..reports have started to come in of sophisticated and systematic looting occurring across major Egyptian archaeological sites, according to Egyptian and U.S. officials involved in the repatriation of antiquities.
The number of illegal excavations and thefts has worsened to the point that groups are organizing heavy machinery to carry out extensive digs.
“This wasn’t just someone taking their shovels and digging holes in the sand,” said Deborah Lehr, chairman of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at George Washington University, who has been charged with helping the Egyptian government protect its antiquities. “These were bulldozers, and gangs of men over a period of time.”
Illegal digs have long been a problem for Egypt, where 5,000 years of history lie buried: but since the start of the uprising against Mr. Mubarak in early 2011, the number has ballooned. The collapse of security has emboldened criminals to target landmark areas without fear of reprisals. Illegal digging has taken place near the Great Pyramids in Giza and the grand temples of the southern city of Luxor.
Satellite images from before and after the revolution show a marked increase in looter holes: in fact, parts of the landscape are starting to look like “Swiss cheese,” Ms. Lehr said.