Manfred Bietak
by Zahi Hawass

There are many foreign archaeological expeditions working in Upper and Lower Egypt alike. They carry out excavation and conservation projects not only at pharaonic sites, but Coptic and Islamic ones as well. Today, we do have over 200 expeditions, and I do not think that any other country in the world hosts this many teams from abroad. For the last 6 years, we have made many rules for these expeditions. The rules scared people at first, although now they know that these rules were for the benefit of the monuments. We as Egyptians believe that our monuments belong not only to us, but to everyone, all over the world. At the same time, the discipline of Egyptology was created by foreign scholars, who solved many mysteries, like the riddle of hieroglyphs. Many French, German, Italian, and American expeditions, among others, have worked in Egypt and published countless volumes that are very important and useful to this field.

Whenever we mention foreign expeditions, we must also talk about individual colleagues. We cannot remember all of them, but there are certain ones whose love of Egypt and Egyptians stands out – who have dedicated their lives to Egyptology, and lived among us for many years. One such scholar is Manfred Bietak, who is now working at the site of Tell el-Dab’a in the northeastern Nile Delta. This site is the location of the ancient city of Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos, who occupied Egypt for more than 100 years. It is also near the site of Qantir, where the capital of Ramesses II was located.

Bietak did careful, scientific work at Tell el-Dab’a, a site that has been ruined by agriculture, with much of its history lost below the water. Earlier work had also destroyed much of the historical sequence at the site. Manfred began, however, to excavate carefully using the best techniques, and learn and record the history from each level of this important site. I once visited his camp at Tell el-Dab’a. I can say that his work may be among the most important scientific efforts underway in Egypt right now, and that he is one of the most important scholars here.

I met Manfred for the first time at the first International Congress of Egyptologists, which was held in Cairo. At that time, I was planning to excavate the site of Merimde Beni Salama, a very important Neolithic site that could be the first location to see settled food production. Everyone was worried about this young Egyptian, whose work was going to follow on that of the great Austrian archaeologist Hermann Junker. I took Bietak with me to the site, and explained my plans to him. I believe that after this visit, he was able to tell other Egyptologists not to worry about the site. He used to visit me at my office at the Giza pyramids, where I have spent most of my life, and even offered to help me go to Vienna to study Egyptology, although I could not accept because I had a Fulbright fellowship to study in the United States. On one of his visits to see me at Giza, he went with me to my excavation at the tombs of the pyramid builders. That day, I was excavating a tomb that belonged to a man named Inty-shedu, an artist who was involved in the construction of the Great Pyramid. In a niche inside the tomb, we found five unique statues of him at different ages. Manfred watched every step as we excavated them, and I was happy to have a friend like him near me while I carried out this important work.

When I had a heart attack in 1996 and spent two weeks in the hospital, Manfred was in Vienna, but when he came back, he heard about my health problem. He came to visit me at home one morning as a surprise, with flowers in his hand. His friends decided to dedicate a book in his honor, and I contributed an article to it about the discovery of the temple of Ramesses II at Akhmin. It was funny to talk about this temple at a lecture that I gave at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and announce that I was giving it as a gift to Manfred. He did not understand what I meant at that time. When the book was published in his honor and he saw my article, however, he understood. We at the Supreme Council of Antiquities had a party in his honor. At the party I gave a speech from my heart in which I explained our love for him, because he truly will always have a place in all of our hearts.

Manfred is a very sensitive man, and sometimes ignorant people who do now know the value of a great scholar like him say words that hurt. I once told him, though, “do not worry – these words can be thrown in the garbage, but your books and articles will live for ever.”               


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