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Egypt warns pharaohs' tombs could disappear

Royal tombs at risk due to hordes of tourists

The ornate pharaonic tombs in Egypt's Valley of the Kings are doomed to disappear within 150 to 500 years if they remain open to tourists, the head of antiquities has warned.

Zahi Hawass said humidity and fungus are eating into the walls of the royal tombs in the huge necropolis on the west bank of the Nile across from Luxor, which is swamped daily by several thousand tourists.

Poor ventilation and the breath of the hordes of visitors are causing damage to the carvings and painted decorations inside the tombs, he told journalists on a tour of the royal necropolis on Monday.

"The tombs (in the Valley of the Kings and nearby Valley of the Queens) which are open to visitors are facing severe damage to both colors and the engravings," Hawass said.

"The levels of humidity and fungus are increasing because of the breath of visitors and this means that the tombs could disappear between 150 and 500 years."

The antiquities authorities have taken a series of measures to protect the tombs, including setting up new ventilation systems, restricting the number of visitors and closing some tombs.

The tombs (in the Valley of the Kings and nearby Valley of the Queens) which are open to visitors are facing severe damage to both colors and the engravings

Zahi Hawass -- head of antiquities