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    Map of the Tomb

    360° Tour of Egypt

    Make a Mummy

    Ancient Tomb
    Opened on Live TV

    An Ancient Oasis
    Is Rediscovered

    Producing TV From
    The Middle of Nowhere

    Egypt Has a Long
    History of Grave Robbers

    Disturbing the Dead

    The Pyramids and Sphinx

    Photo Essays
    Cemetery of Anubis

    Tomb Raiders

    Pyramids in Giza

    Cairo Marketplace

    Egyptian Treasures

    Egyptian Pyramids

    Mummy Dearest

    Death Masks

    Related Stories
    Bahariya Circa World
    War II: From English House
    to English Patient

    The Embalming Industry:
    Mummification for Faith
    and Profit

    Bahariya Has Much to Tell
    of Greco-Roman Egypt

    Greco-Roman Egypt Was
    a Culture in Transition



    Map of Bahariya

    Biography: Hugh Downs

    Biography: Zahi Hawass

    Fox Fast Links
    Link to Dr. Hawass' Site

  • Egypt Has a Long History of Grave Robbers
    By Jonathan Broder
    BAHARIYA, Egypt — One of the most extraordinary things about the Valley of the Mummies is its good fortune in escaping the plundering hands of grave robbers. Most other archaeological sites in Egypt havenít been so lucky.

    William Tolan/
    It was common for grave robbers to plunder tombs and then use the same places to bury their own families, as was the case here

    Of the 11 tombs containing more than 250 mummies that have been uncovered so far, none has been previously breached and looted, says Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian government's chief archaeologist and leader of the Valley of the Mummies excavations.

    "They are untouched," he told "We are finding mummies encased in gold, paintings, coins and other artifacts, exactly as they were buried in the Greco-Roman period" between the third century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. "In Egypt, that is extremely rare."

    Indeed, grave robbing has been the norm in Egypt since ancient times. At the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, a 4,000-year-old cenotaph — a stone tablet inscribed with hieroglyphics — recounts a short-lived rebellion against King Mentuhotep, in which the poor smashed open royal tombs and looted the gold and jewels buried with the mummies.

    The museum also has the 7th century B.C. Papyrus of the Grave Robber. The text describes a contemporaneous scandal in Luxor where one official of the 26th Dynasty accused another of looting the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. The account traces how royal investigators initially exonerated the accused but upon further examination found him guilty and sentenced him to a whipping.

    William Tolan/
    The paintings in many tombs depict the mummification of the dead and the judgment that awaits them in the afterlife

    Sadly, says Hawass, that may be one of the few times that anyone in Egypt has been caught and punished for grave robbing.

    Over the centuries, he said, thieves emptied tombs of their mummies and their treasures and then used the same tombs to bury their own families with their valuables. Eventually, he said, another generation of grave robbers would come along, plunder the site again and recycle it for its own burials.

    "The only royal tomb that was found intact was the tomb of King Tut," he said, referring to the celebrated 1922 discovery of the 13th century B.C. tomb of King Tutankhamen in Luxor. "Can you imagine what treasure we might see today if, say, the tomb of King Ramses II was found intact?"

    Down through the millennia, pharaohs and priests were well aware that royal tombs would make enticing targets for grave robbers and tried to build safeguards into their burial chambers

    The tomb of the 2500 B.C. King Cheops, inside the largest of the Great Pyramids in Giza, was sealed with three thick stone doors, but according to Hawass, there is evidence that 19th century thieves used explosives to blast them away. Hawass notes that many royal tombs had very tight entrances to make extracting their contents as difficult as possible.

    One thousand years later, 15 centuries before the birth of Christ, Egyptian priests of the New Kingdom moved the mummies of their rulers from their tombs in the Valley of the Kings to a communal grave in an attempt to outwit the tomb robbers.

    Their efforts were to no avail. In the 1870s, a notorious grave-robbing family, the Abdel Rassouls, found the grave in Luxor and began peddling its royal treasures to local antique dealers. With the sudden appearance of spectacular amulets and cartouches on the market, Egyptian authorities realized that an unknown tomb was being plundered and arrested one of the family members.

    William Tolan/
    Robbers, knowing the value of Egyptian antiquities, will also deface the tomb walls and sell the fragments

    Eventually, the thief cracked, leading to the greatest royal mummy find in history. The mummies of Amenophis I, Tuthmosis II and III, Seti I and Ramses I and III were removed from the tomb and transported by barge to Cairo, where they are now on display at the Egyptian Museum.

    But such happy endings were rare, and the 1800s became the golden years for archaeological theft in Egypt. Treasure hunters arrived from Europe, where the popularity of exotic Orientalist paintings and literature stoked a fierce demand for genuine Egyptian antiquities.

    And Egypt's modernizing ruler Mohammed Ali was only too willing to give up his country's patrimony to ingratiate himself to the imperial powers. The ancient obelisks that today adorn New York's Central Park, London's Embankment, and the Place de la Concord in Paris were all Ali's gifts.

    One of the biggest plunderers was William Flinders Petrie, a British archaeologist and the father of modern Egyptology. Claiming all that he found, Sir Flanders transported a staggering number of archaeological artifacts to museums in Britain, Europe and the United States during the 1800's. He and other treasure hunters are responsible for providing most of the great collections of Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Germany's Berlin Museum and the Louvre in Paris.

    In 1951, the Egyptian government began to restrict treasure hunters, limiting them to only 50 percent of the artifacts they found. But only 12 years ago did the government seriously crack down, finally forbidding the removal of any archaeological artifacts and threatening to break relations with foreign institutions that steal antiquities.

    William Tolan/
    In Bahariya, archaeologists have discovered tombs throughout the town, some having already been ransacked

    Recently, Egypt also has begun calling for the return of several key pieces of stolen treasure. These include the Rosetta Stone, now in London; the celebrated bust of Queen Nefertiti in Berlin; statues of King Hatshepsut in New York; and statues of Anh Kat, the architect of the Great Pyramids, at Boston's Museum of Fine Art.

    "These artifacts should come back to Egypt," said Hawass, who has campaigned abroad and at the United Nations for their return. "Their absence diminishes us."

    Meanwhile, the new discoveries in the Valley of the Mummies are replenishing the country's looted history every day. And with an estimated 10,000 mummies to be excavated here — the largest mummy find ever — Egyptologists are likely to be too busy over the coming years to mourn what was plundered over the centuries.