Egypt's Antiquities Chief Combines Passion, Clout to Protect Artifacts

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
October 24, 2006

Since the days of the pharaohs, priceless artifacts from Egypt have been falling into the wrong hands.

But Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, is on a mission to protect the relics of his country's storied past.

"I believe that the return of stolen artifacts is important not only to Egypt but also to everyone all over the world," Hawass said.

"These artifacts belong to everyone, and their return is of the utmost importance, because the past is important to our future."

Hawass wields strong influence over archaeological work in Egypt and over traveling exhibits of Egyptian objects that are ultimately in his charge.

Such clout—combined with a passionate and highly vocal presence—has aided his quest.

Last spring, for example, Hawass used his professional influence to pry a sarcophagus from the private office of Exelon chairperson John Rowe.

The Chicago, Illinois-based electric utility is a major sponsor of a traveling exhibition of artifacts related to King Tutankhamun now showing at Chicago's Field Museum (see photos of King Tut's treasures from the exhibit).

When an Exelon official offhandedly mentioned that Rowe displayed a sarcophagus in his office, an angry Hawass threatened to cut ties with the museum and other affiliates if the exhibit didn't drop Exelon's sponsorship.

Field Museum officials, caught between an important donor and the agency responsible for the Tut exhibit, got off the hook when Rowe agreed to lend them the piece for an indefinite length of time.

Media Frenzy

In many instances Hawass, who is also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, has been able to secure the return of artifacts because he has cultivated good working relationships with museums, nonprofits, and foreign policing agencies. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

Continued on Next Page >>


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