Egyptian turmoil puts antiquities at risk

Oct. 31, 2012 at 6:55 PM

CAIRO, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Political turmoil and uncertainty in Egypt has put the country's antiquities at risk, experts say.

At least 50 pieces were looted from the National Museum on Tahrir Square during large demonstrations there, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The stolen items include a statue of the Pharoah Tutankhamun, whose lavish tomb made him one of the best-known ancient Egyptian rulers.

A statue of Pharoah Akhenaten and 28 other pieces have been recovered.

Officials say illegal digging at archaeological sites has become much more brazen. In some cases, the diggers have brought in heavy machinery.

Deborah Lehr, chairman of the Capitol Hill Archaeological Institute at George Washington University, said satellite photos of some areas in Egypt show a landscape starting to look like "Swiss cheese" as new holes are dug. Lehr is involved in the effort to protect Egyptian antiquities.

"This wasn't just someone taking their shovels and digging holes in the sand," Lehr said of one illegal dig. "These were bulldozers, and gangs of men over a period of time."

Osama El Nahas, who is in charge of helping recover stolen antiquities, said one step is to enlist international help to recover items sold abroad. Experts are also pushing for harsher penalties for illegal digging and a better record of known antiquities and archaeological sites.

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