Spotlight Interview - Dr. Zahi Hawass
I met with Dr. Hawass on March 25, 1997 in his
office on the Giza Plateau. Here's what we discussed:
Guardian: Thank you for agreeing to meet with me Dr. Hawass. Today I want to discuss the issues of the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, and the recent controversies concerning their true age and purpose. There's a lot of present day speculation by the New Age proponents and their public that there may have been an advanced civilization prior to the Egyptians. Has there been ANY physical evidence, whatsoever, that this is even possible?
Dr. Hawass: Not a single piece of material culture - not a single object - has been found at Giza that can be interpreted to come from a lost civilization. Instead we find an abundance of tombs, bodies, ancient boats, hieroglyphic inscriptions, pottery, bakeries and so on, from the Egyptian culture of the 4th Dynasty, about 2,500 BC. In archaeology we have no evidence for an advanced civilization prior to 3,200 BC. Theories and speculations about a lost civilization seem to excite people more than the discovery of a culture that we actually find at Giza and elsewhere in Egypt, the culture of Egyptian of whose existence we are certain. It was a great culture. Why do people need to look for another? As scientists, we keep an open mind, but we have to base our ideas about the past on archaeological evidence.
Guardian: Well, the lack of hard evidence is hard to ignore. But when one actually does examine what evidence has already been uncovered, it all points to the ancient Egyptians.
Dr. Hawass: I see that you agree on that! I want to add that if we found evidence of a civilization at Giza older than that of the dynastic Egyptians, we would not, and could not keep it from the public. But so far there has been no hard evidence to support the theory of a prior civilization. Even if rain water eroded the Sphinx (which is not very probable), it could not have washed away every single trace of an advanced civilization!
Guardian: What do you think of the star alignment that indicate that the apices of the pyramids align exactly with the belt in the constellation Orion in the year 10,500 BC? I am referring to the work of Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert entitled, The Orion Mystery.
Dr. Hawass: I believe that in a more recent book by Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock they claim that the match between the three pyramids, the stars in Orion's belt, and between those stars and the Milky Way, and the pyramids and the Nile Valley, is best for 10,500 BC. Bauval and Gilbert say that Abu Roash, Zawiyet el-Aryan, Abusir, and the Dahshur pyramids of Sneferu complete the match of 4th Dynasty pyramids to the constellations Orion and Taurus. Recently, this suggestion has been criticized by scholars who have some competence in ancient astronomy. For example, Robert Cadwick, who has studied ancient Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian astronomy, points out in a recent KMT article, that the supposed match leaves out some of their brightest stars in Orion. For the convenience of their theory, Bauval and Gilbert match the 5th dynasty pyramids at Abusir to stars, but not the other 5th or 6th dynasty pyramids. Chadwick points out that if you actually superimpose the pattern of Orion onto the three Giza pyramids, the other stars in the constellation do not match at all the pyramids of Abu Roash and Zawiyet el-Aryan.
Guardian: I'm sure that you're aware that Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock are publicly saying negative things about you and others who oversee the treasures of ancient Egypt?
Dr. Hawass: Yes, it is unfortunate the things they are saying. For example, Hancock and Bauval are asking people to sign petitions to stop secretive work at Giza. But there is no secret work at Giza! Any research project is approved both by the Permanent Committee of the Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA) and by our Security Department. For each project is appointed an inspector from the SCA Giza Inspectorate. At the conclusion of fieldwork, both the inspector and the expedition director must submit a report to the Inspectorate and to the offices of the SCA.
Of course, for Hancock and Bauval to suggest some kind of conspiracy at Giza helps them sell books. Thus they profit from the pyramids while in Egypt we struggle to conserve these treasures. While they turn out one profitable book after another about lost civilizations and attack us for conspiring to conceal the truth, the truth is that we are in an urgent struggle to save these world heritage monuments, and do not have time to deal with all of their theories. We are certainly not helped by their attacks.
Guardian: They are of the opinion that Egyptian officials are blocking them and others from returning to the Giza plateau to continue their research.
Dr. Hawass: So far, the research of Bauval and Hancock has required no research permit - they are simply theorizing about astronomical alignments, ancient Egyptian religious texts, and a lost civilization. No one is stopping Bauval and Hancock from returning to Giza to speculate about such things.
However, as for the claim that I prevent some projects from working while allowing others, I want to point out that Egyptian Law 117 of 1983 states that scholars and institutions can work in the field of Egyptian archaeology, but we do not permit amateurs to carry out field work. It is also the case that I alone do not approve work at Giza. I'm a member of the Permanent Committee of forty scholars, revamped in recent weeks to twenty-two scholars, that approves all applications for fieldwork. We consider applications from all over the world. I do not make decisions alone.
Once a proposal is submitted under the authority of an appropriate institution, we must consider whether the investigation will be detrimental to the site, and what the consequences of the research will be our management of the site. After all, when foreign expeditions come and go, we are left with the responsibility to manage and conserve what they find. At Giza, we are also working hard to save the Sphinx. How can we give priority to projects that want to look for secret tunnels and evidence of lost civilizations?
Guardian: What about the German discovery of a new door in the Queen's Chamber air vent of the Great Pyramid? Why aren't they being allowed to continue their research and open that door?
Dr. Hawass: Much of the comments about this have come from Mr. Gantenbrink (a German robotics expert) and Mr. Bauval, who is a friend of Mr. Gantenbrink. Mr. Gantenbrink was a member of a team of researchers under the recognized leadership of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo. The German Institute has the concession [note: a concession is a permit to investigate a certain area], not Mr. Gantenbrink. As of today, no application for further research has been submitted by the German Institute. Apparently there is some difference of opinion between Mr. Gantenbrink and the German Institute.
The discovery, by the way, is hardly a door in the usual sense. The so-called "air-shaft" is smaller than 20 cm square. The robot-mounted camera came to a blocking stone with two copper pins embedded in its face. This stopped further progress of the robot. If this is a door, it is only big enough for a rat! The plug is many meters up in the solid masonry of the pyramid, how should this so-called "door" be opened without damaging the pyramid?
Guardian: Is it true that a Canadian research team is going to pick up where the German researchers left off?
Dr. Hawass: As of today, we have received no proposal from Canadians to work in the Khufu Pyramid.
Guardian: Some people allege that the Egyptian authorities and even archaeologists are hiding things from the world because new discoveries refute the existing archaeological theories. Is there any truth to this?
Dr. Hawass: This makes no sense. When we find something new at Giza, we announce it to the world. The Sphinx and the Pyramids are world treasures. We are the guardian's of these treasures, but they belong to the world. We will not hide any discoveries, why would we? We have many reporters in Egypt, as you do in the United States. We will tell the world community as soon as we have something to announce.
Guardian: Has there been anything new discovered recently?
Dr. Hawass: Yes, we just made a major discovery at the Third Pyramid of Menkaure. We found a pair-statue of Ramesses II, about 15 feet tall, and weighing 4 tons made of red granite:
West of the Khufu pyramid we have found about 65 tombs. Some belonged to people with titles connected to the pyramids. We found a beautifully decorated tomb of a man named Kai:
In front of the Khafre Valley Temple we found the entrance ramps, with tunnels running underneath, mud brick walls and platforms, and other traces probably connected with the Purification tent and Mortuary Workshop that the ancient texts indicated were connected with the Royal Funeral in the Old Kingdom:
South of the Sphinx we found a cemetery of a working class with more titles connected to the pyramids: "Overseer of the West Side", "Inspector of the East Side", "Sculptor", and so on:
A major sewage project in the modern town along the Giza Plateau required digging hundreds of meters of trenches, and carrying out scores of deep core drillings. This revealed evidence of a large Old Kingdom settlement under the expansion of the modern town. By the way, no evidence was found of a deeper, or older civilization.
Guardian: What about the supposed "new" doorway on the north side of the Sphinx?
Dr. Hawass: The lower part of the Sphinx body is covered by layers of ancient and modern repair masonry. In 1926, when he cleared the Sphinx, the French engineer Emile Baraize found that a large patch of the ancient masonry cover had fallen away from the bedrock body of the Sphinx on its north side. Several of his photographs show some kind of recess behind the fallen masonry. Baraize recovered this area as part of his restorations - so this has been seen already. It may be nothing more than a deep recess in the natural rock of the Sphinx body. If we reopen the underlying masonry layers of this area, it will be in the course of the ongoing restoration work, and not to look for secret tunnels.
Guardian: With the many restorations taking place in the Giza area, including the Sphinx, I assume that preservation is a major priority of the Egyptian authorities?
Dr. Hawass: Yes. A major preservation program for Giza is being handled by the Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni. We have had the Second Pyramid of Khafre closed to the public last year for almost a year to make minor repairs and to reduce the humidity inside, it has since been reopened to the public. The Third Pyramid of Menkaure will be closing in early April 1997 to give it a rest from thousands of tourists.
Guardian: Is the Giza Plateau in danger from any earthquakes??
Dr. Hawass: In 1990 an earthquake near Cairo opened a fissure in the Second pyramid. We continue to study the plateau and the monuments for faults. But no earthquake has centered on the plateau itself.
Guardian: As you know many people, particularly of the "New Age" ilk, are very interested in finding what they call the "Hall of Records" , supposedly (according to the psychic Edgar Cayce) located underneath the Sphinx. What do you think about this search for such a Hall of Records?
Dr. Hawass: I do not believe in this "Hall of Records". The Sphinx has been thoroughly excavated. My friend and colleague, Mark Lehner and I investigated it ourselves in 1979. Nothing like a Hall of Records has been found in or near the Sphinx.
Guardian: There is also a prominent rumor about a secret passageway underneath the Sphinx, could you comment on that as well?
Dr. Hawass: To date, there are only three known passages connected with the Sphinx. Two of these might have actually been made by treasure hunters long after the Sphinx was sculpted. In 1837 Howard Vyse created a crater just behind the head of the Sphinx, and Mark Lehner and myself explored this again in 1979. We also located a passage at the tail, under the restoration masonry. It is about 9 meters (27 feet) long and comes to a dead end. A vertical shaft descends down through the Sphinx body from the top of the waist. This is actually a widening of a large natural fissure that cuts through the entire site of the Sphinx. Before modern restorations, it opened more than two meters wide across the top of the back. Then there is the sealed recess on the north side of the Sphinx body which we've already discussed, and we expect to open this soon, but I don't expect to find anything in there.
Guardian: I've heard talk that the bedrock out of which the Sphinx was carved ends a short distance in front of the Sphinx, giving rise to the idea that there is a cliff or drop-off in front of the Sphinx.
Dr, Hawass: I believe that you are speaking of the harbor. Yes, we found evidence of a drop-off out in front of the Sphinx Temple, and evidence of the harbor in the tunnels under the approach ramps in front of the Khafre Valley Temple. But, as of yet, no Hall of Records.
Guardian: Well, thank you for your time, I look forward to speaking with you again later on this year. I'm sure that you'll do your best to keep exploring the plateau and I look forward to seeing what else you come up with!
Dr. Hawass: Of course. Much of Egypt is still hidden beneath the sands.
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Guardian's CyberJourney To Egypt Copyright © 1997 Andrew Bayuk