Egypt Tourism interview with Dr. Zahi Hawass

eTN2 0: Egypt Tourism interview with Dr. Zahi Hawass

Egypt’s mummy king speaks out about unrest, solution, tourism and King Tut

    Egypt's mummy king speaks out about unrest, solution, tourism and King Tut

Photo by Corey Norrell for eTN

By     Nelson Alcantara, eTN editor-in-chief/Video by Corey Norrell |     Nov 21, 2013

Dr. Zahi Hawass is known the world over as the Egyptian archeologist who was the subject of a National Geographic television show called Chasing Mummies, King Tut’s Final Secrets.  Those in the tourism world know him as the former secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and former minister of Egypt’s State of Antiquities Affairs.  And, Egyptians’ view of him is likely influenced by their respective political alliances, but there’s no denying he is widely recognized on the streets as the media savvy archeologist who has been on their television sets one too many times.

The political situation is Egypt has put Hawass out of work and away from the job he is clearly very passionate about.  But, this has not stopped the man from pursuing anything and everything related to Egyptian mummies, discovering and retrieving artifacts and talking about them through lectures all over the world or committing them on paper through books.  His latest book explores the life of King Tut, the boy king whose life and death has been some kind of an unsolved mystery since his tomb was found in 1922.

eTN 2.0 sat down with Hawass for an exclusive interview last Saturday, November 16, to give us his take on what is going on in Egypt as well as give us an update on what has been keeping him busy   Ever the controversial man, he likens the current situation of Egypt to that of a revolution in Egypt some thousands of years ago when Upper and Lower Egypt were united by King Menes.  Describing the similarities, Hawass is convinced he knows the solution to the ongoing political debacle Egypt is in—a strong leader.

The first in a three-part series, the above eTN 2.0 presentation shows Hawass addressing the questions pertaining to his time as the secretary general of the SCA and  Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs. What does he make of these experiences?  If given the chance, would he go back?

Next up in part two, Hawass will explore Egypt Tourism and answer what everyone has been wondering about: Did Egypt mess up because of the 2011 Revolution?  Then, the final part, scheduled for Friday, November 23, Hawass will reveal for the first time who King Tut’s parents were, how he died, etcetera.

For all Egyptian tour arrangements

Golden Mummies: What Happened To The Indiana Jones Of Egypt?

Posted: 07/16/2012  6:28 pm Updated: 07/23/2012 12:17 pm

Zahi Hawass’ ego hasn’t suffered since protesters forced him out of his influential post as Egypt’s antiquities steward 18 months ago, shortly after Hosni Mubarak was toppled from the country’s presidency.
“I am Egyptian antiquities,” he says.
That confidence served him well when he controlled the pharaohs’ treasures on Mubarak’s behalf, steering Egypt’s economically critical Supreme Council of Antiquities and the billions it helped reap annually, primarily from tourism and international exhibitions. The man who calls himself Egypt’s Indiana Jones has fewer friends these days, now that revolution and a corruption scandal have forced him from office. Protesters who picketed Hawass and his Indy-esque fedora in Tahrir Square shouted that he should “take it with him and go.”
Though he was briefly restored to power last year, Hawass, 64, has yet to find much support among the Freedom and Justice Party of President-Elect Mohamed Morsi. He may yet be vindicated, however, if Morsi’s new government finds it can’t replace his golden touch. The stability of the fledgling democracy may even depend on it.

Before Mubarak’s fall in February, 2011, Hawass had spent more than two decades helping Egypt promote its antiquities to a foreign audience. He is credited as the man behind the traveling King Tut exhibit, the discovery of the Valley of the Golden Mummies and a wide range of other projects during his nine years as Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. He provided an agreeable face for the Western world.

Hawass’ aggressive promotion often came on the heels of tragedy, in what appeared to be a deft strumming of public sentiment toward his homeland. In 1998, following the murder of 63 tourists in Luxor, he reopened the Sphinx to the public after its 10-year closure. From then on, he organized a near-constant parade of blockbuster museum shows around the world designed to advertise Egypt as both an idea and destination.

In his absence, it remains unclear whether Egypt can make such economically crucial overtures to foreign tourists and whether the billions — and the goodwill — Hawass once brought in can ever come back without him.

“He created by his publicity campaigns a new image of Egypt that mobilized millions of visitors,” says Dieter Arnold, head of the Metropolitan Museum’s Egypt Department in New York. “He cleaned up the sites, built tourist facilities and museums, organized exhibitions abroad and brought Egyptian antiquities into the center of worldwide attention.”

For years, tourism had been the country’s largest economic sector. While the price of cotton fluctuated wildly and the number of ships passing through the Suez Canal plummeted after the global financial crisis, tourism proved resilient. In 2009, revenue dipped a slight 2% before thundering back in 2010 with more than 15% growth.

Still, by the first month of last year, as protests consumed Cairo, it had become clear that tourism alone would not be enough to keep the economy healthy. As the protests spread, the economy sank. The Tourism Ministry announced that revenue dropped by a third to $8.8 billion in 2011, but industry observers say the damage has been much worse. In addition to months of violence and instability, Tourism Ministry officials believe a rise in anti-western political posturing and extremist Islamic attitudes has contributed to leeriness among would-be visitors.

Hawass’s ubiquity, and his gift for gab, bred resentment among his fellow Egyptians, but the money he delivered quieted critics. Some 14.5 million visitors arrived in Egypt in 2010, many to tour the country’s historical sites. The billions they spent were vital to shoring up the country’s foreign reserves, which helped provide for such basic needs as wheat imports. In essence, Hawass was putting bread on the table. Of course, that also involved painting a picture of Egypt that was tourist-friendly and glossed over some of the country’s brutal realities. Hawass’ Egypt was the pyramids and the pharoahs, not social, political and economic inequities on the streets of Cairo. Recruiting Western enthusiasts like assistants on his great dig, Hawass steered some of those same Westerners away from a deeper understanding of the tectonic shifts in Egyptian society that ultimately surfaced in Tahrir.

He also was never focused only on branding Egypt — he was busy branding himself as well. He mandated that the King Tut exhibition sell copies of his fedora and planned to launch an eponymous clothing line marketing shirts that his catalogue claimed, “Recall the rugged experience of excavating the ancient tombs in Egypt.”

Mubarak’s wife strongly supported Hawass, and he took the opportunity for financial gain. Hawass received $200,000 a year for serving as an Explorer-In-Residence for The National Geographic Society, which also helped arrange speaking engagements that earned him $15,000 apiece. In addition, he made an undisclosed sum from the sale of his books (each copy of “Secret Voyage: Love, Magic and Mysteries in the Realm of the Pharoah’s” sold for $4,400), as well as a reality TV show that he starred in, and his government salary. Though speculation about Hawass’s personal wealth became something of a sport among Egyptians frustrated by the Mubarak government’s lack of transparency, even those who saw him as the ultimate opportunist may be forced to accept him back into the fold if he can again funnel billions of dollars into the public purse.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Hawass was reinstated as Minister,” says Nora Shalaby, an Egyptologist and political activist. If Hawass makes a comeback, it will be a tribute to his charismatic tenacity and to the willingness of the new government to compromise democratic ideals in order to secure the country’s economy. Hawass’s weakness may be that he is a remnant of the old regime, but, in some ways, this is also his strength. He is an accomplished autocrat with little interest in public opinion and a demonstrated passion for showmanship. While his return would be politically unpopular, it might prove to be economically expedient.

“I’ll never stop caring about or working with Egypt’s history,” Hawass says.


Three days into the Cairo riots, as fire tore through the National Museum, thieves broke into the newly opened gift shop, stole tchotchkes and knocked over displays. Outside, smoke was billowing out of Mubarak’s party headquarters and across the city onto CNN. Rumors were spreading on Twitter: Protesters were looting the museum. Protesters were policing the museum. Police were looting the museum.

“Where is Zahi Hawass?” came close to becoming a Twitter meme before he resurfaced from his home in Giza the next afternoon. Hawass was so synonymous with the museum and so possessive of its image that his absence from the spotlight — if not the building itself — during a harrowing moment in the institution’s history marked a complete deviation from the blusterous norm. Hawass claimed curfews had confined him to his home and thanked protesters for protecting the museum, Hawass, speaking in perfunctory verbal jabs, downplayed the damage — “They destroyed two mummies and opened one case,” he told Al Jazeera — even as TV cameras revealed the mess inside the museum. In fact, a second team of burglars had rappelled into one of the Museum’s main halls through a skylight and broken numerous displays and artifacts. In an update to his personal blog the next day, Hawass continued to praise the Egyptian people for their vigilant defense of their heritage.

“The Egyptian people are calling for freedom, not destruction,” wrote Hawass  “When I left the museum on Saturday [January, 29], I was met outside by many Egyptians, who asked if the museum was safe and what they could do to help.  The people were happy to see an Egyptian official leave his home and come to Tahrir Square without fear; they loved that I came to the museum.”

According to Shalaby, this sudden populism struck a false note. “Hawass had never hidden his dislike for Egyptians and found them unworthy of their own heritage,” says Shalaby.

Though some Egyptologists believe Hawass was, as International Association of Egyptologists President James Allen puts it, “responsible for the Egyptian public’s renewed interest in and respect for their Pharaonic legacy,” many Egyptians resented him for what they describe as his shabby treatment of local people and domestic archeologists. Shalaby points out that the “countless concrete walls he built around towns and villages to separate the inhabitants from the antiquity sites” infuriated civilians even as his policy of announcing every major find soured the attitude of professional diggers.

Whalid Saad, a museum guide, says that the protesters crowded around the museum knew, contrary to what Hawass was telling the media, that antiquities had been broken.

“We found pieces in the street and had to carry them back inside,” says Saad. “Some Egyptians helped us collect them.”

According to Saad, museum guides had immediately concluded that several treasures were irreparably damaged. Later inquiries found that 78 pieces had been stolen. Some were never recovered.

In the weeks after the break in, Hawass told reporters that he was working overtime to make sure Egypt’s relics would be safe as the revolution rolled on. He also endlessly lauded — often exaggerating — the heroism of the protesters who had protected their country’s priceless artifacts from harm.

If Hawass was aware that there were two groups of thieves, he continued to feign ignorance after touring the wreckage. Instead he mocked the foolishness of thieves who would focus on the gift shop he “was very proud of,” the one operated by businesses closely tied to his interests, mentioning only in passing the broken vitrines and statues inside.

Unfortunately for Hawass, a far more complicated story was emerging. There was talk, later substantiated by the Egyptian Cultural Heritage Organization, that the perpetrators had been security guards and police officers.

The incident seemed to highlight one of Hawass’s weaknesses — the fuzzy distinction between his personal and professional business relationships, giving his enemies within the museum, government and on the streets ammunition to mount the assault that would eventually result in his removal from government.

“All the devils came for me,” says Hawass. “The accusations brought against me were just the talk of people who had hated me for years.”


The entrance to the laser show consists of a gate in the wall separating the work sites at the foot of the Great Pyramids from Giza’s dirty, charmless downtown and the Pizza Hut across the street. The chairs inside sit arrayed just out of the reach of the Sphinx’s heavy stone paws: the rows and rows of foldable white chairs would be at home at a high school commencement. When the show begins at 7:30 pm, laser effects swirl around monuments buttressed by archeologists’ scaffolds as the Sphinx tells the story of ancient Egypt.

“For five thousand years, I’ve seen all the suns man can remember in the sky,” says the Sphinx  itself, voiced by Omar Sherif. “I saw the history of Egypt in its first glow as tomorrow I shall see the east burning with a new flame.”

After ten years working on the Giza plateau, Hawass was appointed to the board of trustees of a government-owned company behind this nightly spectacle. His connection to the company, Sound and Light, came to the fore in 2009, when he canceled the results of an auction for a contract to operate a gift shop in the National Museum. Even as Farid Atiya, the businessman who won the auction, complained, Hawass planned a second round of bids. He also lobbied the government to simply give Sound and Light the contract – which the government eventually did.

When the new gift shop opened the State Council, a the judicial body closed it. The council sided with Atiya, but Hawass wrote to the Prime Minister to tell him Sound and Light and AUC had already invested too much in the project for the store to be shuttered.

That was in early January 2011.

A month later, as Mubarak handed over control to a military council, Hawass remained as prominent as ever, but the gift shop, empty since the break in, would soon prove troublesome again.

By late February, a group of about 150 young Egyptian archeologists were opposing Hawass, publicly demanding opportunities in a field they claimed the toppled regime had ceded to foreigners. Hawass resigned on March 5, saying he was no longer capable of creating jobs and protecting sites from looters and attackers.

“We need the money brought in by tourists who visit our sites and museums to fund these things and, at the moment, there are no tourists,” Hawass wrote in an email to several media outlets confirming his departure.

Hawass’ resignation didn’t last long. The interim government persuaded him to take up the newly created post of Antiquities Minister. This is when, as Hawass describes it, “The thieves I stopped before the revolution targeted me.” Not long after he assumed his new post, Atiya filed suit against him again, this time citing a law under which civil servants who failed to implement court rulings must be fired and jailed. Though a court decree allowed him to maintain his position and avoid imprisonment, Hawass lost the case and, with it, his bid to dissociate himself from Mubarak’s cabal of profiteers. He had been found guilty of corruption.

If his relationship with the Egyptian people had been tenuous before, it was now downright hostile.

In early July, the Egyptian government pushed out Hawass along with 11 other Ministers unpopular with protesters. Hawass had just returned from an international tour promoting post-revolutionary tourism and resigned his position as a National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence.

“All the talk over the last six months was just by people who hate me,” says Hawass. “Not a single accusation was correct. People are jealous of success.”

The gift shop was removed, becoming nothing more than a glass-walled exit.

Hawass was not only replaced as Minister of Antiquities, but forced out of his unofficial post as Egypt’s pitchman. The timing was less than ideal.

In the immediate aftermath of the Cairo riots, hundreds of thousands of tourists had rushed out of Egypt. They hadn’t come back. The New York Times reported in late February that the occupancy rates in Luxor dropped as low as 4 percent, down from an average of 61 percent, even as popular beach resort Sharm el Sheik’s rate dropped to eight from 70 percent.

It didn’t help that, even as the government ran ads on TV stations around the world, politicians publicly mulled bans on alcohol, bikinis and non-halal food. Before it was disbanded, Parliament was a hotbed for such proposals, though they never made much progress.

“The media reported on these negative declarations, but when these statements were rejected the media has not reported that,” Tourism Minister Mounir Fakhry Abder el Nour complained at a recent press conference.

Democracy brought Islamic organizations previously known for the violence that led to a tourist exodus in the late 1990s back into everyday life. The Building and Development Party, which won 13 seats in the 2011 lower parliament election as part of a coalition of conservative Salafist groups, is the political wing of the El Gama’a El Islamiyya movement. In 1997, it claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack on foreigners visiting Hatshepsut’s temple in Luxor that claimed the lives of 48 tourists.


The tourist drought is just as evident outside Egypt’s urban core. Tribesmen and Bedouins have taken to squatting in the half-built resort complexes off the Halaieb We Shalafein highway, which runs down the Red Sea coast. Inside the all-inclusives that have remained open, Russian women in string bikinis and British couples have their pick of poolside lounge chairs. A creeping stillness is the only sign of revolution.

Further north, in the Sinai, hotels have been less affected by the turmoil. Though occupancy rates remain low in Sharm el Sheik, the Russians and Chinese have helped refill the nightclubs and spas. The Sinai, after all, has been a hot spot for decades.

“A tourist doesn’t care to participate in regime change,” says Minister Abder el Nour. “This is a society in crisis.”

It is not uncommon for English-speaking students and unemployed tourism workers to apologize, unsolicited, to foreigners about Cairo’s now impenetrable traffic, slowed by the roadblocks surrounding Tahrir, and for the shouting on the streets. Hospitality is not merely an industry for Egyptians and though they are proud of their revolution, they feel embarrassed inviting strangers into a messy home.

“It is not always like this,” a friendly student named Alexander told Huffington, near a burka store in Cairo’s Islamic quarter. “We are not an angry people.”

Though a student can’t personally deliver that message to the Western world, Zahi Hawass can.

“I used to tell them that if they need money, our heritage was a way to get it,” says Hawass. “If Good Morning America needs five minutes about pyramids, it can make a billion dollars for this country.”

There’s a genius to Hawass’s costuming. By never stepping out of character, he has avoided stepping into the muck of regional politics. Despite being unceremoniously fired, Hawass has emerged from the revolution with less baggage than those who have seized power.

Morsi and the Supreme Council Of The Armed Forces, which ran Egypt’s interim government, dissolved parliament and recently abridged the list of executive powers, are both heavily scarred from battle. Neither receives positive coverage in the foreign press, Morsi because of the Muslim Brotherhood’s links to extremists and the SCAF because it is hardly outward-looking (it recently released an ad advising Egyptians not to talk to foreigners because they might be spies).

Ironies persist. The Los Angeles Times recently wrote that Morsi “symbolizes the long, bloody and still unresolved struggle between political Islam and a secular old guard” only days after giving “Cleopatra: The Exhibition,” a touring exhibit featuring a film about Hawass’s work a glowing review.

It remains unclear, however, how Morsi plans to mobilize Egypt’s byzantine bureaucracy to stimulate tourism. The Muslim Brotherhood’s official news site has already published promises from Morsi indicating he wants to invest $20 billion in the tourism industry.

“We are looking to institutionalize Egypt in this new era, post revolution, and we understand the past regime focused on the concept of the one man show to keep the control of the country within a few people,” says Karim Elemam, a spokesperson for the FJP’s tourism committee and former tour operator. “But there are many talented people with great capabilities in tourism and Egyptology. We have over 80 million Egyptians and our job is to bring the best talent onboard as well as a succession plan to ensure thrusting new talent and leaders to create a sustainable thriving Egypt.”

Elemam says the FJP envisions an Egypt where small businesses as well as large hotels — many of which are foreign owned — will be able to compete for the tourist dollars and where visitors will engage with the culture instead of simply stopping off at major landmarks and resorts.  Yet the new government may not be able to afford them if it doesn’t demonstrate an ability to pay back the billions in loans Egypt owes.

Though many Egyptologists are reluctant to go on the record — access being necessary to their continued work — many complain privately that the sites around Egypt are now being mismanaged.

Whether or not its new democratic rulers call Hawass out of the bullpen will tell the world a great deal about the new Egypt. The regime will have to decide whether economic expediency warrants compromising the egalitarian ideals of Tahrir or if the ideals of the revolution trumps all.

Zahi Hawass — excavator, salesman, Mubarak acolyte, disgrace — is unswayed and still confident of his place in this new order. “The magic of antiquities in

Egypt will never fade,” he says. “Because I am clean and honest, I will return.”

This story originally appeared in Issue 6 of our new weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store.

Egyptologists still digging up past, even with uncertain future

Eyptology is continuing unaffected despite new instability in the country.

by David B. Nelson Jan 19, 2012

The Egyptian Revolution that began a year ago continues to create instability in a country rich with antiquity. But most Egyptologists say it’s business as usual, even with the recent return of protestors to Tahrir Square in Cairo.
“The impact has been very minor,” said Emily Teeter, an Egyptologist and research associate at the Oriental Institute, a research center and archaeology museum at the University of Chicago. Teeter, also a representative to the Chicago chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt, was in Egypt as recently as last November. “The biggest disruption has been bureaucratic. Permissions were disrupted because committees weren’t meeting. Basically trying to do advanced planning was very hard,” she said.
Kathleen Scott, director of publications at the San Antonio chapter of the American Research Center, also reported only minor issues unrelated to safety.
“At first some expedition seasons were delayed or held off,” Scott said. “But for the most part our organization, which does a lot of the interface between expeditions and government, has found it to be going reasonably well.”
With anywhere from 10 to 15 expeditions in Egypt at a time, depending on schedules and seasons, the organization also maintains an office in Cairo.
“Obviously the political turmoil is happening, and you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen,” Scott said. “But at the moment we feel fairly confident.”
Most archaeological work occurs not in the major cities, but in less populated places such as Luxor, the site of former Egyptian capital Thebes, where the University of Chicago has a permanent headquarters. Although Luxor was undisrupted, various institutions did send home students as a precaution.
“The main problems, if any, are in Cairo and Alexandria,” said Janet Johnson, professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago.

For Egyptians, the ancient civilization their ancestors established along the life-giving Nile River and beyond is still a sense of national pride.

“They’ve continually asked many people from American institutions as well as European institutions to come help,” Scott said. “They are very eager to unearth their past and for other people to help them do so as well.”

Most protesters in Egypt now feel that the revolution is now in its second phase, having ended prematurely when President Hosni Mubarak finally stepped down after weeks of violence. But under a veil of jubilation, the Mubarak regime was traded for a strict military regime. Tahrir Square is again a rallying point for the protesters.

“The whole point of the revolution was to bring down the old regime and rebuild a new independent Eygpt,” said Lausanne Shalaby, 24, advisor at a lifestyle management company in Cairo. “Every day we see the old regime manifested in different ways, either by statements or how people’s demands are handled, or the ongoing trials.” After years of only knowing the Mubarak regime and the corruption that came with it, Shalaby says Egyptians are no longer scared. “I don’t feel threatened. People still go out and have a good time living their lives normally. My friends and I were never involved in politics, but post-revolution, we all were, and not just us, literally everyone. That’s the biggest accomplishment of the revolution.”

The uncertain fate of Egypt has created worry about public comment on the political climate of the country. Faculty and students at the University of California-Berkeley declined to comment after a request for information. An email reply said they didn’t want to be quoted on the topic, adding, “This is the very topic that no Egyptologist will touch in the current climate.”

“It’s really hard to know what the end product is going to be over there,” Scott said of the worry over commenting on the current state of the country. “Who will be in charge and how will they view Americans?”

Tied to the revolution is the question of repatriation of ancient artifacts. In recent years some native Egyptologists have requested the return of such items as the bust of Queen Nefertiti, now in the Neues Museum in Berlin, and also the Rosetta Stone, now in the British Museum in London.

Discovered by French invaders in 1799, the Rosetta Stone was transferred to Britain as part of an 1802 treaty. The text of the stone, written in three languages, provided scholars with the final key to translating the Egyptian language.

But with current situation in Egypt, historical materials are even less likely to be returned.

“Zahi Hawass loved to bring this topic up every now and then,” Scott said, referring to the former minister of antiquities. The appointee of Mubarak, often sporting an Indiana Jones-like fedora, Hawass frequently demanded the return of objects in foreign hands. “In certain circles, it was popular. The truth is, the Rosetta was part of a treaty in the early 1800s, it’s nothing that the British Museum is going to relinquish,” Scott said.

“Hawass’s job was to keep Egypt in the news,” Teeter said of the flamboyant now-retired minister, “and he did a good job of that.”

However, most don’t put much stock in the sometimes controversial debate.

“There are very specific laws that if a good case is made, then an artifact should go back,” Teeter said. “But there are things that have been out of the country for hundreds of years and have no legal basis for repatriation.”

Scott said it is unlikely any famous artifiacts will be returned.

“Unless they were illegally obtained somehow,” she said. “But for the most part they were obtained as gifts or through international treaties. It’s a difficult political discussion.”

Special tours to Egypt

Big Question for 2012: The Great Pyramid’s Secret Doors Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi

The Great Pyramid (photo: Egypt Today CC)

Big Question for 2012: The Great Pyramid’s Secret Doors Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi
Fri Dec 9, 2011 02:26 PM ET
Will the mystery over the Great Pyramid’s secret doors be solved in 2012? I dare say yes. After almost two decades of failed attempts, chances are now strong that researchers will reveal next year what lies behind the secret doors at the heart of Egypt’s most magnificent pyramid. New revelations on the enduring mystery were already expected this year, following a robot exploration of the 4,500-year-old pharaonic mausoleum. But unrest in Egypt froze the project at its most promising stage, after it produced the first ever images behind one of the Great Pyramid’s mysterious doors. Now the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), once led by the controversial yet charismatic Zahi Hawass, is slowly returning to granting permits for excavations and archaeological research.

“As with other missions, we have had to resubmit our application to be allowed to continue. We are currently waiting for the various committees to formalise the approval,” project mission manager Shaun Whitehead, of the exploration company Scoutek UK, told Discovery News. “Once we’re allowed to continue, I have no doubt that we can complete our work in 2012,” he added. Built for the pharaoh Cheops, also known as Khufu, the Great Pyramid is the last remaining wonder of the ancient world. The monument is the largest of a family of three pyramids on the Giza plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo, and has long been rumored to have hidden passageways leading to secret chambers. Archaeologists have long puzzled over the purpose of four narrow shafts deep inside the pyramid since they were first discovered in 1872. Two shafts, extend from the upper, or “Kings Chamber” exit into open air. But the lower two, one on the south side and one on the north side in the so-called “Queen’s Chamber” disappear within the structures, deepening the pyramid mystery.

Widely believed to be ritual passageways for the dead pharaoh’s soul to reach the afterlife, these 8-inch-square shafts remained unexplored until 1993, when German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink sent a robot through the southern shaft. After a steady climb of 213 feet from the heart of the pyramid, the robot came to a stop in front of a mysterious limestone slab adorned with two copper pins. Nine years later, the southern shaft was explored on live television. As the world held its breath, a tomb-raiding robot pushed a camera through a hole drilled in the copper pinned door — only to reveal what appeared to be another door. The following day, the robot was sent through the northern shaft. After crawling for 213 feet and navigating several sharp bends, the robot came to an abrupt halt in front of another limestone slab. As with the Gantenbrink door, the stone was adorned with two copper pins.

The current Djedi project, a joint international-Egyptian mission named after the magician whom Khufu consulted when planning the layout of his pyramid, has gone further than anyone has ever been before in the pyramid. The project began with a exploration of the southern shaft, which ends at the so called “Gantenbrink’s door.” A robot, designed by Rob Richardson at the University of Leeds, was able to climb inside the walls of the shaft while carrying a “micro snake” camera that can see around corners. Unlike previous expeditions, in which camera images were only taken looking straight ahead, the bendy camera was small enough to fit through a small hole in a stone door at the end of the tunnel.

This gave researchers a clear view into the chamber beyond — one that had not been seen by human eyes since the construction of the pyramid. Images of 4,500-year-old hieroglyphs written in red paint began to appear. According to some scholars, the markings are hieratic numerical signs that record the length of the shaft. The theory has not been confirmed by the researchers. “Our strategy is to keep an open mind and only draw conclusions when we have completed our work,” Whitehead said. The Djedi team was also able to scrutinize the two puzzling copper pins embedded in the door to the chamber.

Likely Engineering Numbers Images showed that the back of the pins curve on themselves, possibly suggesting an ornamental purpose. Equipped with a unique range of tools which also included a miniature “beetle” robot that can fit through a 0.74-inch diameter hole, a coring drill, and a miniaturized ultrasonic device that can tap on walls and listen to the response to help determine the thickness of the stone, the Djedi team was ready to continue the pyramid’s exploration last August. But the political turn of events in Egypt halted the project. Whitehead is confident that the robot will reveal much more once the team is allowed to resume their research. “The plan is the same as it always was. We will completely survey the shafts leading from the Queens Chamber and look beyond the first and second blocking stones in at least one shaft,” Whitehead said. “Even if we do not look further beyond the blocking stones, accurately mapping the shafts will be a fantastic result and will provide significant clues to determine the purpose of these unique archaeological features,” he concluded.

Discovery News

Now is the time to visit Egypt -



Zahi Hawass’ Replacement Restarts Restoration of Djoser Pyramid

CAIRO: The newly appointed Secretary General of the Supreme Council of  Antiquities of Egypt Mohammad Abdel-Maksoud announced Sunday that a committee  has decided to make funds available to restart restoration work on the Zoser  pyramid.

Local media had claimed the inside of the pyramid was falling down,  following a default in payment to the company that was operating the restoration  works. A statement from the council said that a technical committee met Sunday,  and decided that payments would be in three phases with a priority for the  workers’ salaries and for the delayed company payments.

King Zoser’s step Pyramid of Saqqara stands about 30 kilometers south of  Cairo.

It is thought to be the first pyramid ever built in Egypt and the oldest  stone building still standing in the country.

Abdel-Maksoud replaced the former flamboyant antiquities chief Zahi Hawass,  known for his “Indiana Jones” style hats. His initial replacement, Abdel-Fattah  al-Banna, came under fire for lacking archaeology credentials for the post.  After Banna quit shortly after his appointment in July, council secretary  Abdel-Maksoud took his place.

Egypt’s Antiquities Chief Says He Will Lose His Job

July 17, 2011, 11:59 

Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s antiquities minister, who has been under fire for his ties to the Mubarak regime, will lose his job in a cabinet reshuffle intended to appease the protesters in Tahrir Square, he confirmed to The New York Times by text message on Sunday. The full details of the cabinet changes have not yet been confirmed. Mr. Hawass’s pending departure was reported by an Egyptian newspaper, Youm7, and Mr. Hawass confirmed the report’s accuracy. Youm7 quoted him as saying that protesters outside his office tried
to beat him as he left on Sunday.

By Kate Taylor
New York Times

New Tombs Opened South Saqqara

24 May 2011

As planned, the site of South Saqqara
opened to the public today. Here is an excerpt of the article in Al-Ahram:

Hundred of journalists, photographers and TV anchors gathered today at the Saqqara Necropolis, 30km south of the Giza Plateau, to catch a glimpse of the tombs that the minister of state for antiquities is opening to the public for the first time. The newly inaugurated tombs belong to King Tut’s general, who later became King Horemheb; his treasurer, Maya; the steward of the temple of Aten, Meryneith; the royal butler to both King Tut and Akhenaten, Ptahemwia; the overseer of the treasury of Ramsess II, Tia and the harem overseer under King Tutankhamun, Pay and his son, Raia.

These tombs underwent restoration to counter decay, including reinforcing the walls, smoothing cracks over and reliefs were consolidated and covered with glass for protection. Wooden and iron gates were installed at every tomb to strengthen security in entryways and
new stone slabs outside of the tombs mark the path clearly through the necropolis.

A site management plan is under development for the Saqqara site. “It is hoped that this will enhance the value of the site as a visitor destination through better signage and facilities, as well as promoting local community involvement and an improved security presence,” pointed out Zahi Hawass, minister of state for antiquities.

The tombs of
King Tut’s high officials open today for the first time to the public

(with slideshow)

The Egypt Exploration Society (EES)

The excavations of these, and other
important and finely decorated tombs at Saqqara, are being published by the
Society and Leiden in a series of volumes, of which several are available at
the EES on-line shop:

The Tomb of Maya and Merit I by Geoffrey Martin will be published by the EES later this year
and can be sponsored by making a donation here. Donors who give £50 or more will be credited in the book and anyone who donates more than £300 will receive a complimentary copy.

Saqqara New Kingdom Tombs

Related posts:

  1. Seven New Tombs
    at Saqqara Open Today
  2. Two 5th Dynasty
    Tombs Discovered at Saqqara

Saqqara Online

A New Dawn: Zahi Hawass’ Hat

El Akhbar Newspaper Article

“There is an expression that the most fruitful trees are the ones that are attacked by people the most… and Dr Zahi Hawass, if he was not a world-renowned scientist, would not be detested by the ignorant people and those who claim to be educated. If he had not made the top position at the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) productive and worthwhile, no one would be envious of his role.

Dr Zahi Hawass, his name, his knowledge, his generosity, his value… It was not his chair at the SCA that made him what he is, but he who made the chair what it is today.

 Zahi Hawass’s fame outshines that of most world-famous moviestars and politicians. I have visited many countries and met people who do not know the names of the presidents of even the largest Arab countries, but they did know Dr Hawass as well as the pyramids and the Sphinx. I was at a reception abroad when a foreign scientist said, “I know in Egypt the pyramids and Hawass,” and he looked quite embarrassed, gave a smile to the audience, saying, “and Hosni Mubarak!”

Dr. Hawass in his famous hat with President Obama.
(Photo: Courtesy of the White House Press Office)

The value of a person is not because of their position or their job. Zahi’s value is because of his personality. Today he is a well-respected scientist and he is well known all over the world. He has received awards from several presidents and kings of different countries; national universities have given him honorary doctorates; national research centers have awarded him as well; he has been the Man of the Year in a national newspaper; and he deserved to be one of Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people for 2005. His publications in the field of Egyptology, and his discoveries into the secrets of the pyramids and the ancient history of Egypt, will be remembered into posterity, as well as all of those discoveries made, even during the heat of the sun, wearing his famous hat. This hat, which is sold with a copy of his signature inside, has raised millions of dollars for charities involved with cultural development and heritage awareness. Egypt did not previously know such a person as Dr Hawass, who protected Egypt’s monuments, civilization and history, and who has been doing so for more than 45 years.”

Zahi Hawass to return as Egyptian antiquities minister

Jerusalem Post reports
03/30/2011 13:20

 Egypt’s chief Egyptian archeologist Zahi Hawass has been named the Egyptian minister of antiquities, the official MENA news agency reported Wednesday. Hawass had previously served as head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and as minister of state under the deposed president Hosni Mubarak. France 24 news reported that Hawass’s appointment is likely to anger anti-government factions, who have opposed the appointment of any of the old guard under Mubarak to new positions in the government.

UNESCO Team Will Go to Egypt

March 17, 2011, 10:44 am
The New York Times

UNESCO is planning to send a delegation to Egypt early next week to assess the conditions at Egypt’s archaeological sites and monuments, Ahram Online reported. Egypt’s former antiquities minister, Zahi Hawass, was invited to attend a UNESCO seminar in Paris this week marking the 40th anniversary of the UNESCO convention that seeks to prevent the illicit trade of cultural property, but could not attend; instead, he sent a message asking the international community for help in finding objects that have been looted from Egypt’s museums and archaeological sites since that country’s revolution began in January. On Wednesday, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities released an illustrated list of 54 objects missing from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which was looted on Jan. 28. The list is much longer than the list of 18 missing objects that Mr. Hawass released on Feb. 13. Mr. Hawass originally claimed that nothing was missing from the museum. .