Egypt's ancient heritage has been put at risk by a pair of amateur German archaeologists, reports Nevine El-Aref
The Great Pyramid of Khufu on the Giza Plateau is the oldest and largest pyramid in Egypt and the only surviving monument of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, it seems that it has now been subjected to damage by two amateur German archaeologists from Dresden University, who according to a press release from the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) stole samples of a cartouche of Khufu from a small room on top of the king's burial chamber inside the Great Pyramid.
The ministry has imposed penalties and taken legal action against both archaeologists, Dominique Goerlitz and author Stefan Erdmann, as well as against Dresden University. It has also suspended scientific cooperation with the university as well as with the German laboratory that analysed the stolen items from Khufu's Pyramid.
Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim told Al-Ahram Weekly that the ministry's permanent committee had imposed a number of penalties against the Germans, their university and the tourism agency that had taken them on a tour around the plateau. He described the secret trip that the men had taken inside the Pyramid as a "silly trick" and asserted that the Great Pyramid was "not a quarry" from which amateur researchers could take a few crumbs.
Ibrahim has also sent the case to the prosecutor-general for investigation and notified Interpol to put the German archaeologists on Egypt's airport watch list.
Mohamed Abdel-Maksoud, head of the ancient Egyptian department at the ministry, said that members of the MSA who had helped the men had been identified, but that their names would not be announced until the completion of the investigations.
A large-scale change of Giza Plateau inspectors will be implemented within two days, he said, in order to know with certainty who had helped the two Germans. "This occurrence has ruined the scientific reputation of all German archaeologists," he said, asking the German government to take legal procedures against both amateur archaeologists.
Abdel-Maksoud said that the incident constituted damage to a very significant monument on the UNESCO World Heritage List and that both Egypt and Germany were members of the UN organisation's World Heritage Committee. Egypt, he went on, had documents implicating the two Germans in damaging the World Heritage Monument and stealing and smuggling part of it.
The German embassy in Cairo responded in a press release by denouncing what the German researchers had done in accessing the room in the Great Pyramid and taking the samples for analysis without permission from the MSA. It announced that the researchers were not affiliated with the German embassy in Cairo or the German Archaeological Institute or any official mission from Germany to Egypt.
In a statement, the embassy confirmed that investigations would be carried out in Egypt where the incident was committed, but said that the embassy was not yet in contact with the Egyptian government concerning the case. It confirmed its full support for the Egyptian government in its role as the protector of the country's ancient monuments.
The statement highlighted the strong relationship between Egypt and Germany in the archaeological field. The German Archaeological Institute denounced the incident and described it as "a fraud" that had been committed in order to obtain the samples of Khufu's cartouche. Both the German embassy and the Archaeological Institute would supply the Egyptian government with any needed information, it said.
"It is an act of destruction and a break with all norms and international conventions," said Ahmed Said, a professor of ancient Egyptian civilisation at Cairo University. He added that Egyptian inspectors may have been involved in the incident, since the German researchers could not have accessed the Pyramid without their help.
Said said that even when they had entered the room within the Great Pyramid they would have needed a ladder to reach the cartouche, which was carved at the top of an inside wall. Said said that any Egyptians who had been involved in the theft were "traitors" who had shown themselves to be disloyal to their country and its heritage.
The story came to light earlier this week when a documentary entitled The Cheops Project was put on YouTube. The documentary showed researcher Dominique Goerlitz and author Stefan Erdmann during their secret trip inside Khufu's Pyramid and the difficulty they faced in reaching the cartouche. The aim of the documentary, according to the researchers, was to reveal the secrets of the Pyramid's construction and its date.
The documentary related the discovery of the hieroglyphs and the cartouche of Cheops (Khufu) in the interior of the Great Pyramid in 1837 by the British researcher Howard Vyse. The authenticity of this cartouche has long been questioned, and though Egyptologists are confident of the authenticity of the cartouche, Vyse himself came under suspicion of having faked it.
If this could be proven, it would open up speculation about the builders of the Giza Pyramids. In the past, only the correct spelling of the Pharaoh's name was at issue, but Goerlitz and Erdmann had wanted to determine the cartouche's authenticity by using new examination and dating methods. A sample of the cartouche was taken during an expedition with a camera crew and is now in the hands of a well-known institute for laboratory analysis in Germany.
Said criticised the two Germans' working methods and their claim that the Pyramid had been built before the reign of the Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh, saying that this was "nonsense". The cartouche could be dated to an era after the reign of Khufu himself, Said said, adding that inspections carried out many years ago had revealed that the cartouche had been written after the Pyramid's completion because it contained the Pharaoh's short name and not his official name and was written in script.
He said that the cartouche had been written during the Middle Kingdom, which could be shown by the style of writing used. He said that graffiti left by visitors in antiquity on the walls of monuments had helped Egyptologists to know the short names of several kings, among them Djoser.
New Kingdom graffiti left on the walls of the monuments at Saqqara had revealed that king Nesri-Khet was in fact Djoser, he said. "If we had not found this graffiti on the wall, we would not have known that king Nesri-Khet was Djoser and that this was his short name," Said added.
Meanwhile the German magazine Der Spiegel said in its online edition that permission to enter the Pyramid had been given, but that Erdmann and Goerlitz had gone much further than what this permission had allowed by scraping traces from the painted ceiling of the king's chamber.
Erdmann told the Spiegel that "we have the royal cartouche, of course, which is not affected, and we have written a letter of apology." Erdmann had then taken the samples from Egypt to the Fresenius Institute in Dresden to be examined.
However, anyone wanting to research a monument or archaeological site in Egypt needs prior approval from the MSA. This is only given following an official request and checks on the researcher's credentials and qualifications. Only if tests cannot be carried out within Egypt can samples be taken for testing abroad, and then only under the strictest controls.
The Fresenius Institute where the samples are being examined expressed its surprise at the controversy. "We are currently conducting mineralogical investigations of the samples that Erdmann brought us. Where they come from we do not know," a spokesman told Der Spiegel.
Meanwhile, the offending YouTube video has now been taken down from the site.
Source: Al Ahram
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