Egyptians grab ancient land of the pharaohs to bury their dead
Archaeologists fear for pyramid sites as illegal building gathers pace in wake of Arab spring
Patrick Kingsley in Dahshur
The Observer, Sunday 28 April 2013
An archaeologist inspects a new cemetery illegally built near the Black Pyramid at Dahshur.
In Manshiet Dahshur, 25 miles south of Cairo, the villagers recently extended the boundaries of the cemetery. For Ahmed Rageb, a carpenter who buried his cousin in the annexe, it was a logical decision. "We want to bury the dead," he said, strolling through the new cemetery after visiting his cousin’s tomb. "The old cemetery is full. And there is no other place to bury my family."
There is just one problem. The new tombs are perilously close to some of Egypt’s oldest: the pyramids of Dahshur, less famous than their larger cousins at Giza, but just as venerable. This is protected land, and no one is supposed to build here – yet more than 1,000 illegal tombs have appeared in the desert since January.
"What happened was crazy," said Mohamed Youssef, Dahshur’s chief archaeologist. "They came and took space for about 20 generations."
The tombs nestle in the dunes below the Red Pyramid, considered the pharaohs’ first successful attempt at a smooth-sided structure. To the south is the Bent Pyramid, named for its warped walls. In the east, nearer the Nile, lies the Black Pyramid – a collapsed colossus on which the villagers are most in danger of encroaching. This is their right, claimed Reda Dabus, a clerk worshipping at the mosque next to the cemetery. "All the people are born here," Dabus said. "They died here. They should have the right to be buried here." Inhabitable land is hard to come by in Egypt, where 99% of the population live on 5.5% of the territory.
But it is an argument disputed by local archaeologists, who say there is something darker afoot: looting. "Some of them have a real need for the tombs for their families," said Youssef, who said that the land had been designated as government property since the late 1970s. "But when you have 1,000 people, some of them will want to do illegal excavation."
Others agree. "They use the new tombs to hide what they are doing," explained Ramadan al-Qot, a site inspector who grew up in the village. Observers say the cemetery is the latest in a series of forbidden incursions that have markedly increased since the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. More than 500 illegal excavations have taken place at Dahshur since 2011 – an increase mirrored at sites all over the country.
"Dahshur is just a single case study of what’s happening on every archaeological site in Egypt," said Monica Hanna, who campaigns for greater resources to be allocated to Egypt’s ancient sites. "It’s happened all around the Nile valley, in El Hiba, in Beni Suef. Everywhere."
In the months following Mubarak’s fall in spring 2011, Nigel Hetherington, a British archaeologist and film-maker, documented dozens of new illegal buildings on ancient sites between Cairo and Dahshur. "They were openly building," Hetherington said. "They had no fear of being filmed."
The situation is symptomatic of a deterioration in law and order since the fall of the Mubarak regime. Nationwide, the police, whose brutality was a major cause of the 2011 uprising, no longer had the inclination to patrol either the streets or sites such as Dahshur. "After the revolution," said Youssef, "the police would not do anything." This left the inspectors to fend for themselves.
"It’s very dangerous for us," said al-Qot, three of whose colleagues were hospitalised following a run-in with looters in December. "The thieves hide behind the tombs and shoot at us."
The retreat of the state is just one explanation for the rise in looting and land grabs. Locals say it is also related to the way that the 2011 uprising prompted many ordinary Egyptians to shed some of their instinctive fear of authority. "The situation changed because the people changed," said Youssef.
"That’s the reason for the building: the revolution," agreed Abdo Diab, a carpenter who has built a tomb at Dahshur. "All the people now, we are not afraid of the army or the police or any government."
"If we want something," said Dabus, "we do it."
At Dahshur, that is what has happened. In January, a dozen people who are said to have needed tombs for their relatives started building on restricted pyramid land. The site’s inspectors reported it to the police – but there was no response. "No one demolished their tombs because the government is so weak," said Youssef. "So the other people realised that there is no punishment."
Residents from other villages then heard about the free-for-all, and started building too. Then a building contractor allegedly claimed the land and started selling off small plots to those who agreed to pay him to build their tombs.
Soon there was a stampede, as no one wanted to be left out. "When one family built a tomb, the other families wanted new ones too," said Diab, who also admitted that he had no legal right to build.
But many villagers still differentiated between their actions and the raids organised by armed gangs equipped with expensive diggers. "Some people built tombs to steal archaeology, definitely," said 28-year-old Walid Ibrahim, picnicking on the boundary between the old and new cemeteries. "But all the old tombs are full and there’s no place to bury our new dead."
There have been suggestions that both the looting and the government’s failure to tackle it results from the rise of Islamists who are culturally opposed to Egypt’s heathen heritage. One Salafi (or ultra-conservative) preacher recently called for the destruction of the pyramids. "But that’s just one person," countered Hetherington. "There is some kind of undercurrent in this story [that this is] about Muslims against their foreign past. But it’s not. I’ve met Salafis here, and their views are not mine – but not one of them wanted to blow up the pyramid."
Hetherington argues that the illegal building stemmed from locals’ economic and social alienation from their ancient heritage. "All they are is a cash cow for tourists," said Hetherington of the pyramids. "And if you’re not in that business, where’s the benefit? In the past you might have got a spiritual value, because your grandmother was buried there, and you were going to be buried there, or because your mosque was in the temple, and you went to that mosque every day."
Not any more, locals said. "When I was born, my grandfather and grandmother said that our pharaohs built the pyramids – but that was all they told us," said Walid Ibrahim. "So many people don’t think about the pyramids. They haven’t any jobs. If the government gave them jobs, they would save the pyramids."
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sun Apr 28, 2013 1:00 pm
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Andrew J. Coulson
Every year, Microsoft founder Bill Gates drafts a letter charting the course for the foundation he created with his wife, Melinda. This year, the focus is on the value of precise measurement in driving innovation and progress. His inspiration was the book The Most Powerful Idea in the World, “a brilliant chronicle by William Rosen of the many innovations it took to harness steam power.”
Certainly mensuration was important to the development of the steam engine, but there was a much more crucial ingredient, and unless we understand the role that it played, solutions to the world’s most pernicious problems will remain elusive. The key to grasping this missing ingredient is the aeolipile. As shown in the accompanying video, the aeolipile is a hollow metal reservoir with multiple radial “exhaust pipes,” all of whose spouts point off tangentially from the hub. To make it work, you simply suspend it, fill it with water, and light a candle under it. And… Voila! You’ve harnessed steam power to generate rotary motion.
This device is also known as Hero’s Engine, after Hero of Alexandria—who invented it over two thousand years ago…. Despite its seemingly obvious practical applications, Hero’s Engine was never more than a party favor. It had not the slightest impact on the course of human history. Why not?
The ultimate causes are contentious (Deirdre McCloskey will give you one answer), but the proximate one is obvious: the aeolipile was never commercialized. There wasn’t a sufficient network of entrepreneurs and investors toiling away in ancient Alexandria to relentlessly seek out, capitalize, and commercialize new technologies and innovations. The steam engine was refined and widely deployed during the Industrial Revolution only because such an entrepreneurial network had come into existence by the late 18th century, first in England and soon thereafter, elsewhere.
And that’s the real key to massively disseminating the benefits of innovation: enlisting the assistance of the free enterprise system. It is not a coincidence that the productivity of elementary and secondary education has collapsed while productivity in virtually every other field has steadily improved. Education has been largely excluded from the free enterprise system for the past 150 years.
So, while precise measurement certainly has its role to play, I hope someday to read an annual letter from Bill Gates that focuses on the need to harness all the freedoms and incentives of the marketplace for the betterment of education the world over.
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Ancient Koranic Origins and Modern Islamic Intolerance
Andrew G. Bostom
Wednesday, July 4, 2012, Americans celebrated the 236th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, affirming yet again our unique God-given heritage of freedom.
… that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The same day, prosecutors in Indonesia — that bastion of contemporary Islamic tolerance and moderation — insisted upon a four-year prison term for Shiite leader Tajul Muluk, under Article 156, Paragraph A of the Criminal Code, which penalizes "blasphemy." Tajul was accused, specifically, of informing his students that the contemporary Koran they (and all Muslims) now study was not the original "sacralized" text. Currently incarcerated, Tajul Mulk has received death threats from fellow inmates even before his trial, while in December 2011, over 300 members of Tajul’s Shiite community were displaced when a mob of 500 people attacked and burned houses, a boarding school, and a place of worship.
Tajul Muluk’s prosecution epitomizes contemporary Islamdom’s consistent, utter rejection of basic freedom of speech, even in a much-ballyhooed "tolerant" Muslim society. This liberty-crushing suppression of free speech — in accord with Islam’s totalitarian sharia — is exercised with particular vehemence regarding any questions about Islam’s origins, even when such queries comport with major aspects of the pious Muslim narrative, not to mention objective textual discoveries.
Arthur Jeffery (1892-1959) was a great 20th-century scholar of Islam, who, in the finest Western traditions of objective inquiry, conducted pioneering, magisterial analyses of the Koranic text’s evolution. Jeffery laid out his unbiased, scholarly views on such endeavors on October 31, 1946, at a meeting of the Middle East Society of Jerusalem:
Wherever we find a religion that has a Scripture, that fact presents scholarship with the problem of the textual history of that Scripture. There are no exceptions to this among the historic religions. In the case of Buddhism, for example, we have the problem of the Pali Canon, the Sanskrit Canon, the Tibetan Canon, and the Chinese Canon. In the case of Zoroastrianism there is the liveliest dispute among Iranian scholars at this very moment as to the Avestan text, and, as is well known, the text of the Pahlavi books is an exceedingly complicated problem. Each generation of students for the last hundred years has found itself faced with new problems concerning the text of the Old Testament, and our own memories are still fresh with the excitement caused by the discovery of the Chester Beatty Papyri and the Ryland’s Gospel fragment, both of which raised lively discussions on matters related to the textual history of the New Testament. Whether we face the text of the Book of the Dead, coming from the ancient Egyptian religion, or the text of the Qur’an coming from the youngest of the great historic religions, we have the problem of the history of the text.
The acknowledged existence of Koranic "variants," albeit ostensibly different "dialectical forms," purportedly led Caliph Uthman (r. 644-656) to appoint a committee of learned Muslim men to "homogenize" the text and destroy all other copies. Arthur Jeffery’s scholarship, and the work of many other textual analysts, amassed considerable evidence of various human recensions in the evolution of the Koranic text. One striking example was Jeffery’s discovery of a variant text of the Koran’s brief opening prayer itself, the so-called Fatiha (chapter or sura 1, verses 1-7). This important finding was consistent with earlier Western, and even classical, pious Muslim scholarship, as Jeffery noted in 1939:
The peculiar nature of the Fatiha has been recognized by Western scholars from Nöldeke [the great Koranic scholar; d. 1930] downward, but it is not merely a hostile Western opinion, for Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi [the great Koranic commentator and Muslim philosopher; d. 1209] quotes Abu Bakr al-Asamm [d. 816/17; early theologian and scholar] as saying that he considered it not to be part of the Koran and apparently the oldest commentaries began with Surat-al-Baqara [i.e., the second chapter, or sura of the Koran].
Earlier, despite Jeffery’s yeoman effort to apply Western methods of textual analysis with the greatest deference to Muslim sensibilities, his sincere endeavors were ultimately deemed offensive by institutional Islam. Former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, and then president of the American University in Cairo John Badeau recounted the circumstances surrounding Arthur Jeffery’s departure as head of the university’s modest School of Oriental Studies in 1937:
It was very interesting why he left. After all, Cairo was the natural spot for a scholar doing his research. He had come across a very early commentary on the Quran. I think it had been in one of the mosque libraries in Damascus. In any case, he had got hold of it and brought it to Cairo and was working in it; its value was that it contained variant readings of the Quran text that are not otherwise in existence. So Jeff [Jeffery] got one of the shaykhs of Al-Azhar to come down and do work with him, and they were working through this commentary, annotating, and translating it. He never would use a typewriter, and wrote his notes out in longhand in a series of notebooks. One of the things that Jeff would not have was a telephone in his office. He abominated it, and the telephone was at the end of the hall. After some months of work, he and the shaykh had had a session; the notebooks were piled on one side of the table. The telephone rang, Jeff’s secretary came in to tell him he was wanted, so he left the room and went to the telephone. When he came back, the shaykh who had been helping him was gone, and all the pages were ripped out of the notebooks and torn up. The shaykh could not stand the heresy of being confronted with these variant readings of the Quran. Apparently it had been bothering him for some time. In effect, Jeff said, "You know, I simply cannot do this kind of work in Cairo." At that time, Columbia had lost its Arabic scholar and approached him, and he left the American University and came to Columbia, where he remained until he died.
Jeffery’s predicament — circa 1937 — and the far worse current plight of Indonesian Shiite leader Tajul Muluk are pathognomonic of Islam’s stultifying affliction: the angry, doctrinaire suppression of open, critical inquiry and self-examination. Until Muslim societies allow such inquiries to proceed unencumbered, they will remain in their ossified medieval fortresses, devoid of basic freedoms, or even the fundamental awareness of why those freedoms represent the quintessence of human nobility.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sun Jul 08, 2012 1:58 am
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JERUSALEM — Israeli archaeologists said on Sunday they had found a 2,000-year-old clay seal near Jerusalem’s Western Wall, confirming written accounts of ritual practices in the biblical Jewish Temple.
The button-shaped object bears the Aramaic words “pure for God,” suggesting it was used to certify food and animals used in sacrificial ceremonies.
The Western Wall is part of the compound revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, where Islam’s al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine now stand in a holy complex Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary.
“It seems that the inscribed object was used to mark products or objects that were brought to the Temple, and it was imperative they be ritually pure,” the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement announcing the find.
The authority said it believed it was the first time such a seal had been excavated, providing direct archaeological evidence of ritual activity in the temple described in ancient texts.
http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/12/25 … gists-say/
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sun Dec 25, 2011 11:57 am
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