The 21st Century is being kind to Egyptology.
At the end of May, it was announced that yet another tomb had been found, that of Ptahmes, mayor of Memphis, army chief, overseer of the treasury and royal scribe under Seti I and Ramses II, in the 13th century B.C.
Important new finds like this are being generated at a frenetic pace, as exemplified by the research being done in the Valley of the Kings, whose necropolis has resulted in much recent data regarding the intriguing Amarna period pharaohs, including Akhenaten, Smenkhare, Tutankhamen and Ay.
Indeed, discoveries are happening at the most frenetic pace since 1997 when more than 60 people, mostly Japanese and Swiss tourists, along with Egyptian police and guides, were killed by an attack on the archaelogical hotbed of Luxor. The attack, perpretrated by extremists from the outlawed Islamist Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya, a group with links to Ayman al Zawahiri and Al Qaeda, not only made ensuring the safety of tourists in the country more problematic, but it made archaeology much more challenging and risky as well.
So, both the volume and importance of new finds coming from Egypt are remarkable, particularly considering the continuing unrest elsewhere in the Middle East. Thanks for this are due, according to many, to the stewardship of the man sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Indiana Jones, the head of the Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, the singular Dr. Zahi Hawass.
Named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People for 2006, he is the person who - to quote the venerable magazine - "determines who will excavate in Egypt, and when and where."
An Emmy winner and a self-promoter extraordinaire, Hawass is a veritable headline machine, most often to be found as the grinning co-host in Fox television specials and Discovery Channel documentaries when tombs are being opened for the first time. The Pennsylvania Gazette, the alumni magazine of his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, calls him "archaeology's answer to Carl Sagan...a celebrity...equal parts statesman, salesman, scientist, teacher, magician, and showman." Dr Farouk El-Baz, the Egyptian director of the Remote Sensing Centre at Boston University, calls him - not without respect - "something of a media whore". It's true that a Google search on his name will bring up more than 290,000 hits, and it's also a fact that he even has his own fan club.
Glory hound or not, Hawass is credited by many for restoring the lustre to Egyptology, especially over the last three years, which have seen not only major discoveries but also the repatriation of Egyptian antiquities formerly housed in museums around the world - another of Hawass' pet causes.
So who is this charismatic and controversial figure?
His official website is full of praise for his recent accomplishments, but is maddeningly curt about his early years: "Dr. Hawass received a Fulbright Fellowship and studied in the United States. He received his Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987. He has written numerous scholarly articles, and is highly respected as an Egyptologist."
His list of official responsibilities details what at first would appear to be a relatively unspectacular rise, accompanied by only average academic pursuits. By 1979 he had spent 10 years as an Inspector of Antiquities, only being promoted to the position of First Inspector in his tenth year. By that time, when we was 33, he had managed to accumulate a Bachelor of Arts in Greek and Roman Archaeology and a Diploma in Egyptology.
There are more detailed biographies of the man out there, though. And, especially in his earlier days, they paint a portrait of a less illustrious figure. And maybe, just maybe, they reveal a somewhat more shadowy and conflicted image than the grinning Indiana Jones figure happily cracking open tombs for the television cameras.
As Secretary-General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr Hawass is seated only one rung below the Egyptian cabinet, and his power over the investigation of antiquities in Egypt - some of the oldest on the planet, and by any measure, the repository of reams of knowledge still ungleaned - is absolute. His supporters say he has ushered in a golden age of Egyptian archaeology, and his skill at courting the media has been extremely useful in raising funds for research.
And yet, there are disturbing signs of a capricious and tyrannical streak to the good doctor that bear examination. For example, in 2003, Dr. Joann Fletcher, an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York (U.K.) and Consultant Egyptologist for Harrogate Museums and Arts, and an expert in ancient mummies and their tattoos, hair and wigs, received permission from Hawass to conduct research into tomb KV35 in the Valley of the Kings, which has so often proved to be a treasure trove of mummies. On that expedition, Fletcher claimed to have found the mummy of Nefertiti, a claim roundly dismissed by Hawass, who then had her unceremoniously ejected from the project and the Valley of the Kings, saying only that she had "broken the rules".
While some suggest Fletcher committed no graver error than to go the press before Dr Hawass could, thereby depriving him of the media attention he so craves, others say Fletcher's conclusions were erroneous, she broke the rules, and she deserved censure. In any case, this treatment of a leading Egyptologist was remarkable enough that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation felt moved to a commission a five-part documentary special chronicling the entire episode.
Even stranger are the events surrounding investigations instigated by the German robotics engineer Rudolph Gantenbrink. Hired in 1992 and 1993 to install ventilation fans in the Great Pyramid, he was intrigued by what were often called 'air shafts', blind tunnels ascending on a diagonal from the center of the structure. After convincing the Supreme Council of Antiquities - which would have required Hawass' cooperation, as he was at that time Chief Inspector for the Giza Pyramds - to allow him to investigate, he deployed a succession of small robots armed with cameras to climb various shafts.
What he discovered in a shaft rising from the Queen's Chamber using his robot Upuat II, and what was broadcast to millions in a subsequent documentary, became known as "Gantenbrink's Door", a smooth stone slab with copper fittings blocking the air shaft. The findings were spectacular, and theories about what were to be found behind the door - including a hidden chamber - ran rampant. Hawass, however, condemned Gantenbrink, and his colleague Dr. Robert Bauval, for sensationalism and speculation.
It was later that year that curious events began occurring, as described by authors Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince in their book 1999 book The Stargate Conspiracy. Dr. Hawass was fired, then reinstated a month later, following a scandal over a stolen Fourth Dynasty statue. His immediate superior, Dr Muhammed Bakr, who was then President of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and the man who had fired Hawass, was himself then fired shortly thereafter. Bakr subsequently complained of a 'mafia' which had been controlling the pyramids for 20 years.
The door remained unopened for another 10 years, until Hawass, by now promoted to his Secretary-General position, coordinated a joint Fox-National Geographic special - Secret Chambers Revealed - to explore the shaft with a specially designed $250,000 robot called Pyramid Rover, built by the American company i-robot (which three years later was commissioned to develop prototype combat robots for the U.S. Army's Future Combat System). By this point, the original robot genius, and the man who had done more research on the shaft than anyone, Rudolph Gantenbrink, was barred from the project, after disagreeing publicly with Hawass one time to many. Viewers of the special watched in awe, as the robot drilled through the now ironically named Gantenbrink's Door, inserted a fibre-optic camera, and discovered....
...another door. The disappointment was palpable, but Hawass dismissed it, calling the find a major discovery: "I'm really happy we did this, we found another sealed chamber, Laura, this is very important, this is something I am very proud that finally we revealed the first mystery of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. We will study this, we will find out how we can reveal more secrets of the Pyramid, but this is very important".
Shortly afterwards, National Geographic announced the discovery of a third door in another shaft (the northern shaft), and thus the mystery continues, as does the persistent search for a mysterious hidden chamber.
The strangeness continued during an expedition funded by the Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) of Virginia Beach and led by British researcher and author Andrew Collins in 2008. The expedition claimed to have rediscovered a vast cave network beneath the Giza Plateau, originally documented by the Greek Historian Herodotus and later by Giovanni Caviglia and British diplomat Henry Salt, who documented the find in his memoirs. Collins used Salt's memoirs to find the system by entering from the so-called 'Tomb of the Birds', designated NC2, a few hundred metres west of the Great Pyramid.
Not long after Collins' announcement and subsequent publication of a successful book on the topic, Dr Hawass stepped in to take over the investigation.
"We are clearing this system now, and it is a Late Period catacomb, like many others around Egypt," he stated this week. "There is no mystery about it, and there is no connection with esoteric topics. We will publish our results as part of our normal process."Collins believed Dr Hawass' interest in the discovery was related more to an attempt to debunk his find, describing the cave system as a man-made 'catacomb', and not a natural system.
"We knew in August that he had started clearing the tomb," he said. "The excavations began almost immediately after knowledge of the cave discovery hit the internet ... my colleagues and I have examined photographic evidence of dynastic catacombs throughout Egypt, and these all appear to be carved by human hands ... those at Giza are natural, and penetrate the bedrock for many hundreds of metres, perhaps following the course of local geological faulting."As it transpired, Collins was probably correct to be concerned that Dr Hawass would attempt to rebut his claims, and in a statement on his website, Dr Hawass certainly seemed to argue for Collins' discovery being a simple tomb.
When I saw this Internet story about a new discovery at Giza, I knew it was misleading. The article reports that a huge system of tunnels and caves has been found; however, I can say that there is no underground cave complex at this site... ...Giza is one of the most well studied sites in Egypt; it has been explored, mapped and recorded by many archaeologists, including myself. We know everything about this site as it currently stands, though new discoveries may come about through continued scientific excavation... ...My academic opinion, based on the offical report, is that this is likely a catacomb cut during the Graeco-Roman Period that was used for the burial of sacred animals, similar to the catacombs at Saqqara and Tuna el-Gebel.Still, Collins has released video of his explorations, and they show considerable subterranean chambers formed through natural karst processes, and which are clearly not "cut" during the Greaco-Roman period or any other.
In a response to Dr Hawass, Collins said:
I feel it necessary to respond fully to Dr Hawass, especially since he sends out a rather distorted message regarding our discoveries, our knowledge of the caves, and the background to the caves themselves... ...Dr Hawass now states that he knew all about the connection between the tomb and the "catacombs" explored by Salt and Caviglia in 1817, and that the matter is fully recorded. However, I suspect that he only became aware of the connection in April 2009 when I presented him with a copy of the report of our findings to date (Collins and Skinner-Simpson, 2008). Indeed, our findings had been presented to him with site photos as early as October the previous year, at which time he made it clear that to his knowledge no one had ever investigated the tomb... ...He is not taking into account the existence of the natural caves, which exit the tomb for at least the 100-120 meters, and arguably the "several hundred yards" that Salt reported that he and Caviglia reached before coming upon the four spacious chambers. Remember also that Caviglia journeyed "300 feet further" in one direction, and that clearly they never reached the end of the tunnels, which arguably extend even further beneath the pyramid field.In any case, further research by Collins, or anyone else of whom Dr Hawass does not approve, was made impossible earlier this year as all access to the cave system was restricted when Dr Hawass sealed shut the Tomb of the Birds.
So we have ample evidence of Hawass acting both peremptorily and even erratically. He is on record as opposing alternative history theories and 'pyramidiots' on the grounds that they slight the proud Egyptian people. He's engaged in public feuds with theorists such as Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock, and John Anthony West for their "far-out theories", and yet has endorsed bizarre and un-historical projects such as placing a golden capstone on the pyramid to celebrate the millennium, a plan which faced objections from academics at the University of Cairo and was ultimately cancelled.
One of the things most worth noting about this proposal is the existence of a Masonic prophecy that a 'New Order of the Ages' will be inaugurated when a gold capstone is placed on top of Khufu's pyramid (this is the meaning behind the truncated pyramid on the U.S. dollar bill). Even stranger, Edgar Cayce, 'the Sleeping Prophet' predicted this same event, saying in one of his prophecies that it would act as a 'symbol' for the rediscovery of the legendary 'Hall of Records' of Atlantis. This will become significant as we explore Dr Hawass' background further, as it appears that he - as well as his highly influential colleague Dr Mark Lehner, about whom Hawass has said "you can sometimes have a brother who is not of your blood" - has significant ties to the Cayce organization.
Before we look deeper, we need to go back to 1946, when Stanford University founded the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) to conduct commercial research and bring extra funds into the institution. The goal of fully accessing commercial funding was never really achieved, although SRI did become self-sustaining by gaining numerous government contracts. By 1993 it was one of the largest independent research institutes in the world, with 75% of its funding coming from the U.S. Department of Defense.
By the early 1970s, one of the fields in which SRI was heavily involved was remote sensing. It was using these emerging technologies to non-destructively probe the pyramids on the Giza plateau for hidden chambers, while at the same time, it was also conducting extrasensory remote viewing research for the CIA's Office of Technical Services and Office of Research, involving figures such as as Ingo Swann and Uri Geller.
At roughly the same time, a young Mark Lehner was selected by Hugh Lynn Cayce, Edgar Cayce's son and heir, to become the 'inside man' in Egyptology for the Association for Research and Enlightenment, which had been founded by the senior Cayce in 1931. The ARE paid for Lehner to attend the American University at Cairo, and in 1974, according to Picknett and Prince, he wrote: that "the great pyramid was built as a repository of knowledge, and a temple of initiation for the White Brotherhood." It was also in that year that Lehner met Hawass, and the following year, introduced Hawass to his benefactor, Hugh Lynn Cayce.
Only three years later, SRI - now doing resistivity technology studies on the Great Sphinx, and funded by the ARE - discovered subterranean anomalies which appeared to represent cavities. According to Picknett and Prince, this discovery spurred Hugh Lynn Cayce into founding, in 1978, the Sphinx Exploration Project in an attempt to verify his father's predictions about the Sphinx and the Atlantean Hall of Records, and he enlisted not only SRI but the Egyptian Antiquities Organization (the forerunner of the Supreme Council of Antiquities), represented by none other than Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawass. Shockingly, the team discarded their previous non-invasive techniques and began drilling beneath the right paw of the Sphinx. Nevertheless, while some additional 'anomalous chambers' were discovered, there was no Hall of Records.
Nevertheless, Hugh Lynn Cayce was grateful to Hawass for helping Lehner, the Cayce Foundation and the ARE, and doubtless also saw him as a useful person to have on-side.
According to Robert Bauval, Cayce paid for Hawass' Ph.D, which proved to be the Egyptologist's ticket from being a mere Chief Inspector with a Bachelor of Arts to the powerhouse he has become today.
"I got him a scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania in Egyptology, to get his Ph.D. I got the scholarship through an ARE person who happened to be on the Fullbright scholarship board."Can this possibly be true? Can the scourge of pyramidiots, the champion of an Egyptian-only origin for the pyramids and the Sphinx, the battler of alternative history proponents like Bauval, Hancock and West, be a puppet of the Association for Research and Enlightenment? A tool to ensure that Cayce affiliates and no one else is allowed to search anywhere near where secret knowledge kept safe since the sinking of Atlantis is predicted to be located?
It's hard to say. The Hugh Lynn Cayce quote supplied by Bauval is hearsay and as such, fails to meet the standard required for such as shocking claim.
But if true, it would explain a lot. It would make sense of much of Hawass' bizarre behaviour. It would also explain why on his own personal site 'The Plateau', there is information confirming that Hawass delivered lectures at the ARE's Virginia Beach headquarters as late as 1998, and why he still continues to do so, with a lecture seceduled for . In fact, he is still doing so, with an ARE lecture scheduled for October 8-10 of this year.
So, can we prove Hawass is a pawn of the New Age Cayce followers who are desperately seeking the lost remnants of Atlantean knowledge? No. But if he were, he could hardly be doing a better job.
This all puts the most recent developments on the Giza Plateau in an interesting light. On May 9, Brooks Agnew broke news of excavations taking place at the Sphinx using his Twitter account, and on his paranormal oriented talk show, X-Squared Radio. Only slightly earlier, Gizamatrix founder Richard Gabriel posted some similar information on his website, richardgabriel.info.
we can say right now, a couple of days ago we captured the exact moment under a full moon where they are removing items from below ground in the area in front of the Sphinx Temples. and it is a part of an ongoing SCA approved excavation project which has been in operation for almost one year. Items of Great Importance are being openly removed by the Egyptian Authorities in front of the village people as well as the world.. and in other areas like this one! No one has been able to do a thing about it up to now. In the latest hour one Egyptian source claimed there was nothing found; however,eyewitnesses disagree.
Other observers even pointed to preparations for the extremely odd presence of the Red Bull X-Fighters extreme cycling event as potentially providing cover for the excavations.
Plateau veteran Andrew Collins, however - despite having been subject to Hawass' caprice himself - is having none of it. In an article published on his blog, he weighs in on "the real truth" of the "great conspiracy":
My enquiries have revealed that a deep shaft, reportedly up to 100 feet deep, has been uncovered. However, it contains not a treasure chamber, but is most likely a shaft tomb belonging to Egypt's Twenty-sixth dynasty, the so-called Saite period, which thrived around 2,500 years ago. What's more, in recent years similar shafts have been found and excavated west of the Sphinx near Campbell's Tomb. It has been suggested that the shaft might connect with cave tunnels, a possibility that has to be considered. We know that the plateau is most likely hollow, like Swiss cheese, so there is always a chance that a sunken burial shaft might hit natural caves. Whether they connect to hidden record chambers is quite another matter, and it would be foolish to speculate on this matter without further information.So what is really going on with all the high weirdness at Giza? Nothing more than extreme sports and massive coincidence? Or something more sinister relating to a race to uncover Cayce's mythical Hall of Records, a quest that has been secretly been going on for decades?
Dr Zahi Hawass, for one, isn't telling.