Egypt's revolution may save Neolithic treasure

Thu Jun 2, 2011 8:54am EDT
 
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By Patrick Werr

LAKE QARUN, Egypt (Reuters) - Egypt's popular uprising may have arrived just in time to save a Neolithic site that holds the country's oldest evidence of agriculture and could yield vital clues to the rise of Pharaonic civilization.

The site lies in a protected nature reserve along the shore north of Lake Qarun that until recently had remained virtually untouched, even though it lies only 70 km (43.50 miles) from Cairo, Egypt's fast-expanding capital.

A month before the protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak erupted in January, the Egyptian government carved 2.8 square kilometers of prime land from the reserve and awarded it to property developer Amer Group for a tourist resort.

Since Mubarak was ousted, three government ministers who sat on a committee that approved the sale have been jailed while they battle corruption charges not related to the Amer deal.

One of them, Housing Minister Ahmed el-Maghrabi, told Reuters in January that archaeology officials had given the re-development the necessary green light.

Egypt's archaeology chief now says that was untrue.

"I did not give any permission to anyone. The excavations are not finished," Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council for Antiquities, told Reuters.

Property developers have come under increasing public scrutiny for their land purchases from Mubarak's government, and some firms have relinquished tracts of land.   Continued...

 
<p>People walk beside a lake during the second day of Eid al-Adha celebrations in Fayoum, around 100 km southwest of Cairo, November 28, 2009. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih</p>