When Zahi Hawass strode to the Glenn Auditorium
dais Oct. 22, his giant image floating behind him on a movie screen,
the effect was one more akin to a rock star or Oscar-winning actor
than an archaeologist.
But there was no denying Hawass’ celebrity that evening, as
a crowd of many hundreds gathered to listen to Egypt’s secretary-general
of its Supreme Council of Antiquities, in town to commemorate the
return of Ramesses I to the pharaoh’s homeland.
After listening to an introduction of Hawass by Peter Lacovara,
curator of ancient Egyptian art for the Carlos Museum, the crowd
watched a short National Geographic film on the Egyptian archeologist,
who rose to international fame in 1999 after discovering a trove
of 2,000-year-old mummies at a site he dubbed the "Valley of
Indeed, the film—titled "Zahi Hawass: King
of the Pyramids"—reinforced its star’s charisma,
showing him bombarded by paparazzi at public events and being met
with a mixture of pride and awe by his fellow Egyptians. When he
took the podium as the end credits rolled, Hawass said he was grateful
to be in Atlanta and thanked Lacovara and Carlos Director Bonnie
Speed for making it happen.
Hawass recounted how the Carlos earlier this year
had returned to Egypt four pieces from the tomb of Seti I (son of
Ramesses I), a move wholly in keeping with Hawass’ belief
that many of the ancient treasures and artifacts currently in museums
and private collections around the world rightfully belong back
in their homeland.
"That was a moment that’s never happened before,"
Hawass said of the museum’s gesture. "Putting those pieces
back in the tomb, in the same spot where they had been taken before
by force, is a message to the whole world. I have to thank Bonnie
Speed and Peter Lacovara for giving us the opportunity to show the
world cooperation for the benefit of all archaeology."
Of course, the return of Ramesses I takes that cooperation to another
level, and Hawass clearly was thrilled to be personally escorting
the 3,000-year-old king back to his country, where he will star
in a new exhibit in the Luxor Museum in January. The Ramesses delegation
was scheduled to leave Atlanta for Cairo on Friday, Oct. 24.
Hawass’ hourlong talk ranged far and wide over his decades
of experience excavating numerous sites spread all around Egypt,
from the Valley of Golden Mummies to the Giza Plateau with its giant
pyramids and solemn Sphinx. Equipped with slideshow clicker and
laser pointer, Hawass took his audience on a virtual tour around
and inside the sites of ancient tombs, secret underground tunnels
and dusty bowels of pyramids.
Hawass also poked fun at fringe theories of popular culture, such
as the belief that the pyramids were built by aliens from space,
or that the Sphinx was built by a 10,000-year-old "lost civilization."
In fact, the archaeologist showed in detail the system of ramps
that were used to move pyramid stones from quarry to building site,
the hierarchy of labor used to build them, even evidence of the
food the laborers ate (he said he’d unearthed proof that 11
cows and 33 goats were slaughtered every day to feed the work force).
"Archaeology," Hawass said simply, "is more fun than
thinking about aliens or lost civilizations."