CAIRO: Policemen in Upper Egypt’s governorate of Asyut arrested a local in possession of 13 ancient Egyptian artifacts, Youm7 reported Wednesday.
The items, dating from several periods of ancient Egyptian history, resulted from illicit digging at the pre-dynastic archaeological sites of the Hammamiya tombs 40 kilometers south of Asyut.
Policemen at the General Administration for Tourism and Antiquities received a tip that the 35-year-old suspect hid several objects in his house and that he took photos of them on his mobile phone in preparation to sell them to an antiquities trader, Youm7 reported, adding that the culprit was arrested during an undercover operation.
According to Maj. Gen. Tarek Nasr, the artifacts include a pink granite statue of the god Horus, a group of terra-cotta statues’ heads made of pottery and limestone, six lanterns, and pieces of flint and stone objects, Youm7 reported.
Since the outbreak of the January 25 Revolution and its consequent security lapse, Egypt witnessed a notable increase in antiquities trade and illicit digging activities nationwide. Political turmoil and small numbers of underpaid guards have left the country’s cultural heritage vulnerable to looting.
During the past three and half years, a third of Egypt’s archaeological sites have been either looted, exposed to agricultural encroachments or illegal building or digging, Egyptologist and former Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass previously told The Cairo Post.
He has called on Egyptian authorities to amend the Antiquities Protection Law to curb the escalation in illicit digging and antiquities smuggling.
“The punishment for such immoral crimes should be more of a deterrent by changing the crime description from misdemeanor to felony. This will help in putting an end to ongoing illicit digging and antiquities smuggling disasters,” Hawass said.
Articles 41 and 42 of Law 3 for 2010 on the Protection of Antiquities state that whoever steals, hides, unlawfully smuggles or participates in smuggling an antiquity outside Egypt shall be subject to an intensive prison term with hard labor for not less than three years and not more than 15 years, and a fine of not less than 100,000 EGP ($15,000) and not more than 1 million EGP, Karem Aidy, a lawyer at the State Council, previously told The Cairo Post.