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Thieves taking advantage of Egyptian turmoil to steal treasures

| Saturday, May 12, 2012, 7:12 p.m.
In this April 12, 2011 file photo, a wooden statue of Tutankhamun, right, the gilded bronze and wooden trumpet of Tutankhamun and a part of Tutankhamun's fan, left, three of four objects that were missing and returned, are displayed during a news conference in the office of Egypt's Minister of State for Antiquities Zahi Hawass, in Cairo. Taking advantage of Egypt's political upheaval, thieves have gone on a treasure hunt with a spree of illegal digging, preying on the country's ancient pharaonic heritage. AP file photo
In this April 12, 2011 file photo, a wooden statue of Tutankhamun, right, the gilded bronze and wooden trumpet of Tutankhamun and a part of Tutankhamun's fan, left, three of four objects that were missing and returned, are displayed during a news conference in the office of Egypt's Minister of State for Antiquities Zahi Hawass, in Cairo. Taking advantage of Egypt's political upheaval, thieves have gone on a treasure hunt with a spree of illegal digging, preying on the country's ancient pharaonic heritage. AP file photo
The Bent Pyramid is reflected in the calm waters of an ancient lake, which was once King Farouk’s favorite hunting grounds. The spectacular vista has remained relatively unchanged since pharaonic times. 'It is rare to see such a cultural artifact in it's natural habitat, the Dahshour pyramids in their natural wetlands,' says Noor Noor, Executive Coordinator of Nature Conservation Egypt. 
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
The Bent Pyramid is reflected in the calm waters of an ancient lake, which was once King Farouk’s favorite hunting grounds. The spectacular vista has remained relatively unchanged since pharaonic times. 'It is rare to see such a cultural artifact in it's natural habitat, the Dahshour pyramids in their natural wetlands,' says Noor Noor, Executive Coordinator of Nature Conservation Egypt. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Small indentations remain, along the sides of an illegally excavated hole by tomb-robbers, from an 'ancient staircase,' small indentations that aided ancient Egyptians to climb up and down the walls during construction.    
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Small indentations remain, along the sides of an illegally excavated hole by tomb-robbers, from an 'ancient staircase,' small indentations that aided ancient Egyptians to climb up and down the walls during construction. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A broken bench sits in front of the Bent Pyramid, a site that is not frequented by many tourists.  The area around the pyramids of Dahshour was a closed military zone until 1996, when the military camp was cordoned off from the more than two-mile field of ancient pyramids. 
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A broken bench sits in front of the Bent Pyramid, a site that is not frequented by many tourists. The area around the pyramids of Dahshour was a closed military zone until 1996, when the military camp was cordoned off from the more than two-mile field of ancient pyramids. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A custodians who looks after the more than 4500 year-old necropolis of Dahshour stands onto of a sand dune overlooking what is now called the Bent Pyramid, due to its unusual shape. The Bent Pyramid was the second pyramid built by Pharaoh Snefru and is unique amongst the approximately ninety pyramids to be found in Egypt, in that its original polished limestone outer casing remains largely intact.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A custodians who looks after the more than 4500 year-old necropolis of Dahshour stands onto of a sand dune overlooking what is now called the Bent Pyramid, due to its unusual shape. The Bent Pyramid was the second pyramid built by Pharaoh Snefru and is unique amongst the approximately ninety pyramids to be found in Egypt, in that its original polished limestone outer casing remains largely intact. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

CAIRO -- Taking advantage of Egypt's political upheaval, thieves have gone on a treasure hunt with a spree of illegal digging, preying on the country's ancient pharaonic heritage.

Illegal digs near ancient temples and in isolated desert sites have swelled a staggering 100-fold over the past 16 months since a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak's 29-year regime and security fell apart in many areas as police simply stopped doing their jobs.

The pillaging comes on top of a wave of break-ins last year at archaeological storehouses -- and even at Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum, the country's biggest repository of pharaonic artifacts.

Horrified archaeologists and antiquities authorities are scrambling to prevent smuggling, keeping a watch on European and American auction houses in case stolen artifacts show up there.

"Criminals became so bold they are digging in landmark areas," including near the Great Pyramids in Giza, other pyramids and the grand temples of the city of Luxor, said Maj.-Gen. Abdel-Rahim Hassan, commander of the Tourism and Antiquities Police Department.

"It is no longer a crime motivated by poverty; it's naked greed, and it involves educated people," he said.

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