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Egypt’s Saqqara Tombs: A Status Report in Words and Photos

Soldier guards Saqqara tomb picture.jpg

A soldier guards one of Saqqara’s tombs; Jeffrey Bartholet

On January 29, looters swarmed into the archaeological site of Saqqara, an ancient burial ground known for its pyramids and many surrounding tombs. Reports circulated about damage to the tombs and their beautiful reliefs. “All the sites are safe,” said Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass. “Nothing stolen, nothing destroyed.” With Hawass’s permission, veteran foreign correspondent Jeffrey Bartholet, on assignment for National Geographic magazine, was able to visit Saqqara, some 18 miles south of Cairo. He filed this report.

I spent three-and-a-half hours at Saqqara on Friday, February 4, walking the grounds and visiting tombs with Sabry Farag, general chief inspector for the antiquities ministry in the area. From one ancient tomb to another–many of them more than 4,000 years old–Farag repeated the words “no touching,” meaning they hadn’t been breached by looters. He also showed me a handful of tombs where robbers had succeeded in breaking steel padlocks on the doors. Once the robbers realized the rooms were empty, Farag says, they ignored the gorgeous reliefs on the walls and went elsewhere, presumably hoping to find gold, jewels, and other treasures they could carry away.

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Ancient Egypt
A collection of National Geographic Magazine photos and features about the world’s greatest trove of ancient treasures.