Saturday, September 28, 2013


With the absence of security agencies following the revolution, grave diggers are speeding up their operations, threatening heritage left behind by civilizations that thrived in Libya thousands of years ago. Magharebia had a tour with archaeologist Saed al-Annabi in Shahat in eastern Libya, the location of the archaeological city of Cyrene, built by the Greeks in 631 BC. The city is one of the world's largest grave sites.

Shahat is an area that witnessed early improvement in security. Its police force and other agencies created after the revolution are actively working. However, they can't impose their control on archaeological sites around the area. Attacks on Cyrene have prompted UNESCO to threaten to remove it from the list of World Heritage Sites.

Historical studies indicate that Cyrene was one of the richest cities of the ancient world and that many of its products, such as silphium, which was equal in value to gold, as well as grains, olive and its derivatives, were so abundant that the city supplied ancient Greece. However, according to al-Annabi, the possessions of their dead are now "coveted by thieves".

Al-Annabi said attacks on archaeological sites occurred before the revolution but they increased afterwards because there was no security agency tasked with the protection of heritage. Excavations at archaeological sites have grown in the absence of state authority. Meanwhile, grave sites are disturbed, either by building on them or by turning them into rest-houses or even barns for animals. According to al-Annabi, residents of rural areas around Cyrene complained about individuals messing around with these sites. "Some of them were arrested and brought to court," he said.

In his turn, Ahmed Abdul Karim, professor of antiquities at Omar Mokhtar University, called for tightening security at archaeological sites. He blamed Libya's antiquities law, which failed to resolve the issue of land ownership. "Transferring the ownership of land where antiquities are found from citizens to state is one of the biggest challenges facing the Libyan authorities in protecting antiquities," he added.

Abdul Karim Jleed, a photographer, said, "Honestly, the security aspect is very neglected as far as antiquities are concerned. Archaeological sites are open from all sides and visitors are not monitored. Unfortunately, we see during holidays intensive security patrols and we can avoid many problems if these patrols continued throughout the year."


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