The study of ancient Egypt and its history (mummies, pyramids and stuff) is called Egyptology. The top Egyptologist in the world right now is Dr. Zahi Hawass, the head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). A renowned archeologist and historian, Hawass has done a lot more to popularize Egyptology than any other person alive. Almost all television documentaries on ancient Egypt have Dr. Hawass’s face in them, explaining the latest discovery of tombs and artifacts with gusto.
Gusto is perhaps too weak a word. I first heard of Dr. Hawass when Jon Stewart made fun of him on The Daily Show. They did a segment on Egypt, where it showed Dr. Hawass talking excitedly, with animated gestures and child-like passion (The Daily Show edited the funniest sections for their audience). It seems like a grotesque caricature that I first thought the Daily Show crew paid an Arabic looking actor to play the part. It turned out that he is a real person (thanks Google), and that was when I started looking into the life and works of this great man.
Dr. Hawass made two great contributions to the study of Egyptology. First, he made it his life goal to pursue stolen or smuggled artifacts outside of Egypt. Under his leadership, the SCA have became a force to be reckoned with, as far as tomb raiders are concerned. He vocally criticized the Berlin Museum and the British Museums for keeping two of Egypt’s greatest historical artifacts: the bust of Nefertiti and the Rosetta Stone. He had made scathing public statements accusing western museums and archeologists of stealing Egyptian treasures which rightfully belong to the Egyptian people. Although his combative manner has often put him at odds with his Western colleagues, it has brought him much respect from the general public.
The second contribution is popular among Egyptians but not among archeologists. Under his leadership, the SCA have instituted a rule that made it compulsory for all foreign archeological teams in Egypt to report all discoveries to the SCA before publishing the findings. Dr. Hawass enforced the rule strictly, effectively putting all archeological work in Egypt under his control. Errant archeologists would be kicked out of Egypt. This has made it hard for archeologists to work independently. Foreign archeologists have claimed that SCA often took the credit of a major discovery, with most of it going to Dr. Hawass. This makes him the single most powerful figure in Egyptology.
Due to his powerful office and greater than life persona, Dr. Hawass is the undisputed public face of Egyptology. The New Yorker (among others) called him the Pharaoh. History and archeology scholars debated whether he is good or bad for Egyptology. When US President Barack Obama visited Egypt last year, Dr. Hawass gave him an extended tour of the pyramids. Despite claims that Dr. Hawass is more interested in show and pomp than in serious historical study, nobody can deny the love and passion that he has for Egyptology. He himself has made more than 30 major discoveries and, with the all-encompassing power of SCA in the area, he is in good standing to make many more before he retire.
Please enjoy the following videos of Dr. Zahi Hawass.
Dr. Hawass explaining the latest discovery:
Dr. Hawass explaining the Egyptian Mummy:
Dr. Hawass on the restoration of the Synagogue of Maimonides:
Dr. Hawass’s website: http://www.drhawass.com/