Egyptologists Doubt Desert Discovery

Published June 30th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

When a pilot from Iowa stumbled across a striking series of cave drawings in the Egyptian desert, experts at first said the find could date as far back as 7,000 years before Christ.  

But after some study, the Egyptian antiquity service said this week that doubts had emerged, according to a report by The Associated Press, citing experts. 

"We are suspicious as to the authenticity of the cave drawings," said Magda Yehia, an archaeologist at Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. "We're conducting scientific tests to see how old they are."  

George Cunningham, the pilot from Algona, Iowa, who found the paintings while hunting for fossils in the desert outside Cairo, told the agency he was awaiting a final ruling from the Egyptian experts.  

"I'd be disappointed if they turned out not to be as old as we thought they were," he said.  

Cunningham, working in Egypt as a helicopter pilot trainer for an oil company, contacted American and Egyptian experts after his find last month, said the AP, adding that the antiquities department was intrigued enough to send a team of a dozen Egyptologists for a close look.  

But noted Egyptologist Kent Weeks had only to see photographs to dismiss the idea that the markings were any more than 20 years old.  

"I am 100 percent certain that these drawings are fake," said Weeks, a professor at the American University in Cairo and an expert on the tombs of southern Egypt.  

"It looks as if someone has seen some photographs in a book on ancient art and slightly misremembered them when they came to paint them," he said. "I've seen other fake predynastic offerings, but this is the most audacious and least convincing."  

Earlier, Mohammed el-Saghir, head of the Pharaonic and Greco-Roman sector of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, saw the photographs and said he was certain the find was of value.  

But Weeks said the drawings, which depicted hunting, mortuary and religious scenes, would have been cut into the rock, not painted, if they were genuine.  

"We have no painted rock drawings from that period because they would have eroded, particularly if they were in limestone, in as little as 75 years," Weeks said.  

Weeks said the exaggerated breasts and buttocks on the female figures, livestock without horns, and painted temples holding royalty or deities were uncharacteristic of predynastic Egyptian art. One marking looks like a North American teepee.  

Weeks claimed they were a nonsensical "hotchpotch" of designs.  

"They look like a combination of geometric designs that would look more at home in North America," he said. "The mummy figures are not Egyptian. Ancient Egyptians used a much more formal and rigorous pose." – 


© 2000 Al Bawaba (

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