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Egypt’s legacy of looting

By Lauren Wilson Feb. 15, 2023

Kenneth Yang Art

This January, three thieves attempted to use a heavy crane to lift out a 2,000 pound, 10 foot granite statue of one of Ancient Egypt’s most magnificent pharaohs, Ramses II. While authorities successfully caught them, attempted robberies of ancient treasures intended to be sold on the black market have been a recurring concern for the Egyptian government.

Following the arrest of the three unnamed thieves, The Washington Post states that it is unknown if they damaged the statue, or how close the thieves were to successfully moving the statue. According to Mohamed Ibrahim, Egypt’s Antiquities Minister, Egyptians will have to continue to fight looting for many years as it is a “centuries-old business” and crime. USA Today reports that looters are generally organized in gangs and occasionally are violent or armed. In desperation to escape poverty, some robbers turn to looting in order to sell artifacts for money. The Middle East Institute states tomb robbers often dig holes to steal artifacts in hopes that they can sell them, or to find the mythical “red mercury,” a substance believed to immensely strengthen the holder, cure diseases and grant the owner control over others. In 2013 caretakers at tomb sites remarked that every night groups of up to 40 arrived with machine guns and complex equipment to move mounds of sand. Guards failed to stop the looters and three of them faced severe injuries in the attempt.

Kenneth Yang Art
“Looting in Egypt is an issue that needs to be focused on more. It disturbs the peace and disrespects the years of culture surrounding items inside tombs and other historic buildings. If looting worsens even further, it could result in mass vandalism or even the destruction of culturally significant important locations,” Sophomore Aidan Longtin said.

A study using satellite imagery by Cambridge University Press shows that between 2002 and 2013, damage to archaeological sites due to looting increased. Satellite imagery can also predict the The identity of antiquities entered in the market can be predicted by using satellite data. Satellites recorded that the Pyramid of Amenemhet III at Dahshur appeared to have no looting during Nov. 2009 butand over the course of the next three and a half years, a crucial portion of the site was looted and had been encroached on. The increase began in 2009 during the global economic crises and worsened from the commotion of the Arab Spring in 2011.

Kenneth Yang Art

Moreover, The Majalla News announced that from 2017 to 2019, Egypt recovered 1,000 illegally trafficked objects by working with auction houses and international culture groups. The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement managed to bring five artifacts back to Egypt by opening an investigation targeting a network that illegally stole cultural items, known as “Operation Mummy’s Curse.” The Egyptian government has declared to foreign museums that artifacts are the property of their country and any illegally smuggled items must be returned. To celebrate the returns of repatriated artifacts, the Egyptian Museum dedicated an exhibit to them in 2015. However, some items that were not illegally stolen from Egypt were not given back, such as the British Museum’s refusal to return the Rosetta Stone.

“It is important to preserve the history of ancient items. Looting is a very severe problem because it harms the integrity and culture of countries such as Egypt, and significant items like artifacts should not be meddled with,” Junior Christie Nguyen said.

Kenneth Yang Art

The looting of ancient antiquities continues to last in Egypt. Unless the true cultural value of these artifacts are appreciated by looters, theft will continue. Until then, the Egyptian government hopes for each artifact’s return.


About the Contributors

Lauren Wilson

staff writer

Lauren Wilson attends Leland High School as a sophomore. She is a staff writer for journalism. Activities she enjoys doing consist of walking her dogs, painting, taking naps, and cheerleading.

Kenneth Yang


Kenneth Yang is a senior at Leland Highschool and an artist for The Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys sleeping, eating and exercising.

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