COURTESY DISCOVERY CHANNEL
Egyptologist Zahi Hawass has been seen on the Discovery Channel.
Digging into life
The history and future of Egypt, for all intents and purposes, rests in his hands. But Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, is up to the challenge. To put it simply, he's "The Man," according to Time Magazine, which deemed him one of the most influential people of 2005.
With 36,000 employees and thousands of archeological excavations to manage (nobody explores without his permission and oversight), it's miraculous the 60-year-old Hawass has time for anything else. But last week he stopped at the University of Hawaii on a whirlwind business trip to lecture to a packed campus ballroom. In addition to his speaking engagements and numerous articles and books (four published in 2006 alone), Hawass appears regularly on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Nova, "The Today Show," "Good Morning America," BBC and CNN. Yet he still manages to find time for his own discoveries, which always make headlines.
"He's a master at multi-tasking," said F. DeWolfe Miller, professor of epidemiology at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii, and a Hawass friend for 30 years. "He's a passionate advocate for global heritage. He believes Egyptian antiquities belong to the world."
Longtime friend and Lahaina resident Gary Smith agreed. "He throws his heart, soul and body into presenting Egypt to the rest of the world. He makes sure everything gets done the right way so the antiquities are saved. And Egypt needs to be protected. It's one of the world's treasures."
In a country of 80 million people, Hawass educates the public and safeguards antiquities from looting, environmental pollution, development, agricultural encroachment and everything in between. Returning stolen antiquities to Egypt is also a primary concern, as is the restoration of ancient cultural treasures, such as the Great Sphinx.
"At the same time," Hawass said, "I still have lots of dreams as an archeologist." Next up on his long list: Identifying the family of King Tutankhamun through his study of mummies, and locating the tombs of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.
"America is like my second home," he said. "But Egypt is my first home, which I love more than anything on Earth."
COURTESY DISCOVERY CHANNEL
From the Discovery Channel's "Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen."
How does an archeologist achieve rock-star popularity? With plenty of passion, charisma and intelligence, a slightly wicked sense of humor, minimal patience for inefficiency and a savvy relationship with the media. Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass brought all of these characteristics to Honolulu last week to talk about his DNA lab for mummies, a remote-controlled robot that will explore the secrets of the pyramids, as well as his most recent discoveries.
Professors and business people welcomed Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, at Longhi's Monday night with performances by hula dancers, Raiatea Helm and an exotic belly dancer. He arrived in jeans and an aloha shirt; between bites of salad, he managed to autograph his books and pose for photos at the fundraiser for the Cairo Children's Museum.
Part of Hawass' appeal is that he is as comfortable in a coat and tie as he is in denim and his trademark fedora, scaling tunnels hundreds of feet into the Earth -- sometimes in the company of bats or raw sewage. When distinguished citizens want a tour of the pyramids, they ask for one man. Noteworthy guests have included Princess Diana (his favorite), former President Clinton, Laura Bush, Bill Gates ("a very poor man," Hawass deadpanned) and George Lucas. When movie star Hugh Jackman visited, Hawass joked that a crowd of fans gathered, screaming at him to throw his hat. When Jackman prepared to do so, they yelled, "Not you; Zahi Hawass!"
Longtime friend F. DeWolfe Miller, a University of Hawaii epidemiologist who has worked with Hawass in Egypt for 30 years, said he "meets dignitaries and stars every week," and often juggles six tasks simultaneously without missing a beat. "You can't really imagine how many disciplines are involved in studying Egyptology."
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Zahi Hawass, the world's leading Egyptologist and secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, was the guest of honor at the Cairo Children's Museum fundraiser Monday night at Longhi's restaurant at Ala Moana Center. Hawass also is director of excavations at Giza, Saggara and Bahariya Oasis.
A MODEST village upbringing led to an education at the University of Alexandria. Hawass went on to receive a Fulbright Fellowship and earn a Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Pennsylvania. In the years since, he has become the most respected -- and recognizable -- expert in Egyptian antiquities. Hawass has friends in every corner of the globe, and Hawaii is no exception.
In addition to attending the fundraiser at Longhi's and visiting a heiau on the windward side of Oahu, Hawass outlined his most important research projects to a crowd of hundreds at the University of Hawaii on Tuesday. For instance, he proved that Egyptian citizens built the pyramids -- not slaves, foreigners or aliens -- when he discovered their tombs and studied the mummies. He also confirmed the identity of the mummy of Hatshepsut, using a CT scanner, a technique Miller had encouraged Hawass to implement.
The revelation occurred when he scanned the box containing her liver (inscribed with Hatshepsut's cartouche). It revealed a tooth with one missing root that nobody knew remained in the sealed box. The presence of the tooth inspired him to scan the excavated mummies to see if the remaining root could be found in any of them. One was a perfect match. And that was how he identified one of the longest reigning female pharaohs of Egypt, who died at age 50.
Many discoveries are carefully researched and planned, "but sometimes many things can happen by accident," he said. For instance, the Valley of the Golden Mummies at Bahariya Oasis was found when a donkey's hoof created a hole in the shell-like desert floor. Through the hole "you could see a glimmer of gold," said Miller, who was part of the 1996 team that uncovered many tombs, with one to 40 mummies in each. "You could just move the sand apart and start seeing mummies with elaborate wrapping and ornate gilding. It was wild."
With the help of Hawass (not pictured), the Sphinx has gone through extensive restorations during recent years.
ANYONE WHO stumbles upon antiquities is obligated by law to notify Hawass' office. To ensure they do, Hawass now offers a "big reward" for following the rules. "All Egypt is built above monuments," so it's likely average citizens will come across tombs containing items of cultural, historic and monetary value. In fact, "people sometimes dig in their houses!" In the past, the antiquities law was "very weak," added Hawass. Now anyone who takes anything is considered guilty of a serious crime.
Despite his zero-tolerance approach, Hawass insists he is a gentle soul. "Because of my quick action and severe punishment of people who steal antiquities ... people don't know that I have a very kind heart," he said softly.
"I'm here to testify for it!" Miller added.
That was evident in the number of people who attended the Honolulu events to pay homage to Hawass and support his efforts. "Our journey to Thebes and Luxor really changed our lives," said Honolulu psychologist and author Diane Cirincione, who has worked with her husband, Dr. Gerald Jampolsky, in 54 countries, including Egypt. "So many of us have connected spirits to Egypt in one way or another."
Robert Littman, a professor at the University of Hawaii for 36 years and president of the Archeological Institute of America, just returned from excavating in Egypt. Littman, who teaches several languages (he speaks and reads 15), conducts research and translates scholarly texts, searched for ancient pottery that would reveal trade patterns and details of everyday life in the Greco-Roman period. His team was selective, and limited itself to 2,000 pieces of pottery, which is the "genetic code of the site," he said.
Everything that's excavated stays in Egypt, Littman explained. But it wasn't always that way. "One of the things that Dr. Hawass has been so instrumental in is the preservation of Egyptian antiquities and education. ... This work is as important as all of his archeological work. It creates a climate that helps preserve the past."
But Hawass takes it a step further. "When I look at the mummies as if they were alive," he said, "I'm able to understand the lives of the people."
Miller indicated that Hawass shows no signs of slowing. "It's like he just started yesterday," Miller said. "His passion is endless. He's got that gleam in his eye for everything he does."
The most challenging aspect of his job involves training his 36,000 employees. In fact, he plans to invite Miller -- who is working with Hawass to eradicate the Hepatitis C epidemic in Egypt -- to help educate the staff. "This is really important, because if I train them, I will be able to restore these monuments," said Hawass. "We need a quick action program."
Hawass claims the most rewarding part of what he does is "living in this job for 24 hours, thinking about a discovery that I'm making and writing a book about it. I lived one year and a half only thinking about Hatshepsut. That really is a big challenge. At the same time, I do have a system for people to continue the projects, and this can give me the time to do my research and my own work that I really love."