Israel Returns Archeological Finds to Egypt

By Holden, Kurt | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 1995 | Go to article overview

Israel Returns Archeological Finds to Egypt


Holden, Kurt, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Israel Returns Archeological Finds to Egypt

By Kurt Holden

Nowhere is archeology more political than in the Middle East, where land claims have been based upon little more than obscure references to tribes or places in conflicting religious and secular annals dating back to periods when there were few written records in other parts of the world. In addition to the significance of archeological finds that support political or cultural claims, the manner in which Middle Eastern governments protect and preserve their archeological sites also tells as much about the current rulers of those lands as the sites tell about their history. Never have such ruminations been more appropriate than in the first half of 1995.

The year began on a promising note with the announcement by Israel that it was turning over to the government of Egypt 800 cartons of antiquities, the last shipment of artifacts excavated by Israeli scientists in Egypt's Sinai peninsula between 1967 and 1982, while it was under Israeli occupation. The agreement was reached in 1993 in accordance with the 1954 Hague Convention on returning archeological finds to their countries of origin. The delay in executing the agreement, reached after years of difficult negotiations, was occasioned by Israel's reluctance to part with objects with Hebrew inscriptions. With the final return of the contested objects, the Israeli antiquities authority has asked Egypt to lend it 24 objects with Jewish associations including third-century A.D. ceramic Byzantine oil lamps imprinted with representations of menorahs.

Cairo Ring Road Diverted Away From Pyramids

A crisis between UNESCO, headed by Egyptian-born Said Zulficar, and the Egyptian government ended with Egypt's agreement to re-route a planned one-mile segment of a new 59-mile ring road encircling Cairo away from the plateau upon which the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx are situated. The site is the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world still in existence. However, UNESCO threatened to remove the pyramids from its list of protected world heritage sites unless the road, which would have passed little more than a mile south of the pyramids, was routed farther away from the protected archeological site.

UNESCO officials, backed by the Egyptian antiquities authority, feared that the $330 million beltway, which is designed to relieve traffic pressure on Cairo's 15 million inhabitants, would bring with it urban sprawl and that the vibrations of vehicles using the eight-lane highway would weaken the 4,500-year-old structures, which are only eight miles southwest of downtown Cairo. Details of the alternative plan adopted by a joint Egyptian government-UNESCO committee remain to be worked out, but it was agreed that the road will be re-routed north of the pyramids and will not cross the plateau upon which they are situated.

Alexander's Tomb Found and Lost Again

Three-year-old claims by privately financed Greek archeologist Leana Souvaltze that she had positively identified the tomb of Alexander the Great at the Siwa oasis in Egypt's western desert, where she has been excavating for the past four years, created a stir in the Western press in early February when they were substantiated by Chairman Abdel-Halim Noureddin of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization.

Alexander, heir to the Macedonian throne, was 22 years old when, in 334 B.C, he led his army out of Greece 9conquered by his father), to begin the conquest of the known world. After expelling the Persian army from present-day Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, he arrived in Egypt in 332 B.C. There, according to legend, Alexander was told by an oracle at the Siwa oasis that he was the son of the Egyptian god Amun, and therefore the rightful heir to Egypt, which fell to his armies without a struggle.

Nine years later, in 323, after a trail of conquests which took him as far as India, Alexander died of a fever in Babylon. Legend has it that his body was transported to Palestine in a magnificent funeral cart where it was met by one of his generals, Ptolemy, who subsequently founded a dynasty of rulers of Egypt. …

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