Fri, Sep 26, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Egypt bans new excavations by foreign scholars

PROTECTION Southern monuments will be off-limits for the next ten years in an attempt to prevent the destruction of rich archaeological sites

AP , CAIRO

Egypt will not permit any new foreign expeditions to begin excavations in southern Egypt for the coming decade in an attempt to preserve the monuments, the antiquities chief said on Wednesday.

Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said concentration is instead needed at sites in the Nile Delta and in the desert.

"We say this for the sake of the monuments," Hawass told reporters. ``We are not going to please you [foreigners] and destroy the monuments.''

He said there are 300 foreign expeditions in the country.

"Those are scholars and re-spected ones, working in the field and who know the value of Egyptian monuments," he said. "But we also have amateurs, who can damage the monuments."

Most of the expeditions concentrate their work in the south of the country, where rich archaeological sites include the temples of Luxor and Karnak and the Valley of the Kings.

The ban on new expeditions is part of a series of measures taken by the council after a British expedition made headlines over the summer by claiming -- in a program aired on the US Discovery Channel -- to have identified the mummy of Queen Nefertiti.

Egyptian council officials were angry at the report, which they felt sidelined the council, and rejected the claims, saying the mummy was a man.

Hawass also said the British team violated a contract that obligates archaeologists to announce any discoveries through the council and not independently.

Amid his furious attack on Joan Fletcher, the head of the British team, Hawass said the archaeologist sent him a letter denying that she had said the mummy belongs to Nefertiti.

"Joan said she never said this is Nefertiti. She said that she just thought she was Nefertiti," he said. "I wonder how someone deceived the whole world, and now she is telling us she didn't."

Egypt has long lamented antiquities that have been taken out of Egypt, including the Nefertiti bust and the Rosetta Stone, which is on display in the British Museum. But Hawass said he could only ask for the return of antiquities taken after 1970, according to a UNESCO treaty of that year that does not apply retroactively.

"We have a catalog of all artifacts that were taken out illegally from Egypt after 1970," said Hawass, who leads a campaign for the return of stolen Egyptian artifacts. "We will not cooperate with the museum that doesn't return Egypt's antiquities."

Among the new rules adopted by the council, Hawass announced that all the excavation missions will receive training before starting working on the sites and that archaeologists must publish their discoveries in English and Arabic in the council's journal.

Archaeologists at the press conference also announced the discovery of part of a 3,200-year-old cuneiform tablet of diplomatic correspondence between the ancient Egyptian and Hittite kingdoms. The 5cm-by-5cm tablet, found by a German team working in Qantir, about 100km northeast of Cairo, is believed to be one of the few Hittite letters discovered in Egypt.

Edgar Pusch, head of the German team, said the text, sent from King Hattusili III to Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II, is related to a peace treaty between the rival kingdoms, which fought a war from 1300 to 1200BC before agreeing to the first known peace treaty.

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