Suspicious rise in Egyptian artefacts brought to US
Widespread looting of archaeological sites has been reported in Egypt since the 2011 revolution resulted in political instability and tourism decline.
As reported online by Live Science, children forced to work in dangerous conditions to pillage historical sites have died. Antiquities guards were gunned down within an ancient tomb they were trying to protect. Mummies have been left out in the sun to rot after their tombs were robbed. And looting pits have pockmarked ancient sites.
A Live Science investigation also found that an enormous amount of potentially looted Egyptian artefacts had made their way into the United States. These artefacts include a vast number of gold coins.
Documents obtained from the US Census Bureau by Live Science reveal that since 2011, more than $143m worth of artefacts have been exported from Egypt to the United States. The artefacts were brought into the United States for personal or commercial use, rather than temporary display in a museum, the documents say. The documents also show that the vast majority of the artefacts were shipped to New York City, where many auction houses, antiquities dealers and art galleries are based.
Since 2011, more than 20kg of antique gold coins have been exported to the United States from Egypt. This is 10 times more than the 2kg exported between 1998 and 2010.
But it can be very challenging to find looted artefacts that are being exported to the United States, sources tell Live Science.
“It is extremely difficult to prove that any single artefact that arrives in the US has been looted,” said Erin Thompson, a professor of art crime at the City University of New York. “Middlemen are experts in making looted and smuggled antiquities look like they are part of the legitimate market by cleaning and restoring them and creating forged paperwork that makes it seem like Egypt gave permission for its export.”
“Suddenly, an artefact that was ripped out of the ground last month is indistinguishable from one that’s been in a private collection for decades, and which is entirely legal to export and sell,” Thompson added.