Egypt's 'Indiana Jones' visits the Bowers Museum
SANTA ANA – You may have seen him on TV, but on Thursday, well-known Egyptologist Zahi Hawass was at the Bowers Museum to talk about current developments in his field.
Hawass was the antiquities minister under former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but he lost that position in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring protests and Mubarak’s ouster. A major figure in Egyptology, Hawass has drawn praise for his substantial work studying and protecting Egyptian antiquities and criticism for self-aggrandizement and association with Mubarak.
He spoke to journalists at the museum on a range of topics, including the Islamic State group’s destruction of ancient artifacts in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Much more needs to be done to protect those artifacts, he said.
“They are destroying the antiquities; they are erasing our history,” Hawass said. “I believe if the situation will continue like this, within one year, you’ll not see any objects in this area.
“The whole world is silent,” he said. “They’re not doing anything to stop it, at least to stop the destruction of the temples and the cities in Iraq and Syria and Libya.”
“I really think that the Arab League has to make a move by sending forces, not to fight ISIS, but to protect the monuments from ISIS,” he said using an acronym for the Islamic State.
Hawass also talked about Queen Nefertiti, who’s been making news lately. British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves has said he believes Nefertiti’s tomb lies in a hidden chamber in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, and he plans to explore it.
Reeves is wrong, Hawass said. For one thing, Queen Nefertiti wouldn’t have been buried in the Valley of the Kings, where King Tut’s tomb is, because of the religion she supported.
Instead, Hawass said he believes a headless mummy he found in 2009 in another Valley of the Kings tomb, KV 21, may be Nefertiti. He added that Nefertiti’s mummy was likely moved to the Valley of the Kings after her burial.
“The headless mummy, in my opinion, should be Nefertiti, and this is a project that we are going to start soon to complete our study for the DNA.”
Hawass was in Santa Ana for an upcoming Sunday talk at the museum. It’s already sold out. He also was promoting Egyptian tourism, which has suffered after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. With him were Lamia Mekhemar, consul general of Egypt; and Gawaher Ali Youssef, consul director of the Egyptian Tourist Authority.
“Egypt is safe,” Hawass said. “For the last five years, we have nothing, no tourists came. ... We need tourists to come back.”
As recently as last month, the U.S. State Department advised Americans to stay alert while in Egypt and to avoid traveling outside major cities like Cairo and tourist spots.
The Orange County Register spoke with Hawass after his talk about what mysteries of ancient Egypt remain unsolved and his being compared to Indiana Jones.
Q. How much is left to discover about ancient Egypt?
A. We found, until now, 30 percent of the Egyptian monuments. Still, there is 70 percent buried underneath the ground. ... Modern Egypt is completely built above ancient Egypt. You can excavate in the courtyard of your house in Cairo, and you’ll discover a tomb.
Q. Is there a mystery about ancient Egypt you’d like to see solved?
A. Of course. I want to know what’s behind the sacred doors of the Great Pyramid. I want to finish looking for the tomb, the mummy, of Queen Nefertiti. ... I want also to reveal the secrets of the mummies of Dynasty 19 and 20th. ... Who’s the Pharoah of Moses? We don’t know.
Q. What do you think about being compared to Indiana Jones?
A. People ask me all the time the difference between my hat and Harrison Ford’s, and I say my hat is the genuine archaeology hat. The Harrison Ford (hat) is the fake one. Therefore, I don’t know why people compare me with Indiana Jones, but it makes me happy that the public loves this.
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