ZahiHawass2-tabOctober has come and gone and it’s time to review our checklist of things Dr. Zahi Hawass had  “promised, hinted, and suggested” would occur during—if not before—last month.  So how did he do?

It is kind of hard to say someone had a bad month when they successfully reclaimed five artifacts from the Louvre and were appointed Vice Minister of Culture.  So call me a taskmaster, but those two things were not on the list…

In the last week of October Zahi Hawass was named Egypt’s Vice Minister of Culture by decree of President Hosni Mubarak.  Dr. Hawass was set for retirement from the Supreme Council of Antiquities next spring, although he certainly had no plans to slow down.  With at least a half dozen books planned to be released in the next year, and a list of projects to be completed in the Valley of the Kings, Zahi Hawass was full steam ahead in both his professional and public life.  But with the sort of legacy he was leaving, he was concerned over who might end up replacing him at the helm of the SCA.

With a clear preference for blue-collar archaeology, Dr. Hawass was worried that his replacement might be an academician with no practical experience, rather than someone who had come up through the ranks at the SCA.  In particular, he was…

“…concerned that the government might decide to appoint someone from the University to fill my position who did not have experience in archaeology.  Such a person might be impressed by the glory of the job and not focus on the monuments, and all the projects I have initiated would be abandoned.” (source)

Egypt_ZahiHawass_01Although not stated explicitly, Dr. Hawass’ new position with the Ministry of Culture will assure that he has some sway over who will be appointed as his replacement.  Rather than a book-smart professor type, more interested in glory and fame, Dr. Hawass’ trademark khakis, denim shirt, and Indiana Jones fedora will be handed down to someone not afraid to get his hands dirty.  Or at least they would be, if Dr. Hawass wasn’t planning to return to the field himself.

Dr. Hawass’ new position will also allow him to continue with other projects of particular importance to him.  The construction of new museums, not to mention the renovation of old ones, will continue under his guidance, as will the training programs he initiated for museum personnel and archaeologists.  Site management has been one of Zahi Hawass’ priorities, and as Vice Minister of Culture he will be able to maintain a watchful eye over these programs as well.

Another priority for Zahi Hawass has been the repatriation of Egyptian artifacts that have found themselves in foreign lands under questionable circumstances.  October saw an agreement by France’s Louvre to return a set of five wall paintings hacked from the tomb of Tetaki (TT 15), an Eighteenth Dynasty court official buried in the Tombs of the Nobles section of the Theban Necropolis. 

The agreement was reached after Dr. Hawass suspended the Louvre’ s activities in Egypt, citing a letter that had been sent eighteen months earlier requesting the return of the tomb paintings.  Frederic Mitterrand, France’s Minister of Culture, was sympathetic and agreed the fragments should be returned, but noted that France had only been aware of the fact they had been stolen following the rediscovery of the tomb in November, 2008 (source).  Oddly enough, this would have been seven months after the letter was supposedly sent, but regardless of such minor details, a victory is a victory. 

Efforts to reclaim another much higher profile Egyptian artifact have been less conclusive, which leads us to the October Checklist.

Ludwig Borchardt’s “Unethical Tactics”

bor-tagBack in August, when I interviewed Zahi Hawass on behalf of Heritage Key, I asked about the status of his campaign to have the bust of Nefertiti returned to Egypt.  In particular, I asked him when he intended to reveal the evidence of “unethical tactics” Ludwig Borchardt allegedly used to obtain the bust of Nefertiti for Germany.  Dr. Hawass responded that the evidence was still being gathered, and would be publicly revealed when he wrote to Berlin in October to request the return of the artifact.

October did see changes in Nefertiti’s status.  For their part, the Germans moved her to her “new permanent home” in Berlin.  For his part, Dr. Hawass seemed to lower his expectations, stating to Spiegel Online that he was “not by any means” insisting that Nefertiti be removed from her new home (source).  But it wasn’t Nefertiti’s return we were looking for with the Checklist, it was Dr. Hawass’ evidence that Borchardt was dishonest in his dealings. 

There has been legitimate debate over whether or not the bust of Nefertiti should be returned to Egypt, even if Borchardt did remove her under false pretenses.  On the one hand, there are those who say that regardless of the circumstances under which she came to Berlin, she is safe and well cared for, open for public viewing, and too fragile to transport to Egypt.  On the other hand, there are those who say that she is an important and unique artifact and part of the heritage of the Egyptian people and belongs in an Egyptian museum.  But whether or not she should return home or remain in Berlin was not the point the October Checklist was trying to address.

What makes an artifact an artifact is its history, and that history includes not only the circumstances of its creation, it includes how that artifact and its discovery have changed our understanding of the past and how we view ourselves in the present.  An important part of Tutankhamun’s history is his tour of the world’s museums thirty years ago, and is why Dr. Hawass includes him among the world’s ambassadors.  Likewise, the history of the bust of Nefertiti consists of not just the early years of its existence, it includes the story of all that has happened ever since.

Is she, as some have insisted, a forgery foisted on the German people by Borchardt?  Is she the real deal, smuggled quietly out of Egypt by Borchardt and only revealed to the world a decade later when her kidnapper deemed it safe to do so?  Or was she acquired under what were the standards of the day with regard to which discoveries archaeologists were allowed to take back to their home countries, and which were to be left in Egypt?  All of these questions are as much a part of the bust’s history as everything thing that led up to them. 

If the Supreme Council of Antiquities is privy to the answers of some of these questions, then they should make them public.  What is the advantage of hanging on to evidence of an alleged crime that occurred a century ago?  It’s not as if the prosecution is going to call some last-minute surprise witness who will burst into the courtroom with the Damning Evidence, as everyone turns and gasps.  Nor is the evidence, if it exists, the private domain of a few men to distribute arbitrarily.  It is not the task of historians and archaeologists to hide secrets, but rather to unearth them.

King Tut’s Daughter

dna-tabWhen Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 he also discovered the mummified bodies of two young girls—one who is believed to have been miscarried at about six months, and another believed to have been stillborn.  The fact that they had been interred with the young king suggests they may have been his daughters.  This potential link is vital to the genetic mapping of the Eighteenth Dynasty, because if they are the daughters of Tutankhamun and his wife, Ankhesenamun, then their genetic profile could help identify Ankhesenamun’s mummy.  This could open an entire branch of the family tree, possibly leading to the identification of Nefertiti and other Eighteenth Dynasty celebrities.

A DNA sample was taken from the older of the two and subjected to testing in 2008, and again in 2009, supposedly with encouraging results.  On August 7th, 2009, at a lecture at Butler University’s Clowes Hall which I covered for Heritage Key, Dr. Hawass stated that both tests had indicated that Tutankhamun was likely the father of the child.  He further stated that the results would be published in a paper “next week” (source).

August passed with no further word.  Six weeks later, in a September 20, 2009, article for the Sacramento Bee, spokesperson Jill Lynch stated “this fall, Dr. Zahi Hawass is going to announce the results of a DNA study that will determine the parenthood of the two fetuses found buried with King Tut.”  According to the article, the DNA results would be announced in “the next few weeks.”  It has been yet another six weeks, with no announcement.

The declaration that a paper detailing the DNA studies would be published “next week” was met with applause at Clowes Hall because people follow the story with excitement.  We want to know the ongoing status of this work, even if such reports only announce that the results so far are inconclusive.  Stating that a paper is to be published next week, or an announcement is coming in a few weeks, implies that the work has been done, so why continue to withhold it from the public? 

Nobody is suggesting that a researcher doesn’t have a right to hold back their work until it is ready for publication, and nobody wants to deny an archaeologist his or her much-deserved moment in the sun.  And everybody can appreciate the fact that sometimes things come up and schedules change.  But when we are told that an exciting event will happen by a certain date, the date passes without the event or an explanation, only for the same exciting announcement to be repeated again a little later, people begin to wonder if these announcements are really worth the excitement they generate. 

A New Tomb

kv64-tabAgain quoting the above-cited lecture at Clowes Hall, Dr. Hawass stated in August that he hoped his “all Egyptian team” would be announcing the discovery of a new tomb in October of 2009 (source).  This new tomb, which according to the naming conventions for the Valley of the Kings is already known as KV64, is a favorite topic of discussion and speculation in Egyptological community, particularly on the blogosphere.  It is known that Dr. Hawass has been in hot pursuit of the tombs of Nefertiti, Ramesses VIII, and Queen Tiye in recent years. 

And although the lecture seemed to imply that the discovery would be made at the Valley of the Kings area (the proclamation was made in the context of discussing recent work in the Valley of the Kings), it is entirely possible the next tomb to be announced may not be KV64.  Rather than the Valley of the Kings, what if the new tomb is in Alexandria?  Work was to resume in October at (or near) Alexandria on a tomb Dr. Hawass believes may belong to one of ancient history’s most famous femmes fatales, Cleopatra VII (source).  It is entirely possible this year’s digging season may uncover the tombs of both Cleopatra and Nefertiti, two of the most powerful women in Egypt’s history.

But wishful thinking aside, no new tombs were announced in October.  One might point out that the operative word above was hoped, as in, Dr. Hawass hoped to make the announcement in October, but made no promises.  Fair enough, but again, why keep us in the dark?  Why not give us an update?  “We hoped to make an announcement this month, but ran into problems.  We hope that we will be making an announcement in January.”  Instead, another date passes without an explanation, or even an acknowledgement. 

What Killed Tut?

dedtut-tabAgain, to return to the lecture at Clowes Hall, on August 7th, 2009, Dr. Hawass assured the audience that contrary to popular belief King Tutankhamun was not murdered, and that he would be announcing the cause of Tut’s death “in one month” (source).  It has been nearly three months now, and to my knowledge Dr. Hawass has made no announcements regarding the cause of Tutankhamun’s death.

A little later today (November 4, 2009) an important event is scheduled to take place in Luxor, Egypt—the opening of the Carter House to the public.  Dr. Hawass will be present and is scheduled to address those gathered for the occasion.  In the comments section of a previous Em Hotep! article on this very subject, King Tut: And the Cause of Death is… To Be Announced, one of our readers (Ann) suggested that this event would be an ideal time to announce the cause of Tut’s death, seeing as how Howard Carter discovered his tomb.

I am inclined to agree with Ann.  It makes perfect sense to hold onto this news for the opening of the Carter House.  The two events are related and it would pay double homage to a famous and beloved Egyptologist, Howard Carter.  But once the decision was made to postpone this historic revelation, why not announce the change?  The earlier date had been set in a public forum, why not relate the change in an equally public manner, such as an announcement on Zahi Hawass’ blog that instead of September the cause of Tutankhamun’s early demise would be disclosed at the opening of the Carter House?

This, of course, presumes that Dr. Hawass will be sharing this knowledge later today at the Carter House.  Without the facts, all we can do is speculate.

Zahi TV

zahtv-tabThis item on the Checklist was sort of tongue-in-cheek.  There were rumors that The History Channel might be filming a sort of archaeology reality show with Dr. Hawass beginning in October of 2009 (source).  There has been no further mention of these plans that I have been able to track down, but it is easy enough to find Zahi TV as it is.  Not just The History Channel, but The Discovery Channel, National Geographic documentaries, possibly even the Weather Channel have all featured Dr. Hawass and will undoubtedly continue to do so for years to come.

And that’s ok.  Even the grand-standing is ok because it generates interest in Egyptology.  Zahi Hawass seems to have the ability to pull a press conference out of thin air.  Even he has joked about arriving unannounced at dig sites only to find the cameras already there waiting for him.  The desire to always have some exciting news to break must be quite compelling.  It is certainly understandable that he is concerned his replacement might be someone who is merely “impressed by the glory of the job.”

Maybe the October Checklist delivered more of a bite than I originally wanted.  It was intended to be fun, and I had really hoped to see the “inventor of the twenty-four hour workday” knock these five (ok, make that four) pitches out of the park.  They were, after all, things he himself had “promised, hinted, and suggested.”  But I can’t help but note that these major announcements were made so lightly, and apparently forgotten with the same ease. 

I sincerely hope that the cause of Tutankhamun’s death will be revealed at the Carter House in a few hours.  Otherwise, it is just another announcement dropped and then, well, just dropped.



Copyright by Keith Payne, 2009.  All rights reserved.

Photographs “Egypt.Zahi.Hawass.01.jpg” by Hajor, ”Nefertiti berlin.jpg” by Zserghei, ”DSC093719.JPG” by E. Michael Smith, and “Rubble being cleared” by drewnoakes are provided courtesy of Wikimedia Commons  and are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of those files under the conditions that you appropriately attribute them, and that you distribute them only under a license identical to this one. Official license 

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2 comments so far


In an interview aired on 2nd Nov on HK, Bob Briar (the authority on mummies) had this to say about DNA testing (read perhaps Tuts family tree):
“I’ll tell you one thing that doesn’t work. This has a lot of hype, and I don’t understand it – I see it mentioned all the time in newspapers and magazines: DNA studies. We really don’t get interesting information from DNA studies of Egyptian mummies. Or we haven’t done yet. You hear a lot of talk about it, but you don’t see it in the scientific journals, because we haven’t had any solid results yet. In a few years, it’s gonna come. But so far, no one has got any important information from DNA of an Egyptian mummy. ”
So, perhaps Zahi’s DNA evidence, only done in Egypt because no true scientist is allowed to take samples out of Egypt, is again all razzle dazzle. As for deadlines, nothing is owed to Infidels. Whatever crumb is thrown from the table, lands when and where it may!

November 4th, 2009 at 9:12 pm


I think you raise some very fair points. If anybody has the authority to question the veracity of the DNA studies it would be Bob Brier.

The “October Checklist” is not in retirement. If anything, I think a good, in depth summary of the whole DNA issue is due. Possibly including a phone call or two to experts in DNA analysis in both the medical and criminology fields.

I am a big fan of interdisciplinary methodologies. I think for my own peace of mind I owe it to myself to try and get some context on the whole DNA studies and genetic mapping issue.

And I have to say, it appears the topic of Tutankhamun’s death was not raised at the Carter House event in Luxor today. If there are any readers who can set me straight on that, I would be much obliged.

November 5th, 2009 at 12:55 am

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