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Thieves Find Cemetery of Pharaoh's Dentists 129

junglee_iitk writes with news of an important archaeological find from Egypt. Grave robbers located a tomb and were arrested while digging; what they found turns out to be the graves of three dentists who took care of a Pharaoh's teeth. The graves are located in the shadow of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, said to be Egypt's oldest, and are around 4,000 years old. From the article: "Although archaeologists have been exploring Egypt's ruins intensively for more than 150 years, [a senior archaeologist] believes only 30 percent of what lies hidden beneath the sands has been uncovered." Yahoo has a few pictures of the dig.
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Thieves Find Cemetery of Pharaoh's Dentists

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  • And yet... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GmAz ( 916505 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @02:17PM (#16549422) Journal
    Its also amazing how grave robbers seem to find all the good stuff before the archeologists.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by viking099 ( 70446 )
      I'm just glad the officials were able to nab the robbers before any damage was done or any items were stolen. Hopefully we can learn a bit more about how dental care was done in Egypt back then.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by muellerr1 ( 868578 )
        That's a pretty funny joke. I can't imagine why you got modded 'Interesting' instead. Unless you and the mods actually want to know about how dental care was done in Egypt back then, in which case, my bad. I still think it's kind of funny, though. You know, in a "why couldn't they have raided the Egyptian Porn Stars' tombs" kind of way.
        • Even if he was joking it actually is an interesting area because many ancient Egyptian jaws show signs of massive and deadly abcesses. It was actually a common ailment based on skeletal remains. It was generally caused by the sand that was produced during grinding of grain and also blown into the food that eroded the teeth down to the pulp. You see these teeth in ancient Egyptian skulls that have become completely flattened. Jaw infection must have been a horribly painful way to die.
      • ...and maybe how they found it.

        Seriously, 30%? That's almost embarrassing. Don't we have some kind of fancy ground-penetrating radar we could be using?

        • by jandrese ( 485 )
          From what I've seen, Ground Penetrating Radar is not all that it's cracked up to be. I've seen lots of shows where they're using it and most of the time it's about as accurate as a divining rod. It's entirely possible that Hollywood just doesn't know how to use the things properly, but it seems to me that unless there is a big chunk of metal embedded with whatever you're looking for, GPR just doesn't work very well.
    • Re:And yet... (Score:5, Informative)

      by pilgrim23 ( 716938 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @02:26PM (#16549568)
      There is a difference? The greatest discoveries in egypt were by "expert" grave robbers. E Wallis Budge (translator of the Dover edition Egyptian Book of the Dead) for example was one of the greatiest "aquisition agents" the British Museum ever deployed. Howard Carter of Tutankhamen fame was working for Lord Carnarvon on a private dig, not for a musem. The only difference betwene valid scientists in the past and grave robbers was the fancy title, and the better hotel accomodations at the Cairo Hilton..
      • Re:And yet... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by smilingman ( 942304 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @02:53PM (#16549886) Homepage
        On the contrary. Since when have grave robbers documented their findings or even bothered to mark their provenance? Even the worst treasure-hunting archaeologists (and there were worse than Budge) did that. The difference between a tomb robber and even the worst archaeologist is huge, to say nothing of the difference between them and highly cautious and meticulous normal ones.
        • its like the difference between a crime-scene investigator and a looter.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            I would say it is more like the difference between a looter who leaves and IOU and a regular looter.
        • They are still robbing graves though. Ok, document it, that's great and it's important to understand our history. Taking things out of someone's grave to display them somewhere else is robbery though, no matter how you slice it.
          • by jandrese ( 485 )
            Eh, it's not like the dead need all of that stuff. It's generally distasteful, but if it helps people understand the past better I can't complain that much. If it's just being sold to private collectors or melted down for the gold then I think there is more room to complain, but when you're actually learning new things about the past there is a strong case to be made for swiping and preserving those historical artifacts.
        • Since when have grave robbers documented their findings or even bothered to mark their provenance?
          They never really needed to.

          Looted & 'legitimate' artifacts all ended up in either museums or private collections. Those buyers always had the items authenticated by experts anyways.
          • by mgblst ( 80109 )
            So where they were actually discovered is not important at all? So the placement of said objects holds absolutely no significance?

            Sure, we all now that Britain and France looted huge amounts of gear from Egypt, but the way to make your point is not to make up crap.
        • I would beg to differ, but I have no dog in the fight.
        • Your argument is flawed for this case. These "grave robbers" were caught while digging, and so had no opportunity to report their findings. By your logic, the only difference between a "tomb robber" and an "archaeologist" is the documentation of findings, which means that the "grave robbers" involved in the article were neither.
          • Well, I did not say it, but, if the footware fits... I am sure the "science" of archeology of say 2107 or 3207 given some human culture is around then will decry our current desicration of sites. Yes, you are correct, I see little difference. The moral high ground may exist, but no here...There are exceptions and pitfalls and piltdowns along the way...
          • by hkmwbz ( 531650 )
            Archaeologists typically ask the authorities for permission before "robbing" graves...
      • Re:And yet... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by curunir ( 98273 ) * on Monday October 23, 2006 @02:57PM (#16549946) Homepage Journal
        Not that I agree with removing any of the ancient Egyptian antiquities from Egypt, but there is a huge difference between removing them for display at a prominent museum like the British Museum and removing them to be sold on the black market such that they will likely never again be available to be seen by the public.

        A good example of this is the mummy of Ramses I. If this had been pillaged by archaeologists on behalf of the British Museum, it would be in much better shape that it is currently. However, because it was unearthed by tomb robbers, it spent over 100 years at a museum in Niagra Falls with very little concern for maintaining it and absolutely no indication given to visitors that it was, in fact, the mummy of a Pharoah. An "expert" grave robber would have followed much a much more strict procedure to ensure that it was properly cared for and properly catalogued (if only to increase the value, but still).

        That said, the Ramses I mummy did end up in Egypt, which almost makes up for the shoddy maintenance it received over the course of its post-excavation life (museums around the world should follow the example of the Carlos Museum at Emory University and return everything that was stolen from Egypt)...
        • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Monday October 23, 2006 @05:22PM (#16552168) Homepage Journal
          Any stolen object that can be returned without damaging it further (sawing a stone column into three pieces isn't exactly quality care) AND which will be kept with an equal or greater standard of care should be returned otherwise unconditionally.

          "But it belongs to (country)! Why should (some other country) keep it?" In the end, none of this "belongs" to a country. History cuurered everywhere at the same time. (Duh!) For the most part, the political boundaries that marked these countries no longer exist, the political entities have vanished into oblivion, no living direct descendents who could claim even a moral ownership are known to survive, so for the most part the only meaningful designation is "world heritage" (which I believe to not be used nearly enough and most definitely not recognized nearly enough).

          So, if object X is being, or would very likely be, damaged by being in country Y, I believe country Y has lost all right to the ownership of object X. I don't like the fact that Britain has the Elgin Marbles, but I like even less the fact that they'd be destroyed by pollution if they were ever returned. The Greece of back then no longer exists, any more than the Egypt of the Pharaohes exists today. In some cases, there simply isn't a country in which an object is truly safe. In that case, you document every last facet like crazy and hope. (You can't move the Great Pyramid and you certainly can't hide it, though reducing pollution might cut down on the deterioration.)

          But what makes something "world heritage"? The object itself? Usually no. Except in some rare cases, the object has no value in and of itself. For inorganic objects, it is the information the object posesses - from the chemical structure through to any symbols or writings on it, and the information associated with it - where it was made, when, how and why, where it was found, the nature of the site, other items found there and their respective characteristics and associations, and so on. These are the things that have any lasting meaning. Once you know the object - totally - you can always make another using exactly the same materials, tools and methods.

          For organic objects, it's tougher. If a bone is damaged or destroyed, there is next to nothing you can do. And time is rarely kind to anything of organic nature. Tutankamun is in very bad shape now and the remains will probably not survive a whole lot longer. Part of that is due to Carter's team, but part is due to Egypt having very high levels of acidic pollution and acid rain. You can't expect much to survive under such brutal conditions.

          The other problem with organics is that there's much less information you can obtain. With luck, you can extract mtDNA, maybe even use modelling to produce an impression of what the person looked like. Bodies found in peat bogs and ice fields give slightly more information, perhaps yielding clues of fashion, food and culture that artifacts alone can't. We learned a lot from "Pete Marsh" and the iron-age traveller murdered in the alps, but such finds are almost never in any kind of context, so there is very little you can do to connect them with what was happening at that time. "Pete Marsh" - Lindow Man - might date anywhere from prior to the Roman invasion to a hundred years after the Boudicca Rebellion, making it very hard to know what sort of context is involved.

          Getting back to thieves vs. archaeologists - IMHO, it's not a binary thing. I would argue that the "absolute" thief is one who destroys information in search of money, even if that involves destroying the thing they're trying to find. (When archaeologists started paying money per fragment of Dead Sea Scroll recovered, some of the locals cut fragments up so that they could get more money.) I would argue that the "absolute" archaeologist obtains all information, even if that means never reaching the object. (We now have GPR scans of Edward the Confessor's tomb, but reaching it would destroy countless artifacts and could potentia

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by TapeCutter ( 624760 )
            Well said, returning a hypothetical "very large Buddah" to the Taliban would be like shooting the face off the Sphynx with a cannon. Ancient artifacts belong to humanity, period!
            • by jd ( 1658 )
              ...Napoleon's troops apparently did shoot the nose and some of the face off the Sphinx with a cannon. It is not completely clear if there was further damage done (either directly or as a consequence of sending shock waves through sandstone). This will likely have shortened the lifespan of the monument and has contributed to the modern, sometimes bitter, feuds over the nature and origins of the Sphinx.

              The destruction of the two standing Buddhas was a terrible disaster for archaeologists and historians. Partl

              • Afghanistan has been a major crossroad for humanity for at least 7,000yrs and probably still contains a lot of archeological surprises. The Taliban destroyed the statues because of ideology, they started by cutting the faces off, then decided to just blew them up instead. There is some speculation that the nose story was actually propoganda. I can get my head around neglect and theft, partcularly in a dirt poor country, but ideological or mindless destruction is the antithesis of civilization.

                I am Britis
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by gripen40k ( 957933 )
        This is funny 'cause I just wrote an essay on this. The difference is between anthropological archaeologists and non-anthropological archaeologists. The former cares about the culture in which the material remains were found, and will use those remains to gain incite into the workings of that culture. The latter cares about the material remains themselves, the tomb, the mummies, ect. They think the culture is neat, but what they really want to know about is what the item is and what is it worth. Not all wer
    • It's easier to go through a lot of sites if you can use a bulldozer instead of a toothbrush (figuratively)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Think about the fact that thieves dont have to ask for permissions, dont have to look for a crew and dont have to follow the way archeologyst work (Harris matrix and so).

      And, even more important, thieves have nothing to lose.
      • by Joebert ( 946227 )
        So why do we keep hiring the archaeologists ?
        Sounds like theese thieves have their shit together.
    • Yes, and a grave robber will also destroy a priceless artifact if it isn't shiny enough to sell easily.
    • ...grave robbers seem to find all the good stuff...

      Not counting all the old magazines from 1990 B.C. Geesh, this article about the delta flooding is at least five years older than the dig site...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "Its also amazing how grave robbers seem to find all the good stuff before the archeologists."

      I suspect that's a combination of -

      a) more of them

      b) better funded

      c) no restrictions on where they can dig

      d) less work involved (no need to preserve context)
    • "Grave robbers "

      After three thousand years, it isn't a grave, and it isn't robbing. If you want to contradict me, have the relatives of the dead give me a call.

      Now, the archaeologists, THEY cleaned the places out in the 19th century.

      Once again, it ain't stealin' if no one owns it. Just 'cause someone claims it doesn't mean they own it, either. Those tombs were emptied using political pressure, military occupation, and just plain thuggin' thievery by museums for the last couple of centuries. No one calls tho
    • by rebel13 ( 973392 )
      All i have to say is that even INDIANA JONES was accused of grave robbery. Repeatedly, in fact.
    • Graverobbing started fairly soon after the decline of Egyptian society. Archeology is graverobbing where you get to put your treasures in a museum and write about it. One of the most common items removed from sites has always been blocks and stones. These were reused for huts and even for the street paving stones in many cities. In the 1800's, the corpses of the dead (mummies) were even used as fuel for railroad trains as they were dessicated and burned with a good heat. Unfortunately the treasures that w
  • That led archaeologists to the three tombs, one of which included an inscription warning that anyone who violated the sanctity of the grave would be eaten by a crocodile and a snake...

    Mummy, the crocodile returns!!!
  • Moo (Score:1, Funny)

    by Chacham ( 981 )
    three dentists who took care of a Pharaoh's teeth.

    Of course, they only had the teeth because the thieves ancestors stole the rest of the body. They took them to court and cried "I want my mummy!", but for some reason the judge kept it under wraps.

    They left just the teeth. That's got to bite.
  • by luder ( 923306 ) * <> on Monday October 23, 2006 @02:20PM (#16549480)
    Did they find her?
  • by krell ( 896769 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @02:25PM (#16549540) Journal
    If you do not support saving these remains, you must be some sort of anti-dentite.
  • by Chacham ( 981 )

    The tombs, which did not contain their mummies, were built of mud-brick and limestone, not the pure limestone preferred by ancient Egypt's upper class.

    "The whole point of a tomb was to last forever," said Carol Redmount, associate professor of Egyptian archaeology at the University of California at Berkeley. "So you wanted to make it out of materials that would last forever. And mud-brick ... didn't last forever."

    So, it's a story of how the lower quality beat the higher quality, even though they flatly d

  • Dr. Zahi Hawass (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hangin10 ( 704729 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @02:29PM (#16549608)
    Dr. Zahi Hawass is just so damn cool. And he has the coolest title too (Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities). I strongly recommend checking out his website [] (broken English warning here).
  • GW (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anne_Nonymous ( 313852 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @02:33PM (#16549662) Homepage Journal
    The graves of George Washington's crack dental team are probably safe.
    • by krell ( 896769 )
      "crack dental team"

      Ouch. I don't think they'll use that term in adverts.
      • Well, they've been using cocaine as a dental anaesthetic for a long time, but the CIA didn't exist to invent crack cocaine back in Washington's day...
        • by krell ( 896769 )
          "but the CIA didn't exist to invent crack cocaine back in Washington's day..."

          However, they did have time machines to ensure that the Freemason plans were continuing as planned. Muahahahah!
  • EULA (Score:3, Funny)

    by giafly ( 926567 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @02:59PM (#16549978)
    included an inscription warning that anyone who violated the sanctity of the grave would be eaten by a crocodile and a snake, Hawass said.
    Presumably representing the MPAA and RIAA.
  • One wonders (Score:5, Funny)

    by Aqua_boy17 ( 962670 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @03:00PM (#16549986)
    Blockquothing TFA:
    "an eye over a tusk -- which appear frequently among the neat rows of symbols decorating the tombs. He said those hieroglyphs identify the men as dentists."
    Given this, I have to wonder what the hieroglyphs for the Pharoh's proctologist looked like. Maybe an eye over a donkey?
  • [a senior archaeologist] believes only 30 percent of what lies hidden beneath the sands has been uncovered.
    What sort of data goes into an estimate like this? Does anyone have any idea?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 )

      What sort of data goes into an estimate like this? Does anyone have any idea?

      Probably just the sheer number of (semi) important people who would have died over the time period of the pyramids and merited a fancy burial.

      Back in February they found a new tomb [] which is literally something like 45 feet from the tomb of Tut -- the first undisturbed find since Tut's tomb. I was watching a show last night on Discovery about the recovery/perservation efforts. They seem to think it was either his mother or his wif

  • And his HMO (Score:4, Funny)

    by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @03:03PM (#16550018) Homepage Journal
    Still hasn't paid.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All the old Pharoahs in the tombs
    Didn't brush enough, dont you know
    It led to tooth decay (oh whey oh)
    Teeth falling out like a hockey Joe.

    All the king's dentists by the Nile
    Don't even know 'bout filling holes
    Gold incisors (oh whey oh)
    Go in after the old get pulled.

    Plier bites without nitrous pipes say:
    Ay oh whey oh, ay oh whey oh
    Yank like an Egyptian.
  • whats a "grave robber" anyway... I mean, isn't archeology grave robbing? Is it defined by what you do with the loot. if you sell it to a museum vs. a private collector its not grave robbing? And .. well if you steal from a 2000 year old pile O' dust
  • The grave robbers, meanwhile, are recovering from severe whip lacerations received from a mysterious, independent archeologist who was first on the scene.
  • by goofyspouse ( 817551 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @03:33PM (#16550446)
    "an eye over a tusk -- which appear frequently among the neat rows of symbols decorating the tombs. He said those hieroglyphs identify the men as dentists."

    As if the stack of old Highlights magazines in the entryway were not clue enough...
  • Zahi Hawass (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @03:35PM (#16550484) Journal
    Zahi Hawass; either he's omnipresent, or is a media hound, because it seems any documentary or photo shoot about Egyptian archeology has him in it. Maybe he just likes fame as much as archeology. ypttombs//im:/061022/481/d9433cbb7dc24106bdf87f124 dd60323 []

    Dan East
  • I, for one, welcome our new Dentist Overlords.
  • by Phoenix666 ( 184391 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @03:37PM (#16550520)
    So, I have a question. Not an archaeologist, nor a seismologist, nor anything else. Layman here.

    But don't they have the means now to map things which lie below the surface? I believe I've heard or read that they have satellites that can do that to some extent now. Also, I saw a show on the Discovery Channel where they planted small charges in a grid pattern in some Greek island while looking for the origin of the Atlantis myth, detonated them, and then created an image based on how well sound propagated through subsoil strata.

    If that's so, then why can't they do something like that in the Nile river valley? Surely it's gotta be cheaper and faster and safer to uncover the past that way than to dig randomly or wait for a bunch of grave-robbing turkeys to make finds first.
    • by zulater ( 635326 )
      I do believe they have ground penetrating radar that could work, my understanding is that the egyptian government is not allowing it. What you are thinking of is a 3d seismic survey, commonly to find oil and gas. problem with that is you can't really image small scale things like tombs just larger scale ancient geology.
    • There are a couple of different ones.
      the most common older one is the one you talk about where they set off a small explosion and then have sensors that detect how long it takes from the vibration to travel. since it takes different times depending on the material you can get an idea if something is there and the general shape.
      The fairly newer kind is an actual ground radar system which you have to drag around, it sends signals into the ground they bounce back and you get an idea what is down there.
  • by airship ( 242862 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @03:46PM (#16550670) Homepage
    Pharohs' Dentists Found in Egyptian Cavity :)
  • by FacePlant ( 19134 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @03:52PM (#16550758)
    If you take something out of a tomb, whether to
    sell it, or display it in a museum, it's still
    grave robbery.
    • by ledow ( 319597 ) *
      Do you hover every time you visit a cemetary? I suppose you would like us to also hover over any grave that's ever been made (which would mean hovering for all eternity unless we visit another planet), so as not to (potentially) damage it?

      How, exactly, do you propose to stop other people grave robbing, those who wreck the tombs, the history, all evidence and the artifacts, FOR THE GOLD AND THE MONEY before "real" scientists (who quite often go out of their way to make sure that virtually every body that ca
      • Do you hover every time you visit a cemetary?
        My hovercraft is full of eels.

        I suppose you would like us to also hover over any grave that's ever been made (which would mean hovering for all eternity unless we visit another planet), so as not to (potentially) damage it?
        That's quite a logical leap you've made from my assertion that digging around in graves,
        for the purpose of removing stuff, whether for study or profit, is grave robbery.

        How, exactly, do you propose to stop other people grave robbing,
        Liberal app
  • I used to have two dentists (cleaning monthly [still go there every month] and one was orthodentist for braces and stuff). Three? That's just crazy. :)
    • by mgblst ( 80109 )
      Remember, this was a few thousand year ago, things were different then. He had one for each of his teeth.
  • The step pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara is closer to 5,000 years old than 4,000, as any educated person knows and a quick google would have told you: []

    4,000 years would put it outside the Old Kingdom dates and the major pyramid-building era altogether. But hey, it all happened a long time ago, and anything that happened a long time ago practically happened on the same date!
  • There was no evidence of Laura Croft having been any where near the site, and when asked about the dust covered dental molds, Representatives of Ms. Croft stated that said molds had been purchased in ... um.. Bangladesh.
  • They have been identified as Al-Moe, Asak Larry, and Kulaph Curly. Their tomb entrance was covered in the heiroglyph for "Nyuck Nyuck".
  • From the door picture in Yahoo:

    Enterprising but unlucky thieves, who likely didn't notice a curse inscription just inside the prominent doorway to the chief dentist's tomb warning that those who enter would be eaten by crocodiles and snakes, led the Egyptian archaeological team to discover the three tombs, which were unveiled Sunday.

    I wonder if the punishment of the thieves could carry this threat on. It would be interesting if the penalty for grave robbers would be to feed them to crocodiles and snakes.

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington