Over the weekend, Egyptian Twitter was rocked by the news of a fake pharaonic tomb built by a group of fugitive suspects in Beni Sueif, supposedly with the aim of defrauding antiquities dealers.
Twitter users’ responses ranged from incredulity, to laughter, and even praise for the scammers.
On 15 February, Egyptian police personnel discovered what looked like ancient Egyptian artifacts near a two-meter deep hole in the ground, in a desert area outside of the town of El-Hayba, Beni Sueif.
Beneath the ground were three chambers decorated with murals of hieroglyphics and other ancient Egyptian symbols, and containing many more artifacts.
A committee formed by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities examined the site and determined that the murals, along with the artifacts found in the chambers, were in fact not at all antiquities, but reproductions no more than a year or two old.
Egyptian television network DMC shared a video where Secretary-General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mostafa Waziri, visited the site himself to assert the inauthenticity of the tomb. The video showed sarcophagi made of fiber; artifacts made of plaster, spray-painted golden; and paraphernalia seemingly purchased from souvenir shops.
Following investigations, the prosecution concluded that the identified suspects had built the fake tomb to defraud would-be antiquities traffickers. A warrant was issued for their arrest on 17 February, and the manufactured tomb has since been destroyed by authorities.
On Twitter, several observers poked fun at the absurdity of the crime:
مشروع كوتشيات اي يعم احنا نعمل مقبرة فرعونية https://t.co/w7F6zw06oD
— Ғoυɒα (@Fouda51122955) February 18, 2023
Translation: Selling [contraband] sneakers? No, man, we should build a pharaonic tomb.
مقبرة فرعونية ولكن تعود للعام 2022
نصب مو طبيعي https://t.co/LE7VIXSVEI
— Ammar Mohammad (@Ammar_Mohd13) February 17, 2023
Translation: A pharaonic tomb dating back to the year 2022. Incredible scam.
يخرب بيتكم حتى المقابر زيفتوها مصريون يصممون مقبرة فرعونية مزيفة بغرض النصب! https://t.co/wI3LHi1Gmb
— Athbi Alzayed (@Cbkkadar) February 16, 2023
Translation: Even tombs can be contraband now! A group of Egyptians built a fake pharaonic tomb for the purpose of scamming!
Some users felt that the perpetrators should be punished for their crime, along with the dealers to whom they sold the fake artifacts:
وكما قال اللمبي ؛ انتوا حتحاكنوهم عشان هربوا ولا عشان فيشلوا خارجين عن القانون نصبوا علي خارجين على القانون المفروض الاتنين يتحاكموا
— Ismail Ismail (@ismailbadawy73) February 16, 2023
Translation: And as El-Lemby [a comical Egyptian film character] said, will you punish them for running or for failing? Outlaws scamming other outlaws, they should all be tried.
الغريب ان حرامية الأثار بلغو عن نفسهم وأقرو أنهم حرامية في مقابل
القبض على الدماغ المتكلفة دي pic.twitter.com/SspmtwtFT6
— نور الهدى المصرية ⚖ (@Nourmazen022) February 16, 2023
Translation: The weird part is that antiquities thieves turned themselves in to the authorities and acknowledged that they were thieves in exchange for the arrest of these creative scammers.
Others, on the other hand, like the below user, commended the scammers for punishing those engaged in the illegal trade of antiquities and questioned if they should be punished at all:
عموماً اللي عملوا مقبرة فرعونية مزيفة دول مبدعين بجد مش نصابين وحتى لو نصابين فهما بينصبوا ع تجار الآثار يعني نكافئهم مرتين مرة ع الكريتڤتي ومرة لأنهم بينصبوا على تجار الآثار مش يتحبسوا
— Imaginary (@Shorouqmd) February 18, 2023
Translation: The people who made the fake pharaonic tomb are very creative. Even if they are scammers, they’re scamming antiquities traffickers. This means they should be praised both for their creativity and for scamming the antiquities traffickers, not jailed.
Many more described the scammers as talented, clever, and praised their efforts in building what was largely perceived as an accurate reproduction:
انا نفسي اقابل الناس اللي عملوا مقبرة فرعونية مضروبة – إيه الدماغ ده ؟
— Rania (@RaniaKeiy) February 16, 2023
Translation: I want to meet the people who made a fake pharaonic tomb — how clever are they?
شباب من بنى سويف عملوا مقبرة فرعونية تحت الأرض وعملولها سراديب وجابوا واحد رسم أشكال فرعونية على الحوائط وأشتروا شوية تماثيل وتابوت من خان الخليلى وحطوهم جوة المقبرة المهم جابوا شوية ناس وباعولهم المقبرة على اساس أنها فرعونية والمباحث بتدور عليهم pic.twitter.com/TFTTrn1OxW
— azza (@azzafouda8) February 16, 2023
Translation: Brilliant minds! A group of young people from Beni Sueif built a pharaonic tomb and got someone to paint pharaonic symbols on the wall. They bought some souvenirs from Khan El Khalili and put them in the tomb. They got some people and sold them the artifacts claiming that they were pharaonic ones, and now the police are looking for them.
بينما نحن نلهو في مجموعة شباب مجتهد من محافظه بني سويف الشقيقة قعدوا سنه كامله يعملوا ف مقبره فرعونيه تحت الارض ,بكل ما يلزمها من سراديب ودهاليز ومش بس كده دول لونوا الجدران ونقشوا عليها رسومات فرعونيه , وفوق ده كل اشتروا مجموعه تماثيل جبس وشويه تماثيل صيني وشوية اكسسوارات فرعوني pic.twitter.com/oAL51zwM8J
— The Fact is No Fact (@LimoRagab) February 17, 2023
Translation: While we were having fun, a group of hard-working young people from Beni Suef spent a year building a fake pharaonic tomb underground with all the corresponding artifacts. Not only this, they painted the walls and decorated them with pharaonic drawings. Over and above, they added some plaster statues and Chinese souvenirs and some pharaonic accessories.
انا لو من المسؤولين اجيب اللي رسم المقبره دي وامسكه تجميل المدن 👌😂😂😂
الواد ايده تتلف في حرير 🤔
— yousef 🇪🇬⚖️ (@joesalah5) February 16, 2023
Translation: If it were up to me, I would put those responsible for this in charge of beautifying cities. The guy’s hands should be wrapped in silk.
In a call to television network, CBC, however, Waziri explained that the manufactured tomb was in fact not an accurate reproduction of real ancient Egyptian burial sites. While perhaps able to trump the untrained eye, he noted that its inauthenticity was quickly apparent to specialists.
As an example, he pointed to the fact that some of the images seen on the walls were portrayals associated with the Old Kingdom, and others, with the New Kingdom, all most likely copied from drawing books. He further noted that the entrance to the tomb itself was unlike those seen in ancient burial sites.
In his message to viewers, Waziri noted that antiquities scams are common, and condemned the actions of both fraudsters and dealers, saying, “As long as there are greedy people, there will be scammers.”