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Arts&Letters Live: Dr. Zahi Hawass


by Stephen Becker 25 Mar 2009

There are two reasons why Dr. Zahi Hawass is effective as Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. The most obvious is: he clearly knows and cares a great deal about his country’s cultural treasures. But another reason emerged on Tuesday night: he knows how to make others care as much as he does. […]

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hawass-pyramid-2001There are two reasons why Dr. Zahi Hawass is effective as Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. The most obvious is: he clearly knows and cares a great deal about his country’s cultural treasures. But another reason emerged on Tuesday night: he knows how to make others care as much as he does.

Dr. Hawass was the featured speaker at last night’s Arts&Letters Live event at McFarlin Auditorium. The demand for tickets was so high that the lecture was moved from the Dallas Museum of Art to the theater on the SMU campus to accommodate everyone. For more than an hour, Dr. Hawass spoke with boundless energy about not only King Tut and the current exhibit at the DMA, but also about current discoveries he and his team are making in his home country. About midway through the talk/slideshow presentation, he dropped this prediction on us:

“I tell you, in one year’s time, I will discover the tomb of Queen Nefertiti.”

In fact, he’s pretty sure he knows exactly where it is now: under a temporary office set up out at a dig site.

“Today, on the telephone, I ordered that office demolished,” he said with a laugh.

And there were plenty of laughs mixed in with the serious discussion. Many of them came as he ran through countless slides of famous people he has given pyramid tours to – everyone from Hugh Jackman to George Lucas to Greg Norman to Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Former First Lady Laura Bush has taken two tours with Dr. Hawass in Egypt, which made her a fitting choice to introduce him on Tuesday night.

But the funniest zinger came as Dr. Hawass discussed his search for the tombs of  Mark Antony and Cleopatra. An assistant working on a dig near the possible burial site discovered a statue of a man with a cleft chin.

“Do you think this is a statue of Mark Antony?” the assistant excidedly asked Dr. Hawass.

“No,” the doctor answered. “I think it is a statue of Richard Burton!”

If you haven’t seen Tutankhamun and The Golden Age of The Pharaohs, it runs through May 17.

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  • Jennifer

    I was at the Hawass event last night — it was exactly as Stephen described it. Interesting, informative, and unexpectedly funny at times. Dr. Hawass obviously loves what he does, digging for dead people, and it’s hard not to share in his wonder when he’s talking so excitedly about it all.

  • Elaine

    I was there last night, too. Loved it! What a great night! Dr. Hawass certainly knows how to keep his audience engaged. From the time he took the stage, until the Q and A, the time just flew by. Dr. Hawass’s lecture has me seriously thinking about booking another trip to Egypt in the next year to see if he does, in fact, discover Nefertiti’s tomb.

  • Elizabeth

    I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Hawass when I was living in Egypt in 2003. (I recognized him at a restaurant from the History Channel!) He was such a gracious man, he offered me and my mother who was visiting at the time free tickets to see the pyramids anytime we wanted. I was sorry to miss his presentation, but I am not surprised to read that his audience hung on every word. Egypt is very lucky to have this very talented and passionate man guarding its national treasures!