Dr. Jean-Yves Empereur, director and founder of the National Center for Scientific Research and the Center for Alexandrian Studies, has been working exclusively since 1990 on salvage and rescue archaeology in Alexandria's shore side and in construction pits.
team is the only one working on rescue excavation in Alexandria.
"Rescue excavation is a specialized field in archaeology because you have to be trained with this kind of discipline," Empereur
explains."You have to excavate quickly.It is not like going to Sakkara and excavating a tomb, where you excavate for two months, then come back a year later and find your place well kept and continue your excavation.
"Here, each time you make a hole underground, you will find something - something interesting - because the city was very brilliant during antiquity."To date, Empereur and his team, working with the Supreme Council of Antiquities, have made more than 20 rescue excavations.
Among the most prominent have been the port city's ancient cisterns and the underwater finds at Qait Bay.When Empereur
arrived in Alexandria in 1990, only one cistern could be visited - the only one Alexandrians could remember.
After some sleuthing, Empereur
came across dossiers with plans, section drawings and sketches of 144 of the city's cisterns drawn up by the municipal water board in the late 19th century."From one cistern to the next, we could discover 10 of them," says Empereur
.He is currently working with the Ministry of Culture and the SCA to restore the cisterns.
With the aid of canisters of compressed air and underwater vacuum cleaners, Empereur
is also running rescue digs underwater.
Combing the area where a breakwater of concrete blocks was to be placed in October 1996, Empereur's
team came across a series of Greek and Roman shipwrecks, complete with well-preserved cargoes, resting a few hundred meters from the entrance of the Eastern Harbor - living testimonials to Alexandria's trade with the rest of the Mediterranean from the fourth century BC to the seventh century AD.
But Alexandria has a life of its own, and the city is evolving and mutating faster than Empereur's
team can excavate.
objective is not to hold back the development of the modern city.
proposes that a new law be adopted for the sites in Egypt - Alexandria, Aswan, Luxor, the Pyramids Plateau - where rescue excavations are essential, perhaps making it easier to supervise and slow construction, while mandating that rescue operations take place.
"The construction of the bridge was stopped when the bulldozers discovered huge underground towns," Empereur
Only pictures, videos, books, and memories of the people who excavated there remain," Empereur
says."When you have such antiquities below your feet, you can find a way to preserve them, I suppose.The bulldozer," he
notes, "runs much quicker than the archaeologist."
Officially, an antiquities inspector monitors building excavations and looks for the presence of antiquities.
...The morning Egypt Today spoke with Empereur, the researcher had spotted another construction pit opened up just the night before.
"You can go 50 m from here," says Empereur
, gesturing out the Center for Alexandrian Studies
' library window, "and you will see a very big hole, which was excavated during the night with bulldozers, without our knowledge.That's a pity.
"When you make rescue excavations in Europe, the owner of the property pays for the procedure," remarks Empereur
"But it is difficult to raise money," Empereur