An interview with Dr. Zahi Hawass

Tour Egypt Exclusive Interview with Dr. Zahi Hawass

by Adel Murad in Cairo

Dr. Zahi Hawass, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt

Dr. Zahi Hawass is the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and Director of the Giza Pyramids Excavation, as well as a well known television personality connected with ancient Egypt. The issues discussed here have often been the subject of heated debate in the past few years on the Tour Egypt Message Center. They include the official position of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) on the delicate question of the return of antiquities from abroad. On this issue he said: We are in the process of demanding all that has been stolen illegally to come back.

He also confirmed that Egypt is safe and welcomes tourists from all over the world, saying that those tourists come initially to see the ancient monuments in Egypt, but when they leave, all they talk about is the people they met in Egypt.

On the issue of the conduct expected of Egyptologists working in Egypt, Dr. Zahi Hawass said that all important discoveries must be submitted to the SCA first before being announced to the media. That was the mistake made by some who went public with their speculation before even informing the SCA.

This is the Dr. Hawass exclusive interview in full:

Reconstructed face of Tutankhamun according to Egyptian Scholars

Tour Egypt:

Can you please tell us more about your recent visit to Italy and the importance of the latest discoveries concerning the circumstances in which Tutankhamun died, as announced recently?

Dr. Hawass:

My latest visit to Italy was to attend the premier of a film on Tutankhamun, directed by Brando Quilici, with the press and some important figures. (As regards the recent CT scans of Tutankhamun) It is very important to use this CT scan machine. We used it this January for the first time on an identified king, Tutankhamun, because he is so famous, and he is full of mystery and magic. The results from the CT scan and the reconstruction of his face are very important, both because the scientific results are excellent, and because they have captured the imagination of the world. This shows how science can serve archaeology.

Smuggled Artefacts

A much younger Zahi Hawass just after being named inspector of the Giza Plateau

Tour Egypt:

Please sum up the efforts of the Supreme Council For Antiquities (SCA) in protecting ancient Egyptian treasures from being illegally smuggled out of the country.

Dr. Hawass:

Over the last three years we have reclaimed over three thousand artefacts. Some were found at airports of foreign countries, some through auctions that we were able to stop, some through cooperation between museums, some through the help of foreign counties. We are in the process now of doing even more and demanding all that has been stolen illegally (especially since 1970) to come back.

Tour Egypt:

What is the official Egyptian position with regards to requesting the return of ancient Egyptian objects from abroad? Is the Egyptian Government asking for the return of artefacts that were exported illegally, particularly after 1970, or is it asking for the return of major items such as the Rosetta Stone and Nefertiti's head that have been abroad for almost two centuries?

Dr. Hawass:

Of course we do not want every piece in every museum to come back, I am asking for the stolen artefacts, and reliefs taken out of tombs. Those should come back. I believe that we should use our scientific relations with institutions and museums to put pressure on them to bring these back. There are five key artefacts: the Dendara Zodiac in the Louvre, the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin, the bust of Hemiunu in Hildesheim, and the bust of Ankhhaf in Boston, that I would like to come back to be shown in a temporary exhibition here, so that the Egyptian people can see these important treasures.

Dr. Hawass examines the

Tour Egypt:

How are the latest discoveries about "the most beautiful mummies ever discovered" developing?

Dr. Hawass:

I am continuing my work at Saqqara, where this mummy was found. This is a wonderful site, and there are many treasures still hidden here.

Peaceful Egypt

Tour Egypt:

I am Egyptian and I know Egypt is absolutely safe, but what is your personal message to tourists to reassure them that Egypt is safe and welcoming?

Dr. Hawass:

There is no country in the world safer than Egypt. The people are very peaceful, they are smiling, and they love tourists. People come to Egypt to see our monuments, but when they leave, they talk more about the people, and how they were welcomed in our land.

Rules for Egyptologists

A younger Dr. Hawass with Kamal el-Mallakh, who excavated the solar boat of Khufu at Giza

Tour Egypt:

Lastly, Dr. Hawass, what are the reasons for the occasional misunderstanding between the Supreme Council and some Egyptologists about their theories (e.g. the Fletcher's case, and the two French amateur Egyptologists who want to drill holes in the Pyramid). Can you please explain the rules that govern excavations in Egypt at the moment, and what is expected of Egyptologists?

Dr. Hawass:

I don't like Egyptologists who want to become famous by using the media to spread theories and speculation. For example, if you are a scholar, and you believe in something that you don't have 100 percent evidence for, you should not make publicity in the media, and announce that you have made a great discovery just for fame. It does a disservice to our profession.
Of course, I cannot control the media. There is a lot of ridiculousness out there. But if you work in Egypt, or want to work in

Dr. Hawass examines a mummy in the Valley of the Golden Mummies

Egypt, you have to follow the rules. As an Egyptologist and the head of antiquities here, I have to protect Egypt. [Nicholas] Grimal (associated with the two Frenchman) is a historian, not an archaeologist, He never dug around the pyramids, or wrote on article about the pyramids. In Le Figaro, he was interviewed about building the pyramids. It is the answer of an amateur, (and it is) an embarrassment. He is supporting these two French amateurs because he wants to be famous, no other reason. The old days, when he could win this battle, are gone. He is not respected by 75 % of French archaeologists. He has no place in Egypt because of his attack on Egypt and me.

The rules are very clear. To work in Egypt, you must be an Egyptologist, you must be attached to an institution, and your project must be approved by the Permanent Committee of the SCA. In Grimal's case, his project was reviewed by the Permanent Committee and by three top scholars in the field of pyramid studies. All of them rejected this proposal. In Fletcher's case, the rules are that you are not permitted to publish speculation as truth, and all important discoveries must be submitted to the SCA first before being announced to the media. We determine how and whether to make an announcement, and only after that is the archaeologist free to go public with their findings. In terms of her relationship with the SCA, Fletcher's mistake was to go to the media first.

Last update: May 24th, 2005