Flinders University is leading a worldwide call to the Egyptian authorities and international law enforcement agencies to make the protection of Egypt’s antiquities a priority during the civil unrest that grips the country.
Professor Claire Smith of the Department of Archaeology at Flinders, who is also President of the World Archaeological Congress, has taken a lead role in co-ordinating an appeal by the leaders of 14 other major archaeological organisations to urge proper protection of Egypt’s irreplaceable artifacts and heritage sites.
Professor Smith said bitter lessons had been learned from Iraq and other conflict zones, which showed that when countries have major internal emergencies, the protection of cultural heritage could be overlooked.
“The danger is from looters, who are just waiting for a lapse of vigilance,” Professor Smith said.
Professor Smith said that looters and traders in illegal antiquities would be quick to take advantage while the attention of the authorities is directed towards quelling violence or restoring essential services.
“It is a bit like walking around with a parcel of treasures, and putting it down for a moment, and someone taking that opportunity to steal them”, she said.
She hopes the widespread fame of Egypt’s archaeological heritage would assist in the call for effective protection.
“Visiting Egypt is an iconic experience, and the cultural heritage of Egypt is important to people around the world,” Professor Smith said.
“Egyptian people have a proud tradition of caring for their heritage, and the people of Cairo and the military have acted quickly to protect the Cairo Museum. However, there are many other sites throughout the country that are vulnerable.”
Professor Smith said a database established at Flinders University for the leaders of archaeological organisations has allowed the rapid development of a coordinated and broadly informed response to the threat posed by the disorder in Egypt.