Zahi Hawass: Egypt’s Avenger of the Pharaohs

Well, it’s another dead news Sunday before Memorial Day, so I don’t have much to share. At least Der Spiegel has a fascinating glimpse into the world of Zahi Hawass that you might get a kick out of. He harasses his driver through the streets of dawn Cairo, calling people assholes and running down chickens along the way. Poor chickens. 🙁

Here’s my favorite part:

The man has already brought home 31,000 smuggled objects in past years. They are primarily pieces taken in illicit excavations, which have been sold over the last 50 years, through auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, to museums in the United States.

He is celebrated at home for his achievements, and justifiably so. He even tracked down the embalmed body of Ramses I — in faraway Atlanta. Hawass bent over the papery face and sniffed it. Then he said: “I can smell it — this is Ramses.” The analysis proved him right.

That’s just cool, I don’t care what your perspective on repatriation.

It’s also interesting to see what a stranglehold he has on all things related to Egyptian archaeology. Not only does he publicly bitchslap Western museums on a regular basis, but he’s in complete control of all the digs in the country. That means not a single excavation team can say a word about anything without going through him first, and there are hundreds of teams excavating in Egypt at any given time.

His craving for the limelight means he’s talked up finds that turned out to be minor and even indulged in some straight-up fiction.

He boasted that there were “10,000 golden mummies” at the cemetery in Bahariya, but only 200 were found. And he mistakenly declared a shabby find in the Valley of Kings to be the gravesite of a female pharaoh.

His own excavation efforts also appear to be somewhat bizarre. For some time, the master has been searching for the body of Cleopatra in a temple near Alexandria — based on an idea suggested to him by a lawyer from the Dominican Republic.

“Are you sure about this?” a journalist wanted to know. Hawass replied: “Completely, otherwise I wouldn’t have even mentioned it. After all, I don’t want to embarrass myself.”

When nothing was found, despite feverish excavation efforts, Hawass took a granite bust of Cleopatra’s lover, Mark Antony, from a museum last year and pretended that he had just pulled it out of the ground.

Nice. That’s the Taposiris Magna site where the headless granite colossus was recently uncovered. Here’s hoping he didn’t just snag that one out of storage too.