Speakeasy with Zahi Hawass

Though he's a native Egyptian, Zahi Hawass is no stranger to Atlanta. The city's become a hotbed of Egyptian activity thanks to the Emory Michael C. Carlos Museum's dedication to the subject, as well as the popular exhibit Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs currently on view at the Atlanta Civic Center. As a result, the Egyptologist has likely spent as much time here as on some excavation sites. Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, visits the Fox on March 26 at 7:30 p.m. to give the lecture "Mysteries of Tutankhamun Revealed," and sign books. Here, he discusses his explorations and finds, both Egyptian and Atlantan.

What initially drew you to Egyptian archaeology?
Actually, when I was a young boy ... I wanted to be a lawyer. At 15, I went to study at the Faculty of Law, bought all my assigned books, read one line and realized I hated it. Then I moved to the Faculty of Arts, where I joined the archaeology department quite by accident.
One day I was preparing to go to Cairo, dressed in my best clothes, and the workmen asked me to come and see the new discovery of a tomb. I descended into the tomb, no longer caring that my nice clothes were getting very dirty, and I still remember the Reis (Arabic for the overseer of workmen) handing me a brush and saying, "Young man, clean in the middle of the tomb." And while I was cleaning, I saw a statue. It was a statue of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty. I began to clean the statue with my brush. At that moment, I fell in love with archaeology. It has been the great love of my life ever since.

Which particular items from the Tutankhamun exhibit will you discuss in your lecture?
I will talk about a few of my favorite items, such as the statue of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the wooden cartouche box, the ivory game box, and the gold and lapis lazuli necklace with a triple-scarab pectoral. Also featured in my lecture will be my own discoveries, my "babies" in the exhibit: four statues of workmen from the tombs of the workmen who built the pyramids. The discovery of this tomb is very important because it provided evidence, at long last, that the pyramids were not built by slaves, but by paid, skilled workers.

Another important statue I will discuss is that of a man called Kai, Priest of the Pyramid of Khufu, which I found west of the Great Pyramid. Kai left a unique, personal inscription within the tomb that says, "... The draftsmen who built my tomb, I gave them beer and bread, and I made them take an oath that they were satisfied." When I first took this statue out of the shaft of the tomb, it was as if I were carrying my own baby. I will always remember that moment, when I discovered the most beautiful private statue I have ever found from the Old Kingdom.

What was your first major archaeological find?
The Valley of the Golden Mummies

What was your most recent major find?
The pyramid at Saqqara, which belonged to Queen Sesheshet, mother of King Teti of the Sixth Dynasty. A month and a half ago, in the same area, I also discovered a shaft that delved 60 feet below the ground, containing 30 mummies and one coffin, which had been sealed for 2,600 years.

Is there anything in particular you would like to uncover that hasn't already been found?
Yes, I am searching now for the next great undiscovered tomb in the Valley of the Kings which, once found, will be called KV 64. I have a team excavating in a temple near Alexandria where we hope to find the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Furthermore, I have an Egyptian team excavating in the Valley of the Kings to reveal the secrets behind the tunnel within Seti I's tomb; another Egyptian scientific team is currently performing DNA tests and CT scans to reveal the true identity of King Tut's family; and we continue, as well, to search for the secrets behind the stones of the Great Pyramid.

You're practically a regular to Atlanta now. What do you like about this city?
I enjoy Atlanta. I was here before, of course, to bring our royal mummy — the one believed to be that of Ramesses I — home to Egypt in 2003. I am grateful to the Michael C. Carlos Museum for identifying and returning this mummy to Egypt, and that is why I wanted to bring the King Tut exhibit here, and to give a public lecture. I am very happy to be able to share with all of you the important news of my latest discoveries from ongoing excavations.

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