Only 22 acres have remained of the ancient hill which is eight meters higher than the neighboring village, after the government took 55 acres to build its institutions: two schools, a football stadium and a wastewater treatment plant on the ancient city under the hill.

Only 22 acres have remained of the ancient hill which is eight meters higher than the neighboring village, after the government took 55 acres to build its institutions: two schools, a football stadium and a wastewater treatment plant on the ancient city under the hill.

Only beholding the site on the ground highlights the scale of destruction. There are scattered ancient stones, homes illegally built on the hill, children playing football among excavation holes and traces of unprofessional drilling all around the site, which has no fence to protect it from trespassers. The Ministry of Antiquities is absent.

“Here was the pharaonic city of Mendes, after whom a dead stream of the Nile was named,” said Salem Baghdadi, Director of Antiquities in Dakahlia, “Mendes city was a river port from the 21st to the 30th Pharaonic Dynasty. Archeological excavations started in 1828, the last of which was the expedition of the Canadian Tirno University, which started its work in 2001 and finished five years later,” he added.

Between two revolutions

“The last expedition,” said Baghdadi, “discovered a full Pharaonic city, residential areas and two graveyards which were neglected and violently destroyed during the Roman and Greek ages. Four tombs are still present in the southern graveyard. They contain jewelry, pottery, statues made of bronze and stone, iron pieces, and signs of revenge campaigns, civil wars or popular revolutions, where there are traces of ancient arms warehouses. Cases of leprosy were observed among the mummies’ remains in addition to burned human bones. The western graveyard contains tombs of royalty, a coffin made of diorite, a mummy with a turquoise mask and funeral artifacts.”

How people faced insecurity then produced it

What we have here is a miniature museum of accumulations of more than one Pharaonic age. “The site also contains ruins of a temple called Sheshonk I and granite pieces with engravings of the Egyptian god, Ptah,” the archeologist added.

Young Muhammad Sabri however suggests that the government itself is taking part in the violation process. He says the government will construct headquarters for the directorates of education, and youth and sport on the hill, and Dikirnis’ council intents to establish a wastewater treatment plant on the hill despite being covered by the Antiquity Law. He relates how the people themselves defended their area against a gang of antiquity thieves led by a police officer and armed men on January 28th, the third day of the revolution, indicating the environmental importance of the hill which has become a home for migratory birds, which makes it equal to a nature reserve.

The government steals antiquities

Not all the villagers are concerned about this issue. A lot of them, who preferred anonymity, could not care less about the area’s archeological importance. Instead, all they are concerned about is transforming it into an area which provides public services, suggesting that the antiquity trade – conducted by powerful men – is sponsored by the official authorities themselves. Um Na’eemah, the only person who agreed to say her name, said that vast areas of the hill were appropriated for Mubarak’s powerful men, including Major General Muhammad Shabakah who excavated three acres and then tried to transform them into a waste dump, but the area’s people did not allow it.

Police’s collusion and gold dealers’ profits

For his part, Baghdadi accuses the hill residents of committing the thefts and holds the police responsible for messing around with the antiquities. “The area suffers from insecurity and its guards have been attacked and tied up by thieves more than once. Although the antiquity police have the judicial right to arrest trespassers, the armed groups are stronger than us,” Baghdadi explained.

He sent letter no. 193, dated 09.01.2013, to the Ministry and the security officials to inform them that the area’s people had stolen antiquities after drilling eight meters underground, and demanded that the police station in Tmy Al Amdeed guards the site, citing poverty as the cause that made people treat antiquities as worthless stones. He related how the gold dealers from Mansoura became permanent guests of the village where they offered residents money to excavate in their lands to find precious stones and jewelry and traded diorite and granite which are used in engraving copied antiquities. The village’s stones which have been eroded for thousands of years are used in 90% of the copied antiquities.

Antiquities in sewage

Who is then responsible for the hill’s lands? Hamdi Ahmad, senior archeological inspector, says the hill’s lands have been owned by the Bayyaas since the 1940s but according to the Antiquity Law, they are now controlled by the Ministry of Antiquities. Fifty out of 72 acres have been excavated and returned to their owners or invested. The area cannot be used as a tourist attraction. Every time one of the inheritors applies to use a piece of the land, a committee is formed to identify the cost of excavating its antiquities and return it to the owners provided that only the surface is used. The excavation works are administered and supervised by the Ministry of Antiquities.

Unfortunately, these procedures are not applied on the ground. “There is no coordination between different authorities, which often leads to the current farcical situation. Archeologists are often surprised by government bodies installing a sewage system in the very excavation area they work in. That’s why we later find precious stones and jewelry in drainpipes.”