Egypt’s most senior Egyptologist visited the “King Tut” exhibit at the Atlanta Civic Center March 26, bursting with pride in both his country’s ancient past and his profession, while continuing to pick a fight with the Saint Louis Art Museum for failing to return what he considers a stolen antiquity.
During a press conference at the exhibition “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaoh,” Zahi Hawass, suggested that an important new finding in the Valley of the Kings is imminent.
He also warned thieves of ancient Egyptian artifacts that he is about to have new legal powers enabling him to repatriate objects that have been stolen from Egypt’s archaeological sites.
Dr. Hawass was in Atlanta to give a lecture at the Fox Theatre about new discoveries that he has made with a team of Egyptian archaeologists and to visit the exhibition that already is the most-visited exhibit ever at the civic center.
“For the first time, an Egyptian team of archaeologists has been making important and exciting discoveries,” he said. “Although explorers and archaeologists have been combing the Valley of Kings for centuries, not a single tomb has been found by an Egyptian.”
While stopping short of making an outright prediction, he suggested that his team would make the next big find – the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, who has assumed a legendary status as one of the world’s most beautiful women ever to have lived.
Dr. Hawass also was adamant about his quest to have artifacts that have been stolen from Egypt returned. In a video interview with GlobalAtlanta, he slammed the Saint Louis Art Museum for failing to return the Ka-nefer-nefer mask allegedly stolen and smuggled out of Egypt sometime in the late 1950s.
He said that he wants to make an example out of the Saint Louis museum and is counting on legislation to be passed by Egypt’s parliament that will enable him to prosecute the museum’s director in an Egyptian court.
“We are very disappointed that the Egyptian government has turned this into a personal attack on our museum, board and director,” a spokesperson for the Saint Louis museum said in an e-mail to GlobalAtlanta after watching the video interview.
Meanwhile, Dr. Hawass is also lobbying the Egyptian parliament to further protect its antiquities by forcing manufacturers and retailers worldwide to obtain special permission to sell products relating to such prized icons as the Giza Pyramids, the Sphinx and the mask of Tutankhamun.
Dr. Hawass chose Atlanta for the first American destination of the current King Tut exhibition due to his close relationship with Peter Lacovara, an archaeologist and curator of Egyptian art at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum.
In 2003, Dr. Lacovara orchestrated the return of the mummy of the pharaoh Ramesses 1 to Egypt as a gesture of goodwill and international cultural cooperation, thereby guaranteeing his friendship with Dr. Hawass.
The exhibit features more than 130 artifacts from King Tut’s tomb and other sites. The exhibition has sold 330,000 tickets, and is to be on view through May 17.
Dr. Hawass serves as secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and director of excavations at Giza, Saqqara and the Bahahriya Oasis. A prolific author, he said that he currently is writing a book to encourage children to become archaeologists.
In the video interview, he listed the five artifacts that he would like to see returned but made no specific legal claim to them since a United Nations convention holds that claims dating to prior to 1972 are not enforceable.
They are the Rosetta Stone, which has been at the British Museum in London; the iconic bust of Nefertiti at the Altes Museum in Berlin;
the sculptured zodiac bas-relief from the ceiling of a chapel dedicated to the Egyptian god Osiris at the Louvre Museum in Paris;
the bust of Hemiunu, architect of the great pyramid of Giza at the Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany; and the figure of Ankh-Haf, architect of the second great pyramid at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Dr. Hawass’ official explorer hat is available at the exhibition’s gift shop. One hundred percent of hat sales go to the Suzanne Mubarak Children’s Museum building fund, established to help create Cairo, Egypt’s first children’s museum.