night and loot – the local people came to the defence of the site and some of the men were apprehended by local citizens,” he said.
He also said that ARCE’s conservation work at Luxor continues on. Among the projects they are involved with is a ground water lowering project which prevents Luxor and Karnak temple from being partially flooded, it takes out nearly 30,000 cubic meters of water a day. “To the best of my knowledge it’s still operational,” said Scott. In addition scholars from the University of Chicago are continuing their epigraphic work at the site.
He also said that the SCA is still operational, at least in some areas of the country. “In Luxor I’m told the SCA is up and functioning, also in Abydos I’m hearing, it really kinds of depends on the site."
With the council still in operation at Abydos, Scott said that archaeological teams have decided to continue work there.