The Anthropology of Dr. Zahi Hawass (Lecture at War Memorial Opera House, 3/8/10)

Zahi Hawass - poster at DeYoung Tut exhibit gift shop
Zahi Hawass - poster at DeYoung Tut exhibit gift shop

When I came across an ad for Dr. Zahi Hawass’ lecture, “Mysteries of Tutankhamun Revealed,” at the Opera House, I was curious. Not about Egypt per se, but about Hawass, the Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. He seems to be everywhere, in his Indian Jones hat. He appears in an endless parade of documentaries. I saw him signing books at LACMA a few years ago. There’s a 10-foot tall poster of him in the DeYoung’s Tut exhibit gift shop, next to a stack of replicas of his hat (on sale for $30). Americans are fascinated by Egypt, and this guy seems to be totally Tuting us up.

So I bought a ticket, half-hoping to get some insight into Hawass. And maybe I would learn something. Hawass is, of course, quite accomplished. Trained at Cairo U, he earned his PhD at UPenn. He supervises an amazing amount of fieldwork. He has fought to get Egyptian antiquities returned to Egypt. And for Americans, he has put an Egyptian face on Egyptian history.

Before the lecture began, the head of FAMSF gave a laudatory introduction. Then house lights dimmed, and we were shown a two-minute video featuring stirring music and sweeping images of Egypt. There was a brief bio, and – notably – an acknowledgment of the criticism that Hawass is a media hog. Even Omar Sharif made an appearance. “I used to be the most famous Egyptian, now it is Zahi Hawass,” he said. “He is the best actor I have ever seen.”

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