I was very pleased to be involved with this project, which will be aired in a television program called Egypt’s Lost Cities. Unfortunately, however, an inaccurate article about it was prematurely released, even before the BBC’s press release was checked by my Ministry.
According to Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) regulations, it is prohibited for anyone to announce a discovery before notifying and obtaining the approval of the Ministry first. This procedure is in place to ensure that any discoveries people want to announce are real and have been officially verified. If every mission authorized to carry out work in Egypt was allowed to announce things without them being checked first, there could potentially be lots of false claims made all the time.
Sadly, this was the case with the BBC. I am disappointed that not only was the report published without the approval of the MSA, but also that its announcement was not accurate, showing how important it is to follow the proper protocol. The draft press release reported that 17 new pyramids and thousands of ancient Egyptian settlements have been discovered by the University of Alabama using infrared satellite images and that the last major pyramid find was made over 20 years ago.
Although satellite imaging is useful for discovering new sites and monuments, interpretation of the images is not straightforward. No one can say with certainty that the features displayed under the sand are actually pyramids. Such anomalies could be houses, tombs, temples, pyramids, buried cities or even geological features. The only way we can definitely identify what is there is by excavating it - by investigating it physically. This was not made clear in the article.
A few months ago, satellite images of the necropolis of Saqqara South revealed the existence of three substantial anomalies. Archaeological inspection revealed that they are the remains of three pyramids previously excavated by the French Egyptologist, Gustave Jéquier (1868-1946). Among these three pyramids is one belonging to a 13th Dynasty king, Khendjer (c. 1764-1759 BC).
In addition, over the last 20 years two new pyramids have been discovered by archaeological teams led by me in Giza and Saqqara. The first was found beside Khufu’s pyramid in Giza (c. 2551-2528 BC) and the second is next to Teti’s pyramid in Saqqara (c. 2323-2291 BC). The base of a new pyramid at Saqqara has also been found, of an unknown owner, which we are still excavating.
Both the head of the mission, Dr Sarah Parcak, and the producer of the BBC Satellite Project, Mr Harvey Lilley, have expressed their regret about the situation.
The MSA is the government department responsible for protecting the countries’ antiquities. I hope that all news agencies will remember to check the facts regarding new discoveries in Egypt with the Ministry, to ensure that they do not mislead the public.
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Posted on Saturday, May 28, 2011.