Egypt’s antiquities minister has denied knowledge of activists officially accusing his ministry of "destroying" the Al-Abd Theatre excavation site in Alexandria.
“I do not know anybody at the Egypt Heritage Task Force group, and none of them has ever met me, or given me any advice on the Al-Abd Theatre, as they claim,” Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty told Ahram Online on Tuesday, referring to the group of activists who submitted a complaint to the prosecutor-general on Monday, accusing him, his ministry’s Ancient Egyptian Antiquities department, and the Director of Antiquities in Alexandria of “destroying” the archeological site.
After the Al-Abd Theatre was discovered in 2012 during building work, subsequent excavations eight metres below ground level uncovered catacombs, as well as Roman and Hellenistic-era statues, columns, and pottery.
In March 2015, the “Permanent Committee of Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman Antiquities” decided to remove the objects and return the land to its original owner, according to Mahmoud Afifi, head of Ancient Egyptian Antiquities at the ministry.
"The site was evacuated and archaeologists took the unearthed artefacts to the museum,” Afifi said.
The ministry then refilled the land with sand as, according to their technical report, the eight-metre-deep excavations had affected the foundation of the adjacent building, and cracks had started to appear on its walls, he said.
This sparked a ferocious debate between the ministry and archaeologists, he said.
After that, Eldamaty sent another archaeological committee, led by Afifi and one other ministry employee, to inspect the site.
In their report, which they handed to the minister and to the permanent committee, they “suggested re-excavating the site and removing the archaeological remains to a more secure location, and handing the land back to its original owner,” Afifi told Ahram Online, adding that this should be done after building protective walls around the site.
The permanent committee are to meet at the end of May to make a decision, the minister said.