|The step pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara|
There are a number of conflicting reports emerging from Egypt, and as evacuated members of foreign archaeological missions arrive home, we are learning more about what took place in the chaos last weekend. Zahi Hawass is reporting on his website that sites are being protected and that reports of rumors of looting at places like Saqqara are not true. Yet Lee Rosenbaum has been forwarded a firsthand account from a French archaeologists that describes looting last weekend:
The French Archaeological Mission at Saqqara has just left Egypt yesterday and arrived safe today. As most of you are in lack of direct information concerning what happened there, I will try to tell you in brief what I saw.
On Saturday, the taftish [on-site officer from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities] asked us to stop the work, because the police were not in the capacity of protecting us anymore. In the afternoon, we could see that the police at the police station at the entrance of the resthouses was gone and had left us alone. That is when it all began: Robbers from Saqqara and Abusir became aware of this and they began to spread in the gebel [mountainous desert].The first afternoon and night, they mainly attacked places which were secured with locks. They broke them and went inside. Most of the time, they destroyed what they saw and not robbed anything, trying to find “treasures.” These are not well organised robbers but, mainly, young people from 10 to 20, very probably looking for gold. That is why, when they saw blocks of stone, they most of the time left them, or destroyed them in order to find what was underneath.I could see them with my eyes the day after, when we made a tour in the gebel with the army. Around 5 p.m., when the sun was still not down, at the muslim cemetery of Abusir, I counted more than 200 young men, excavating in front of us, ready to flee if the army would come down. A tank of the army was there, but they kept on digging. The soldiers were not numerous enough to do anything else than showing they were here. And when we went back, they probably came back in the highs. They were laughing and throwing stones at us.
. . .
After three days, more and more soldiers arrived in Saqqara and secured more and more of the area. The worse days were Saturday and Sunday. It looks like the army is now securing most of the area, and they made clear that anyone taken would be taken to jail. Hope it works.