El Hibeh archaeological site on the east bank of the Nile lies in a particularly bankrupt area of Egypt, three hour’s drive south of Cairo. For the past 9 months a gang has been systematically and openly looting the site while the local police seemingly turn a blind eye.
The remains at the site date from the late Pharaonic, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and early Islamic periods – around 11th century BCE to eighth century CE. El Hibeh is of special importance because it is one of very few relatively intact town sites remaining in Egypt. It contains extensive archaeological deposits dating to the Third Intermediate Period, Egypt’s last “Dark Age” and an era particularly poorly known archaeologically.
Dr. Carol Redmount, an eminent archaeologist based at the University of California, Berkeley, arrived in Egypt in February to continue her archaeological work at the site after obtaining permission from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities which controls all excavations in the country.
However, twenty-four hours before departing for the site her permits were revoked by the provincial police service with no explanation. Inquiries revealed that a mafia-like gang led by an escaped criminal has been ruthlessly looting the site since at least June 2011. Dr. Redmount has not been allowed to visit the site but eye witnesses confirm that looting continues on a daily basis and have photographed the gang at work and the devastation they have wreaked upon the site, including the ripping apart of mummified bodies in an attempt to find artefacts.
The site occupies about two square kilometres and includes cemeteries and the ruins of a walled ancient provincial town with a limestone temple, industrial facilities, houses and possible fort and governing residence.
“Hibeh is vitally important to understanding the character of ancient Egypt in the Third Intermediate Period, a very confusing and confused historical era for which only limited archaeological resources exist. Looting is obliteration, it destroys an irreplaceable, non-renewable cultural resource that belongs to humanity,” says Dr. Redmount.]
Redmount’s team of six researchers from UC Berkeley is currently unable to carry out any of its proposed academic program at El Hibeh. “Our primary concern is the incalculable loss of precious archaeological evidence. Archaeologists dream of excavating undisturbed or even relatively undisturbed historic sites. We are losing Hibeh for posterity as we speak,” adds Dr. Redmount.