Although prospecting for antiquities has been going on for several decades, recently monument trafficking in Egypt has been spreading like wildfire, with several big families in Upper Egypt in particular implicated in the illegal practice.
Dreams of striking gold and finding that long-lost treasure have made those who prospect for monuments ready to sacrifice their lives for it. That distant dream has, however, claimed the lives of thousands of youth who die in tunnels they believe will lead them to a yet undiscovered Pharaonic era tomb.
Four friends met a few days ago at a restaurant owned by one of them in Giza when fortuneteller told them that a Pharaonic treasure was buried underneath one of their houses, in return for LE 5000. He said that the treasure was 11 meters beneath the bedroom.
One of them, a contractor, didn’t waste any time. He brought excavation tools in complete secrecy and asked his son to help him find the coveted treasure, until at nine meters deep, the hole collapsed and with it their dream and one of the friends, who died in the accident.
They were arrested after failing to hide the corpse.
A related story stars Ahmed, who had taken to regularly visiting a female fortuneteller and dream interpreter in a village near his hometown. One day went to see her, all the while keeping his eyes closed lest his happy dream escape. When she told him that the dream meant there was a treasure under his house, he rushed back to his village of Kafr Al-Wasaya in Atfeih, to tell his friend, who advised him to consult an archeologist.
Two hours later, Ahmed was in Al-Salam City recounting his dream to an alleged expert, who demanded LE 1,000 to view the location. At the house, she began reading strange words out of a strange book, then asked for LE 1,000 in return for her assistance in uncovering the treasure that she alleged was buried very deep and required the digging of a tunnel.
Seeking the help of three workers, the two friends dug a 70-meter-long tunnel that was 20 meters deep, but they couldn’t escape the curse of the Pharaohs and were buried under the house which collapsed on their heads. The two friends and the fortuneteller were arrested In Sohag, Ahmed Shalan and Sayed Ebeid sought the help of a Moroccan sheikh to find the treasure in Shalan’s house. No sooner did the sheikh pinpoint the place, the two friends quickly started digging but they two died under the rubble, only for their corpses to be discovered by one of the neighbors.
Archeologist Mahmoud Al-Dardiri tod Daily News Egypt that the main reason behind the phenomenon of prospecting for monuments is the deteriorating economic conditions.
Strangely, however, he said that many researchers seek the help of Moroccan sheikhs in their research due to their reputation in the field. Furthermore, those who prospect for antiquities think that Moroccan sheikhs are able to protect them from the jinn who guard the treasures, especially since explorers believe in the curse of the Pharaohs which will harm whoever touches their treasure.
Professor of Pharaonic History at South Valley University Dr Medhat Shalabi told Daily News Egypt that those who search for monuments use underground metal detectors that can detect metals 30 meters deep.
Prospecting is an old Egyptian industry dating back to the 19th dynasty in particular, he explained.
Thieves were arrested on charges of stealing and violating the sanctity of tombs. But they only used to steal expensive metals because sculptures had no value at the time. Now all Pharaoh-related artifacts have become of great value hence the growth of the prospecting phenomenon.
A consultant at the National Research Council Dr. Ahmed Wahdan told Daily News Egypt that the number of stolen antiquity exceeded 15,000 in the last seven years. This prompted members of the People’s Assembly to call for the establishment of an integrated independent agency at the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) to put an end to such crimes and return all the stolen artifacts.
To this end, the Department of Retrieving Stolen Artifacts was established in 2003. the Head of the Egyptian Criminal Court, Justice Hisham Mansour even called for increasing the penalty for monument theft to make it punishable by death not merely by imprisonment or fines.
The antiquities squad recently managed to abort an attempt to smuggle 20 Pharaonic statues, including one of the ancient Egyptian God of Evil.