Tomb saver | South China Morning Post
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  • Jan 27, 2015
  • Updated: 8:50pm

Tomb saver

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2002, 12:00am

(SCMP; September 5, 2002)

By Desiree Au

Zahi Hawass sees people. Dead people. As National Geographic's explorer-in-residence and director of Egypt's Giza Pyramids Excavation, the archaeologist has spent the past 32 years staring into the faces of mummies, skeletons and corpses found inside one of the greatest wonders of the world.

'To the general public, they are dead, but to me, they are alive,' he says at the Island Shangri-La hotel, where he was assisting in the Hong Kong promotion of a live excavation which was televised last week, on the National Geographic Channel. 'I can make each stone talk, and the mummies are like me and you - except that thousands of years have passed and they are still able to tell us their stories.'

If the dead indeed talk, Hawass is the one person who can make their messages heard before it is too late - the pyramids are in fragile condition. 'We need to do all we can to preserve the pyramids,' he says. 'We should leave some things for future generations to discover.'

Stocky, and sporting his trademark fedora, jeans and boots, Hawass looks very much the part of a modern tomb raider - except that he is doing the exact opposite. 'I have to protect the spirituality of the pyramids,' he says. 'It's my duty as an Egyptian to make sure people don't come in and take our things. If this continues, everything will be gone in 100 years.'

The past century saw explorers and archaeologists from the West opening up the pyramids and removing vast amounts of precious artefacts, and hordes of tourists flocking to the Giza Plateau. But now, Hawass is setting some new rules. 'No scholar can just come in and leave, they have to help contribute to our history by publishing some papers or journals,' he says. No artefact can leave the country either. 'The monument belongs to the world and it has captured the heart of everyone, but these treasures belong in Egypt, and we are spending close to HK$1.7 billion to build a new, larger museum to display them.'

Hawass has already stopped further excavation of the Giza Pyramids and Upper Egypt, closed off one of the three great pyramids each year and limited daily visitors to the opened wonders and King Tutankhamun's tomb. 'I am only allowing concentrated excavation work in the delta area [near the Mediterranean Sea] because eventually these sites will be washed out,' he says. 'We can only work with existing excavated sites in Giza. My ultimate goal is the conservation of the Giza Plateau.'


in-residence (adj) associated in a special position with an organisation

excavation (n) the act of digging and scooping as part of a scientific exploration

indeed (adv) without a doubt; used to express one's surprise or an irony in a statement

Example: Indeed, Beijing and SAR leaders are now determined that the obligation Hong Kong has to uphold national interests provided under Article 23 should be given top priority. (SCMP; Analysis; September 25, 2002)

in fragile condition (phrase) a weak condition in the sense that something can be easily damaged

spirituality (n) the beliefs of something that imply the purpose of its existence

horde of (n) a large group of

Example: In Hong Kong, it is not a pretty sight: fully grown men in business suits totally engrossed in violent juvenile comics in the MTR, or hordes of teenagers camping overnight to rush the so-called book-fair for its latest offerings of violent comics. (SCMP; September 21, 2002)

Discussion points

- From the article, what is the purpose of pyramids?

- Why should we learn history?

- How does the life of an ancient Egyptian king concern us?

- Prepare something for a time capsule. What would you put in it?


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