By RANY MOSTAFA
CAIRO: Tourism and Antiquities Police (TAA) foiled an unprecedented attempt to loot an archaeological site where the would-be thieves dove into the Nile River and began to dig a tunnel underneath the adjacent site of Houd Zelikha, south of Giza, TAA investigation department head Maj. Gen. Osama el-Nawawy told The Cairo Post Saturday.
Preliminary investigations by TAA policemen revealed that armed gangs had conducted several illegal excavations in the Houd Zelikha archaeological site in the town of Al-Badrashin, 40 km south of the Giza pyramids, Nawawy said.
They planned to reach the foundation of the archaeological site through an underwater tunnel that they started to dig, he added.
“Members of the gang, including a 40-year-old lawyer, a farmer and four Palestinian nationals, were arrested in possession of waterproof wireless drills, diving suits, underwater breathing apparatuses, and depth gauges,” Nawawy said.
Limestone fragments, small statues and a rose granite pillar base, most likely a part of a temple colonnade, were found in the house of the farmer for future sale, said Nawawy, adding that an antiquities committee has examined the damaged objects and suggested they are ruins of a temple dating back to the Middle Kingdom (2055 B.C. – 1650 B.C.)
Since the outbreak of the January 25 Revolution in 2011 and its consequent security lapse across Egypt, the TAA, in coordination with Cairo Airport authorities, has thwarted several attempts to smuggle Egyptian antiquities out of the country.
Former Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said in a statement that since the outbreak of the 2011 revolution, over 1,524 artifacts were stolen from several museums and archaeological sites across the country.