By Marty Russell
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may be the king of denial but I happen to know one of the queens of the Nile so I decided to ask her for her take on what is happening in Egypt. While most of the news coverage has focused on Cairo, she says the real problems lie in other parts of the ancient country.
Jane Hill was a reporter for the Daily Journal for many years after earning her journalism degree at Ole Miss. But she either got tired of harrassing county supervisors or got tired of me harrassing her as her editor and decided to go back to school and study archaeology. She earned her master’s in Memphis and then her doctorate in Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Jane is a veteran of many digs in Egypt, including in the Saqqara area where one of the first pyramids was constructed. She specializes in early hieroglyphics. So I e-mailed her Monday night to get the real scoop on what is happening to the treasures in the more than 5,000-year-old country.
“As an Egyptologist I am appalled at the lack of security that was afforded to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo prior to and after the demonstrations started. (You have to realize how close the museum is to Tahrir Square, ground zero of the demonstrations),” Jane responded. “Most of the damage in the museum was done by the police who were supposed to be guarding it, NOT demonstrators. Demonstrators actually formed a human chain around the museum to keep looters from running inside until the army showed up, which I thought was a wonderful expression of how much the average Egyptian honors his/her country’s past.”
But Jane said what has not been reported is how much damage and looting has taken place at archaeological sites outside of Cairo.
“When Mubarak called the police off duty Saturday major sites like Saqqara, Abusir and Memphis were left unguarded over the weekend and you have local thieves around there who know exactly what monuments are at those sites and who they can sell things to on the black market,” Jane said. “I have heard reports from Egyptologists on the ground that the Memphis museum was completely robbed out; that Saqqara and Abusir’s artifact magazine was broken into and robbed and that looters had entered pyramids and tombs at Saqqara and chiseled relief off the walls. I pray to the gods of archaeology that it is not as bad as this … Some happy news from Luxor is that the locals there have been guarding the monuments on the east bank and the Valley of the Kings nonstop … and no major damage has been reported from down there.”
Jane said her concern is not just for ancient Egyptians.
“Today there are real live Egyptians in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez who are risking everything for the chance of a better life. I am hoping they get there… I think if this happens you are going to see similar movements in Syria and other Near Eastern and Middle Eastern dictatorships. The Saudis are quaking right now.”
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at email@example.com.