Cairo: Early this month, rescue teams spent four days desperately trying to save six Egyptians, who had been trapped in a large hole beneath a house near the Pyramid of Giza while hunting for a centuries-old treasure. The rescuers eventually hauled them up as dead bodies.
The six people were allegedly fooled by a charlatan into believing that there was an antique treasure lying hidden beneath the house owned by one of them, said Abdul Majuid Mahmoud, a resident in the area of Nazlat Al Samman, where the tragedy occurred.
Forensic experts said the six died of asphyxia after they stayed for four days in the hole they had dug to a depth of about 15 metres, Mahmoud told Gulf News.
He recalled hat he and other neighbours had heard screams as the house collapsed and almost disappeared into the hole shrouded in dust. In their frantic bid to lay their hands on the alleged treasure, the victims must have spent a fortune paying the charlatan and on excavations, added Mahmoud, a souvenirs vendor.
In fact, this was not the first tragedy of its kind. Scores of Egyptians have died in similar accidents over years while illegally digging for antique treasures in this country, which is believed to boast one third of the world's antiques.
Around six years ago, five local men in south Sinai (about 550km east of Cairo) died when a house, beneath which they were digging for artefacts, suddenly caved in on them, said Sami Khalil, an archaeologist. Similar incidents often happen in Upper Egypt, which is rich in Pharaohnic relics, Khalil told Gulf News.
He added that the victims are usually poor, illiterate people, who want to strike it rich quickly. Such gullible people fall to charlatans, who capitalise on their greed to swindle money out of them.
Sometimes, these charlatans ask their clients to pay 15,000 Egyptian pounds (Dh10,000) to buy a gram of a certain type of incense to burn it to neutralise the jinn allegedly guarding those treasures. People like Mahmoud believe that ancient Egyptians depended on jinns in building monuments and guarding them. Jinns helped the Pharaohs construct the Pyramids because no human effort or mind could build such a stupendous edifice, he argued. Modern people, who try to plunder their ancestors' treasures, are usually struck by the curse of the Pharaohs, according to their belief.
The curse theory gained fame after British excavator Howard Carter died 17 years after discovering the tomb of King Tutankhamun in Luxor in southern Egypt in 1922.