Monday, March 07, 2011

We're Going to Need More Guns

This report from Zahi Hawass (via Derek Fincham) is extremely disturbing. Even "well guarded" storage depots, in which guards have been armed with handguns, are vulnerable to attacks by gangs of automatic-weapon-wielding looters. The depot raided in this case contained finds from both Egyptian and British and French teams.

This is the first indication I have seen that guards have been armed at all; as noted in my post yesterday, Hawass has complained that his security is not armed. So this may be a step forward. But if so, it is clearly still inadequate, in ways that should easily have been anticipated. The basic modus operandi of Egyptian looters -- large gangs armed with automatic weapons -- mirrors the tactics employed in Iraq out on archaeological sites in the 2003-2007 period, when the antiquities board was not permitted to rebuild its site police and the US military ignored the problem, as the Egyptian military seems unfortunately to be doing here. In many cases in Iraq, as now in Egypt, site guards were driven off, or if not, were threatened with harm to themselves and to their families (the looters tended to be locals who knew the guards).

Some sites were protected in Iraq, however, by tribal groups that had longstanding relations with university-based archaeologists who paid the tribes to provide site security. One has to wonder whether the British or French made any effort to enlist some of the Egyptian locals they must have ties with, to try to beef up security at the depot. One also has to wonder what other foreign archaeologists are doing right now to help Egyptians protect the digs they may have worked on and the fruits of that work.

Those would just be stopgap measures. In the absence of police, only the Egyptian military can provide the kind of force needed to deter looting on a wide scale by large groups of determined looters armed with automatic weapons.


Larry Coben said...

Larry-any evidence that Hawass is reliable here. As you point out re guns, his story seems to change daily. Are there other sources confirming this?

Larry Rothfield said...

Larry, see this Reuters report on Derek Fincham's blog: