Changing Planet

Egypt’s Saqqara Tombs: A Status Report in Words and Photos

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A soldier guards one of Saqqara’s tombs; Jeffrey Bartholet

On January 29, looters swarmed into the archaeological site of Saqqara, an ancient burial ground known for its pyramids and many surrounding tombs. Reports circulated about damage to the tombs and their beautiful reliefs. “All the sites are safe,” said Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass. “Nothing stolen, nothing destroyed.” With Hawass’s permission, veteran foreign correspondent Jeffrey Bartholet, on assignment for National Geographic magazine, was able to visit Saqqara, some 18 miles south of Cairo. He filed this report.


I spent three-and-a-half hours at Saqqara on Friday, February 4, walking the grounds and visiting tombs with Sabry Farag, general chief inspector for the antiquities ministry in the area. From one ancient tomb to another–many of them more than 4,000 years old–Farag repeated the words “no touching,” meaning they hadn’t been breached by looters. He also showed me a handful of tombs where robbers had succeeded in breaking steel padlocks on the doors. Once the robbers realized the rooms were empty, Farag says, they ignored the gorgeous reliefs on the walls and went elsewhere, presumably hoping to find gold, jewels, and other treasures they could carry away.

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Related News Watch blog posts:

Undiscovered Treasures Are Key Worry of Egyptologist

Looted Treasures Recovered, Egypt’s Antiquities Chief Reports

UN Calls on Egypt to Safeguard its “Cultural Identity”

Young Egyptians Rally to Protect Egypt’s Ancient Heritage

Plundering of Tombs, Museums, Antiquities Widespread, Egyptian Official Reports

Ancient Treasures Looted, Destroyed in Egypt’s Chaos

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Ancient Egypt
A collection of National Geographic Magazine photos and features about the world’s greatest trove of ancient treasures.

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

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