Sunken Antiques…Successes, Challenges

By Ali Abo Dashish and Nawal Sayed

CAIRO, Feb. 18 (SEE) – It was necessary to establish a department of archaeological ruins in order to protect the sunken cultural heritage and antiques and also supervise the foreign missions that operate on the Egyptian coasts.

The department started its work in 1996 with the efforts of only 14 people under the leadership of Dr. Ibrahim Darwish. Today, it embraces 45 archeologists; most of them hold postgraduate studies in the field of marine and sunken monuments.

The department is interested in organizing training programs annually in the fields of marine surveying, raising the level of diving and efficiency of archaeologists and training in rescue operations.

Main tasks of the central administration of the sunken antiques and Foreign Missions:

  • Be in the company of foreign missions working in the search for antiques on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea , Mariout Lake and the Nile River.
  • The European Institute of Marine Archeology Mission (IEASM) in the Eastern Port and Abu Kir
  • The French Center for the Studies of Alexandria Mission (CEALEX) next to Qaitbay citadel
  • The American Institute of Marine Archeology Mission (INA) in the Red Sea
  • The Hellenic Institute of Archeology Mission of the Sea of Brahimi working in Sidi Bishr, the Cor island and Al-Selsela
  • The University of Turin, Italy, Mission on the island of Nelson in Abo Kir
  • The Russian expedition in the western port of Al-Anfoshi
  • University of Southampton Mission in Mariout Lake

Another role of the department is to coordinate with and supervise Egyptian missions too such as the following:

•Dr. Zahi Hawass’s mission in Aswan to discover the sunken heritage in the Nile River, which resulted in many discoveries and continued for four seasons

•The Egyptian expedition in al-Ma’moura gulf, which resulted in the discovery of the wreckage of a ship, many of the stone bridges and the head of a marble statue

•The Egyptian Mission in Ibrahimia, which worked on fish ponds and quarries

•Egyptian expedition of the Red Sea coast of South Sinai, Dahab city

•The joint mission between the French Institute and the central department in the Red Sea valley of Jorf, which worked on the port of Khufu, the oldest historic port

•Mission of eastern Abu Qir, known as Zephryon

•Archaeological survey of the southern Red Sea coast, which resulted in the detection of the wreckage of ships and their cargoes

•Mission of documenting Siwa Eyes’ Antiques

•An archaeological survey of parts of the coasts of North Sinai (Mahmudiyat – Flosiyat – Qulas)

•             A vast survey of the northwestern coast of Egypt (Marsa Matrouh – Morsi Bagush – Ras al-Hakamah)

•The department’s tasks are not limited to this extent, but the department was assigned also to carry out special surveys and operations linked to private companies and state institutions as well.

Challenges of Sunken Antiques

Working at this department does not have a time limit, but it is different from the rest departments of the Ministry of Antiquities.

The Sunken Antiques’ department staff are working on the ground. Their job description includes diving under the water in the depths of the various, doing drilling and surveying and photography and the removal of antiques and sometimes the initial restoration sites.

Their work is not linked to a specific place, but the staff is responsible for all the coasts of Egypt, so they may have to leave their houses and their children for weeks or months to work in the sea.

One of the difficulties and problems that hinder the work of the department’s staff is “the lack of management personnel any material advantage of colleagues working in the office, despite the different nature of work and the need for the inspector to work after official working hours and sometimes many outside the province,’ according to a source who asked anonymity.

The source pointed out to the challenges that the department’s staff face as follow:

• Lack of new young people who want to work at the department due to lack of motivation, as well as the length of work time

•Difficulty in obtaining security permissions

•Failure to allocate a fixed budget for annual excavations

• Difficulty to renew diving equipments, which should be renewed periodically every three years

• Diving on the responsibility of the inspector and not the responsibility of the Ministry as the Inspector is working under the surface of the water, which exposes inspectors to health risks

• There is no diving or health insurance against diving and deep-sea diseases

•The marginalization of the ministry to the role of department

Despite all the mentioned challenges, the department staff members are working efficiently, coordinate with and supervise foreign and Egyptian missions along the coasts.

Some also propose the establishment of a specialized center that will be directly subordinate to the minister or to the cabinet, as is the case in the Grand Egyptian Museum.

It’s noteworthy that the sunken antiques have an exhibition wandering the world under the name of “the Sunken Treasures of Egypt.”

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