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Egypt's Tomb Raiders Exposed

Got an eBay account? A piece of Egypt's glorious past can be yours! Conor Sheils delves into the illicit online trade of priceless antiquities.

Some of Ancient Egypt's rarest artifacts are up for grabs for as $60 on auction site eBay. The news come just days after The Ministry of Antiquities were forced into desperate manhunt in Hungary and France to  retrieve five ancient Egyptian artifacts stolen from Saqqara. A CairoScene probe found over 5000 supposed Egyptian artifacts for sale on the US-based auction site - many claiming to be 100% guaranteed genuine - have been attracting attention lately. Articles unearthed included a beaded sarcophagus mask for $395, a gazelle relief for $200, and even Mummy beads allegedly dating back to 600BC for $60.

Other items on offer included an ancient mummy's ring retailing for $2,500 and amulets for sale for just under $1,000. When contacted by CairoScene the dealers all replied within hours and many offered to ship the illicit good next day. The sales are purported come from as far afield as the UAE and Australia.

However, their original birthplace is believed to be buried deep in the Egyptian soil - before shady dealers moved in forcing the authorities become trapped in a cat and mouse game with gangs of illegal excavation squads hell bent on plundering the country's ancient treasures.

Speaking about the latest Saqqara theft Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said: “The Ministry was able to track the five Egyptian artifacts that were smuggled abroad to France and Hungary and were stolen during illicit excavations in south Saqqara at the site of Tabit Al-Geish. An auction house sold three of the allegedly smuggled artifacts to the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest in  Hungary, claiming that they had obtained them in 1974,” 

eBay's own 'help' section states that users should "beware of sellers of Egyptian things who claim to have contacts with diggers in Lower Egypt. It is seriously illegal to export antiquities from Egypt and what these people are selling are tourist trinkets."

However this hasn't stopped hundreds of would-be sellers making a killing flogging the treasures of Egypt's historic past. The problem has spiraled out of control amid what many see as a security vacuum since the 2011 revolution, leading experts to believe that Egypt's ancient history could be extinct in less than 30 years. Leading US archaeologist Sarah Parcak told a U.S. State Department hearing earlier this week that looters could strip Egypt of much of it's archaeological heritage within the next quarter century. She said: "Wholesale looting is occurring all over Egypt, and we are seeing a big spike that came after the revolution. If we don't do something to stop it, most sites in Egypt will be gone in 25 years."

Satellites, including some that are part of a programme spearheaded by Parcak, have revealed that the illicit digging in Egypt is widespread. The government now finds itself engaged in a bitter fightback to reclaim the country's past. On Monday London's Egyptian Embassy retrieved twelve artifacts that were smuggled out of Egypt, six of which were stolen by a Briton and displayed in Christie’s Auction House.

In the past few months, Egyptian history cops has restored over 250 artifacts that were looted since January 2011. Whether they are moving quickly enough to beat the booming trade - only time will tell.


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