By Simone Egarter
Two German researchers, who had been sentenced two five years in prison for stealing part of the Cartouche of Khufu in an Egyptian court ruling earlier in November, denied allegations that they had damaged the cartouche.
The two were sentenced along with a German photographer and six Egyptian guards.
“We never ever touched the cartouche,” Dominique Goerlitz, one of the German defendants, said. He also claims that this trial was based on a conspiracy against them.
Earlier this year, Stefan Erdmann and Dominique Goerlitz, two German researchers, took samples from inside the Cheops pyramid in April 2013. German officials already returned those fifteen samples of antiquities and stones in milligram range to the Egyptian state in August 2014.
The German Embassy in Cairo condemned the transfer of samples from the pyramids an outside of Egypt by a German who “doesn’t have any official affiliation” to the German Institute of Antiquities, referring to Goerlitz in a press release by the embassy.
Egyptian authorities, however, have not made any official correspondence with the German embassy or government regarding the case, according to the press release.
The Permanent Committee of the Ministry of State for Antiquities rejected the findings of the “amateur” archeologists, and described the action as “a great violation of Egypt’s ancient heritage, and the Great Pyramid in particular – the only surviving monument of the seven wonders of the ancient world,” state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported.
Although the researchers admit that they took samples out of the country, they refute all allegations of damaging the Khufu Cartouche, an ancient hieroglyphic mural painting inside the Cheops Pyramid.
Osama Karar, Head of the Group to Protect Egyptian Heritage, said the judgment is a “scandal” and it was “politically motivated”.
“I have efficient evidence that the cartouche was already damaged in 2006,” he said, referring to photographs and videos of the cartouche taken in 2006, showing traces of impact and chisel tracks.
Karar was ready to testify as a witness during the trial and offered to present his exculpatory evidence to the court but never got the chance to do so, he said.
The activist also raised accusations against former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass, who was in office until 2010. Among the evidence is a videotape of former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass with the damaged cartouche in 2006, said Robert Bauval, Belgium writer and ancient Egypt expert.
“Either Hawass didn’t notice the marks or he didn’t want to report it,” Bauval said.
The German Institute for Antiquities raises questions about how Goerlitz accessed the chamber that contains the cartouche, despite the fact that it’s not open for public, according to the embassy press release.
Hawass has repeatedly invited archaeologists to enter the Cheops pyramid to do research without further supervision by the ministry, said Karar.
“Hawass took the pyramids as his property, as something he inherited from his family,” he said.
Bauval and Karar are requesting the continuation of investigations and the investigation of ex-minister Hawass’s situation by the police.
“I guess Hawass wants to become minister again, and this is a political sentence against innocent people,” Karar said.
Hawass himself said he is “not responsible” and denies these accusations.
Goerlitz was convicted in absentia and is now going to appeal. Together with Bauval and Karar, he is also trying to raise money to help the six imprisoned Egyptian guards who accompanied the German researchers in 2013.
“This is a cruel sentence,” Goerlitz said, who, although not imprisoned himself, feels strongly for the six guards and their families.