Saturday, February 12, 2011

The National Geographic Says - No Looting of Maya Tombs

Here's what the NG blog says:

Report From Saqqara: Contrary to Rumor, the Two 'Maya' Tombs Are Safe
Posted Feb 9,2011

After looters swarmed the ancient burial ground at Saqqara on January 29, panic swept the world of Egyptology. One online group reported that looters had entered and “destroyed” the interiors of “many tombs.” On the Facebook group “Egyptologists for Egypt,” a contributor wrote that the tomb of Maya, in particular, “is destroyed and even the reliefs in the burial chamber have been hacked out.” As that rumor spread, there was confusion about which Maya tomb—there are two at Saqqara. Some reported that it was the tomb belonging to King Tutankhamun's wet nurse (whose name is often spelled Maia); others said it was that of Tut’s treasurer.

It turns out the reports were grossly exaggerated. The tomb of the wet nurse is still sealed with bricks. And on Tuesday, inspectors at Saqqara led me into Maya the treasurer’s burial chamber. “Nobody touched the tomb here, “ said Mohammad Mohammad Youssef, chief inspector for South Saqqara, as he and a colleague broke a wire and seal on the metal door leading underground. “We put seals on the lock about a month ago when we checked it for humidity and temperature, and the same seals were still here and the locks were not broken.” Youssef and I walked down a tight, sandy staircase of a dozen steps to an iron gate with another three locks on it, and another seal that was untouched after the looting. Then we entered three chambers, over 3,000 years old, shimmering with golden-yellow reliefs.

The reliefs are from the Amarna period, about 3,350 years ago, when wall paintings were more naturalistic than in other pharaonic eras. They show the treasurer and his wife with various gods, including Osiris, god of the afterlife; Isis, goddess of motherhood and fertility; Ptah, god of creation; and Anubis, the jackal-headed god who oversees mummification. Maya "is praying to these different gods, meaning that he has good relations with all of the gods, who will be with him in the afterlife,” said government Egyptologist Ashraf Mohiee.

Aboveground, looters broke into several small storerooms, which hold bones, shards of pottery, and other collected items. The treasure hunters rifled through a portion of this material, tossing items on the floor. “We’ll lose some archaeological information if it’s a mess inside,” Maarten Raven, who leads the Dutch expedition at the site, told me by phone from the Netherlands. “But it’s nothing major.” He expressed great relief that the tomb itself was fully intact.

—Jeffrey Bartholet

Truth? Lie? Somewhere in between? Cleary, something happened at Saqqara. I very much doubt that archaeologists and their workers were just making things up as they were emailing reports and blogging about tombs being broken into and looting taking place. They did not imagine those events!

So what, really, happened? We will probably never know the full truth because the Egyptian government - however it is constituted now and in the future - will make sure we do not! Tourism in Egypt has already suffered a great heart-blow during the recent unrest that led to the ultimate resignation of President Mubarak. The authorities, whoever they may be, are not going to 'fess up to the wholesale rape of ancient antiquities! Billions of dollars are at stake - and I don't mean the billions that the illicitly stolen antiquities will ultimately fetch on the underground market.

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