Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Zahi Hawass Meets Adham Center Journalism Bootcamp Students

By Sarah Wali
Photos by Jasmin Bauomy & Ebony Williams

Egypt’s Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass, showed his passion for antiquities, and disdain for tourists in an interview with the students of the Journalism Boot Camp on Monday.

Hawass is a world-renowned archeologist, and serves as the Director of Excavations at Giza, Saqqara and the Bahariya Oasis. His recent discoveries include the Valley of the Golden Mummies and tombs of the Govermor of Bahariya in the town of El-Batawi. He is also responsible for a conservation project at the Sphinx.

In a meeting in Hawass’ cavernous boardroom, and later, on a tour of his latest dig behind the Giza pyramids, the students were given a rare look into the recovery and preservation of ancient Egyptian treasures.

During the meeting, students asked questions ranging from the impact of pollution on historical sites to the possible threat of terrorism. Hawass, Egypt’s self-proclaimed Indiana Jones, focused his answers on the preservation. His plans included dislocating people living around historic sites, since they “can not be educated” on their importance.

Hawass also discussed the negative impact of tourism on preservation. He demanded an increase in tourism prices, which, he claimed would lower tourist numbers at historic sites, while improving the “kind of tourists” Egypt would get. Hawass argued that many tourists were actually hurting the sites, since there was little regulation around site preservation.

“Tourists are the enemy of archeology, because there is no communication between tourists and archeologists,” he said. “[Tourists] spend hours inside ancient buildings, and are often careless during their visits.”

Hawass also addressed the importance of promoting Egyptian involvement in preserving ancient sites. Through plans for a children’s museum and classes for adults he hopes to gain the Egyptian public’s interest in antiquities. Moreover, he said he has gained support from celebrities to help promote the importance of maintaining these ancient treasures.

Hawass then invited the students to visit his latest archeological dig near the great pyramids of Giza. There they were given a rare tour of his recently recovered Tombs of the Pyramid Builders, which date back to 7600 B.C.

“It was my dream to discover the tombs of the workmen who built the pyramids at Giza,” says Hawass on his website.

Students were amazed at the detailed hieroglyphs inscribed on the walls. Fears escalated as they neared a cursed tomb, and some refused to enter. Later, they looked on awe as another tomb was opened. There lay, in a fetal position, the skeletal remains of a man who had helped build the great pyramids.

Hawass said he’s trying to persuade museums and politicians around the world to return some of Egypt’s greatest treasures, such as the Rosetta Stone, that he says were stolen. Yet when asked about the poor conditions of the Egyptian Museum and thus the feasibility of bringing back these treasures, he only responded “I am working on that.”

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