Ten years ago, three books—Giza: The Truth (by Chris Ogilvie-Herald and Ian Lawton), The Stargate Conspiracy (by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince) and Secret Chamber (by Robert Bauval)—provided an overview of the controversy that was believed to surround the Giza Plateau and the pyramids. The key question was whether it held any undiscovered, or purposefully kept hidden, chambers, whether inside the pyramids or under or near the Sphinx. The previous decade had seen a renewed interest in the plateau, partly due to the theories of Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock and the discovery of a door in an inaccessible part of the Great Pyramid. It was found on 22 March 1993 by German robotics engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink during the installation of an air conditioning system. The discovery resulted in several claims, allegations and diatribes which, with the dawn of the new millennium, slowly disappeared.
Today, interest in the mysteries of ancient Egypt seems to have waned and peace seems to have been restored. But speak to people in the field and on the ground, and a different picture emerges. It is one of widespread condemnation of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and specifically of Dr Zahi Hawass, who has been its Secretary General since 2002. Remarkably, many Egyptian archaeologists argue that the organisation rules with dictatorial control, and that this is but the tip of an iceberg of coverups, slander, embezzlement and perhaps more. Ten years on, no one seems to be writing about it but the situation is at least as bad as back in 1999.
The Supreme Council of Antiquities is part of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and is responsible for the conservation, protection and regulation of all antiquities and archaeological excavations in Egypt. Over the past decade, a television viewer might be forgiven for believing that there is only one Egyptologist, and that man is Hawass. In truth, Hawass is more of an administrator than an archaeologist; one might even argue that if the man had enough time to lead excavations, he would not be fulfilling his task as administrator. But a television camera has the same attraction as light to a moth. Hawass is a controversial figure. He was at the centre of contention in the 1990s, and remains so today—now, more so in Egypt than abroad.
In the 1990s, Hugh Lynn Cayce reportedly said, according to Edgar Cayce biographer A. Robert Smith: “I got him [Zahi Hawass] a scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania in Egyptology, to get his PhD. I got the scholarship through an ARE person who happened to be on the Fulbright scholarship board.”1Hawass strongly denies this, though it is a fact that he was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania through this scholarship. (Note: ARE is the Association for Research and Enlightenment, an organisation set up to promote the work of the American “sleeping prophet” Edgar Cayce.)
The ARE is interested in the Giza Plateau because, in the 1920s, Edgar Cayce proclaimed that a “Hall of Records”, containing information about the lost civilisation of Atlantis, was hidden underneath the Giza Plateau near the Sphinx.
Yet while most have been looking at the ARE, it is another organisation, the ARCE (American Research Center in Egypt), that has been missed and which seems to be the veritable puppet master.
One source contacted for this article said: “I am a frequent visitor to Egypt and when I speak to government officials, most don’t like Hawass. There are many archaeologists in Egypt that do excellent work. Anyone who visits Egypt and follows Egyptology sees this first-hand. The only problem is Hawass and the SCA. Why? Because Hawass has been imposed upon Egypt by certain foreigners, and this for a very long time. They have chosen an ignoramus, have flattered him, given him a PhD through the ARCE. He’s a puppet.” Pressed as to why that is, the source added: “So that the secrets will not get out and that they have the best archaeological concessions. If Hawass is still there, it’s only because he knows how to play with nationalism. I hear him say every day how foreigners want to steal from the Egyptians and that the antiquities are Egyptian. It’s clever, because it makes it appear as if he is fighting the Egyptian cause and he won’t be pushed aside.” The source also noted: “The SCA follows the orders of foreigners from whom it has received help in guarding their interests.” Indeed, though one might think that the Egyptians are in control of their own country, archaeologically speaking, that appearance can be deceptive.
The “puppet master” organisation is the American Research Center in Egypt. The ARCE’s website states: “Among ARCE’s many great achievements is our relationship with the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) within the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, without whom our work would not be possible. ARCE is viewed as making important contributions that serve to help Egypt directly in its pursuit of cultural heritage preservation.”2
ARCE was founded in 1948 by “a consortium of educational and cultural institutions”, and the organisation underlines that it is also there to “strengthen American–Egyptian cultural ties” and especially to “establish an official ‘presence’ for North American scholars in Egypt”.
Interestingly, ARCE’s website adds: “Encouraged and aided by the US Department of State, in 1962 ARCE entered into an expanded and more structured consortium, and was charged with managing and distributing over $500,000 yearly in Public Law 480 (Food for Peace) funds.”3 This means that ARCE fulfils both scientific and social functions. However, seeing it works with the US Department of State, one could ask whether at one point ARCE was used or abused for other political purposes, seeing Egypt has had an intriguing political past in the battle between East and West. Interestingly, during the writing of this article, one source contacted me, claiming that frequently the SCA receives from the US National Security Agency (NSA) satellite imagery containing information as to whether or not there may be subterranean structures at certain sites. A few days later, on 11 May, the Egyptian government announced via Culture Minister Farouk Hosni (Hawass’s boss) that “the researches conducted via satellites have confirmed the existence of 132 archaeological sites in Egypt that witnessed no excavations until now”.4 While Egypt has some satellites in orbit, Hosni did not specifically identify the source of these images, though he said that the project to photograph monuments via satellite was being implemented in collaboration with the Egyptian National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (NARSS) and Mubarak City for Scientific Research for the aerial photography and ground-based laser surveys.
Keeping the Sphinx’s Paws Dry
But back to Hawass and the Sphinx. The above operational framework was in evidence in April 2009, when Hawass reported: “Under my direction, the Supreme Council of Antiquities is working to reduce the groundwater level around antiquities sites throughout Egypt. We have completed a USAID-funded effort to de-water Karnak and Luxor temples, and work is underway in many other places. One of our greatest recent successes has been the development of a system to prevent the Great Sphinx at Giza from getting its paws wet!”5
Rather intriguingly, he added in his report titled “The Story of the Sphinx”: “Perhaps the most important result of the groundwater project was that it enabled us to put to rest speculation about mysterious underground tunnels and chambers carved below the Sphinx by ‘ancient civilizations’. For years, I have debated people like John Anthony West, Robert Bauval, and Graham Hancock, who say that survivors of a lost civilization 10,000 years ago left secrets buried beneath the Sphinx. These people also claim that the erosion of the Sphinx was caused by water, and that this necessarily means that it dates back to long before the Old Kingdom. None of their theories has any basis in fact, but their supporters have insisted that we should drill holes to try and find these hidden chambers. I have always refused to permit such a project in the past, because there was no scientific basis for it. Because such drilling was a necessary part of our work to protect the Sphinx from groundwater, however, we did finally drill in the vicinity of the statue, and we found that there were no hidden passages or chambers there.”6
Despite all the usual hype that Hawass uses to underline his most mundane accomplishments, this is an unfortunate—and totally unscientific—conclusion. There are several studies, such as seismic work from 1992 and the Schor radar survey from 1996, which clearly show geological anomalies (read cavities), most of which are natural, but that is somewhat beside the point.
In fact, one might argue—and some have—that Hawass specifically tested for groundwater in those particular locations where he was sure that no such cavities, natural or “hidden passages or chambers”, would be found. It would make sense to test for groundwater, but Hawass’s glib statement, “that there were no hidden passages or chambers”, cannot be reached from the limited research this test carried out. Without doubt, there are cavities. Full stop. In fact, Hawass himself announced to the Egyptian press on 14 April 1996 that there are secret tunnels under the Sphinx and around the pyramids. He stated his belief that these tunnels would prove to “carry many secrets of the building of the Pyramids”.7 Although people are allowed to change their minds, they should perhaps, 13 years to the month, highlight their new position. Not Dr Hawass.
However, Hawass’s “Story of the Sphinx” report is also contrary to findings from scans carried out by Dr Abbas and team, published by NRIAG (National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics) in 2007. But rather than comment on a fellow academic who has had his results published in a scientific publication, Hawass—for reasons that have nothing to do with science, but are likely to do with grandstanding if not more sinister motives—has a go at the likes of West, Bauval and Hancock. And why the age of the Sphinx determined through water erosion has anything to do with the presence of chambers beneath the monument it is not altogether clear, either. But considering the other unscientific jumps Hawass makes, nothing should come as a surprise.
When one looks at Hawass’s reports rather than at his statements to the press, an even more interesting picture emerges. We learn that in early 2008, the Supreme Council of Antiquities co-operated with Cairo University’s Engineering Center for Archaeology and Environment to drill four boreholes, each four inches in diameter and about 20 metres deep, into the bedrock at the base of the Sphinx. A camera was lowered into each borehole to allow examination of the plateau’s geology.8
The “Story of the Sphinx” report contains several gems, some of which Hawass should address, but instead he creates a smoke-and-mirrors show. One might almost wonder whether he does not want this material to be noted; and judging from what happened upon publication, the few who reported on the announcement indeed focused on the “West–Bauval–Hancock sidebar” and not on the main show.
A separate scientific update states that 260 cubic metres of water are being pumped out every hour through drainage tubes. That’s 6,240 cubic metres or 6,240,000 litres of water per day. An Olympic swimming pool has 2,500,000 litres. In short, water of a quantity equal to almost three Olympic swimming pools is pumped away on a daily basis from underneath the Sphinx! Indeed, the Sphinx itself could roughly fit inside an Olympic swimming pool. The report continues that, as such, the water in front of the Sphinx has been reduced to 70 per cent of its original volume. But wait: no fewer than 33 monitoring points were established to inspect the movement of the body of the Sphinx and the surrounding bedrock, this over a period of a month, and this monitoring proved that they are steady.9
Now, unless I am seriously mistaken, for such serious amounts of water to be moved hourly there would need to be at least one cavity, roughly the size of a small swimming pool, which could fill up continuously with water. In short, an underground lake. So the report strongly suggests the fallacy of Hawass’s own conclusions!
Which brings us to the next question: why are they emptying an underground lake? For stability, or for something else? One might argue that removing the water will reduce the stability of the Sphinx, which was an obvious concern since this is why the stability of the Sphinx area was being monitored. But apparently, based on a month-long observation, emptying this underground cavity does not endanger the stability of the surface structures. But why empty it in the first place? To keep the Sphinx’s paws dry?
One source, when confronted with Hawass’s reports and my observation, has gone so far as to argue that Hawass—accompanied by Egyptologist Mark Lehner— had actually found this lake several years ago. The lake is under the entire plateau, the area contained within the concrete wall (construction of which began in 2002). He added that, in his opinion, these projects were preparation for an exploration of the Giza underworld.
Scandal at the Supreme Council
So, how should we interpret Hawass’s actions? It is clear that he likes the limelight and that he often makes contradictory statements. But is there more going on? Some observers have commented that Hawass’s tight grip on all archaeological works in Egypt is the logical result of a developing nation that has sought desperately to put a stop to the shameful looting of its historical heritage.
The fact of the matter, however, is that recent developments within the SCA have brought to light wide-scale corruption, with leading government officials imprisoned for embezzlement. On 8 October 2008, the former Head of Restoration in Islamic Cairo and two other Egyptian Culture Ministry officials were jailed for 10 years for receiving bribes from contractors. The Cairo court ordered Ayman Abdel Monem, Hussein Ahmed Hussein and Abdel Hamid Qutb to pay fines of between LE 200,000 and LE 550,000.10
Abdel Hamid Qutb was actually the head of the technical department at the SCA and reported to Hawass. The contracts under suspicion were worth millions of dollars and involved the restoration of some of Egypt’s most famous monuments. Hawass was quick to defend Qutb at the time of his arrest in September 2007, claiming that the accused was not in a position to give out contracts. Hawass told the BBC’s Arabic Service that contracts are only handed out after a “rigorous procedure”, and Qutb had no decision-making power.11,12 The court obviously ruled differently; and if Hawass made a comment at this point, I at least could not find a reference to it.
In the interview at the time of Qutb’s arrest, Hawass also told the BBC that he takes “immediate action against any employee with the slightest shadow of suspicion hanging over them, even if the person turns out to be innocent”.13 Guilty until proven innocent, it seems, is the modus operandi within the SCA. No wonder there are reports that Hawass is unpopular within Egypt.
Robots and Slaves
This is not the first time that Hawass has found himself in murky waters. In fact, at the same time that Gantenbrink’s robot uncovered the hidden door inside the Great Pyramid on 22 March 1993, Hawass was suspended from his then position as Chief Inspector of the Giza Pyramid Plateau. Synchronicity, or did Gantenbrink make use of the power vacuum to announce his finding in April 1993, knowing that otherwise it might be suppressed? What happened next is also interesting, and revealing. Upon the announcement, Gantenbrink was banned from resuming his work. The Egyptian Antiquities Organization (EAO), the predecessor of the SCA, claimed that Gantenbrink had broken a “rule” of archaeology by speaking for himself rather than through the “proper channels”—which are obviously there, by its own admission, to control what gets out and what doesn’t. What happened next is also interesting, and revealing. Graham Hancock writes: “The [then] Director of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo, Dr Rainer Stadelmann, sided with the Egyptians and condemned Gantenbrink for his press action. Dr Stadelmann was adamant about the nonimportance of the find.
‘This is not a door; there is nothing behind it.'”14 The President of the EAO, Dr Muhamad Bakr, went so far as to claim the announcement a “hoax”. He stated: “The orifice of the shaft is too small for the robot to go through.”15 History has shown Bakr to be wrong on both counts.
It was Bakr who removed Hawass from his position, claiming that a valuable ancient statue had been stolen from Giza under Hawass’s watch.
To quote again from Hancock: “Three months later, in June 1993, Dr Bakr himself was fired and replaced by Dr Nur El Din. Amid accusations of malpractice and fraud, Dr Bakr spoke of a ‘mafia’ which had been involved with the Pyramids for ‘the last twenty years’. Refusing to give names, Dr Bakr said, ‘I wanted the whole matter investigated by the prosecution authorities, but my request was refused.'”16
In early 1994, Hawass was reinstated to his position. Though Bakr is clearly not the most credible source, there are nevertheless clear echoes of the ARCE. Hawass’s reinstatement was “said to have been brought about by American intervention”, according to Chris Ogilvie-Herald, writing in the British magazine Quest for Knowledge.17 At the very least, Hawass seems to be quite fortunate in that no matter what, whether it involve stolen statues or his technical department head being fined and imprisoned, he remains immune to it all.
Gantenbrink never returned to work inside the Great Pyramid. He even offered the Egyptian authorities the use of his robot—because only a robot can penetrate the air shaft—and volunteered to train an Egyptian technician to operate it, but his suggestions were not taken up.
However, Hawass eventually argued that the discovery of the door was extremely interesting and would be further explored. In March 1996, he stated that the door would be opened in September that year. The month was right, but it was on 17 September 2002 that the door was finally opened. The event was broadcast “live” on Fox TV in America and transmitted to 140 countries via the National Geographic Channel. The end result was the discovery of… another door, which Hawass claimed would be opened soon. Seven years later, the world still waits…
During the 2002 live broadcast, Hawass made some intriguing throw-away remarks. For instance, he argued that “‘it was not ‘slaves’ who built the pyramids, but ‘great Egyptians'”. Afterwards, he told the Arabic newspaper Al Gomhoreya that “[t]he results of the robot’s exploration refute the allegations reiterated by Jews and some western countries that the Jews built the pyramids”.18 Of course, the exploration of an air shaft does no such thing. But an equally serious scientific faux pas is that no one actually claims that the Jews, as slaves, ever built the pyramids. Roughly speaking, if this were an historical event, it would have occurred c. 1,000 years after the building of the pyramids. Practically anyone of some education in the western world is aware of this. But one of the leading archaeologists and the protector of Egypt’s heritage is not, it seems.
The claim of one journalist contacted for this article, that Hawass frequently abuses nationalism, is therefore quite pointedly illustrated by the above example. Other journalists and observers have gone further, though, positing that in their opinion Hawass is anti-Semitic. In my opinion, Hawass suffers from a severe case of verbal diarrhoea whenever a camera or a microphone is placed in front of him, leading him to make various “interesting” statements.
Suppression and Disinformation
On a more serious note, the SCA—read Hawass—has a stranglehold on most of the research occurring in Egypt and whether and how it gets reported. This is in evidence in the case of Gantenbrink, who broke the “rule”, and also in the case of Dr Abbas, whose official Giza report has been stopped from publication for a very long time. Sources contacted for this article say that they, too, have several reports waiting to be published, but there is always one delay or another. This kind of treatment, of course, is not science but control, if not a gag order. Some might argue that there is a serious backlog, while others might shout cover-up. Indeed, why does the SCA place such stringent penalties on the publication of scientific reports without its consent, the penalty often being the denial of access to Egyptian archaeological sites? These are the measures of a dictatorship at best, and are far removed from any scientific approach.
No one will argue that Egypt alone is in charge of deciding who digs when, where and to what extent, even though it is clear, in light of the SCA’s connection with ARCE, that this is not truly the case. But once permission has been given, the participating scientists and organisers surely should have the power to decide when and where to publish the results, rather than being literally gagged by the SCA until it—if ever—deems it appropriate to release the results, and even then sometimes demanding editorial changes. And all of this occurring without any external overview.
One source went so far as to argue that Hawass’s approach is one of disinformation: that Hawass carefully twists scientific results that do not conform to the standard history of ancient Egypt; and that as he exercises sole control and makes himself the medium, he can almost singlehandedly maintain the status quo of Egyptian history. This “Hawass touch” is clearly in evidence in the spin in his 2009 Sphinx groundwater report. But then the important question is: why?
The answer has already been given: Hawass tries to maintain the consensus view of ancient Egyptian history. This is why he often singles out Hancock, Bauval and West. Hawass realises that these are the most vociferous and dangerous parties that can go against him, but they are not alone in feeling his wrath. Hawass denies findings when they don’t fit with his agenda, and defames any individual for daring to have a different idea and not releasing it through his office.
In 2008, Professor Barry Kemp reported on his research at the city of Amarna, created by the rebel pharaoh Akhenaten. The pharaoh was obviously despised and, in the decades following his death, the ancient Egyptians tried to remove any mention of his existence. It was reported that Kemp and his team found skeletal remains at Amarna that show “signs of malnutrition, extreme labour, and the lowest age of mortality witnessed at excavations of Pharaonic sites”.19 This evidence goes a long way to confirm that Akhenaten created a brutal regime, one of which few were proud.
However, the findings were immediately subjected to criticism from Hawass, who used the Egyptian state news service to accuse the excavators of “distorting history”. He claimed that their findings were “not based on any admissible scientific proofs” and added that “[b]uilding Akhenaten city was an obsession for ancient Egyptians like the Giza Pyramids and workers wanted to realise a national achievement to be proud of”. Hawass, by his comments, was later described as “indulging in empty chauvinism”.20
Hawass is also proud that he “worked to strengthen Egypt’s antiquities law” and that in 2002 he “worked to have a new law enacted forbidding excavation in Upper Egypt…to encourage documentation and preservation rather than excavation”.21Indeed, Hawass is proud of the fact that he has stopped all excavations in Upper Egypt! One can only wonder why. No one will argue that documentation and preservation are important, but to the exclusion of everything else—and to make it a law, rather than just an internal guideline?
Finally, when interviewed about geologist Robert Schoch’s theory that the Sphinx is much older than the the pyramids, Hawass stated: “If geologists prove what Schoch is saying, still in my opinion, as an Egyptologist, the date of the Sphinx is clear to us.”22 In short, no matter what the evidence, Hawass claims it is all “clear” to him. It is clear that for Hawass, Egyptology is a religion, not a science. Many would agree that this is indeed the case for “Egyptology under Hawass”, and they desperately want change.
Egyptology under Challenge
Though Hawass can and should be blamed for many things, it is equally a matter of record that Egyptology as a science is seriously in need of spring-cleaning. It might perhaps come as a surprise to learn that since c. 1840 the paradigm of Egyptian history has remained firmly in place. Serious scientific evidence has often been put aside to maintain a dogma, and Hawass and many other “scientists” are religiously sticking to it. In 1984, 85 samples were taken from the Giza Plateau, including five from the Sphinx, which were submitted for carbon-dating. The results showed dates from 3809 to 2869 BC. It meant that the accepted Egyptian chronology for the building of the Giza pyramids was out by 200 to 1,200 years. Bauval quotes Mark Lehner: “The Giza pyramid is 400 years earlier than Egyptologists believe.”23
Equally, in the 1950s, Zakaria Goneim, then Chief Inspector of Egyptian Antiquities, found the inviolate sarcophagus of Third Dynasty pharaoh Sekhemkhet inside his pyramid. When the sarcophagus was opened, there was no mummy inside. It was an empty sarcophagus. In this case, “grave robbers” could definitely not be blamed. In fact, in many instances, including with the Great Pyramid, Egyptologists have identified grave robbery as the reason for an empty sarcophagus. If it were a crime scene investigation, few detectives would reach a similar conclusion based upon the available evidence.
Egyptology, in fact, looks with disdain upon ancient records such as those of the first century BC historian Diodorus Siculus, who wrote that not a single pharaoh was buried in a pyramid which he had constructed for himself, but that the pharaohs were buried instead in a secret place. Egyptologists prefer to argue—despite evidence that proves otherwise—that the pyramids are but tombs.
Dutch author Willem Zitman ponders why today’s scientists do not want to admit that the ancient Greeks were all schooled in ancient Egypt, as they themselves claimed. Instead, he says, they prefer to pretend as if the Greeks discovered everything by themselves and thus they can make claims that the Egyptians did nothing whatsoever to further science or knew nothing of astronomy. Zitman adds that although archaeoastronomy has been taught as a scientific discipline since 1983, Egypt has hardly been discussed—a notable exception. And it is precisely when such a vacuum is created that it will be filled by theories of the likes of Robert Bauval. If Egyptologists do not like that fact, they should not blame Bauval…
Zitman, a qualified building engineer, also notes that the pyramids themselves are the greatest victim of the current state of Egyptology. He argues that when Egyptologists are confronted with problems to do with building techniques, their shortcomings are easily exposed. This is evident in the treatment of French materials scientist Professor Joseph Davidovits, one of the most respected scientists in his field in the world but who has been labelled an idiot and the like by Egyptologists—and by Hawass in particular. Hawass and others among his colleagues clearly fail to understand anything of what Davidovits is trying to explain to them. As a consequence of this absence of knowledge and unwillingness on the part of Hawass and colleagues to invite experts to help them in this regard, there is little work done on the pyramid era, which has become known as a “lost era”. I. E. S. Edwards, a former Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum, once noted that Egyptologists do not like pyramids.
In the end, Hawass does stand for, and sums up, the current state of Egyptology. He blames the likes of West, Bauval and Hancock for making ridiculous statements, but in August 1996—unsurprisingly, while in front of a camera—Hawass was scrambling through a tunnel leading under the Sphinx, stating: “No one really knows what’s inside this tunnel. But we are going to open it for the first time.”24 This is further evidence that his 2009 statement is a complete and utter distortion—if not of the truth, then at least of what he said before.
So, in 1996, there were tunnels. But in April 1999, Hawass appeared on Fox TV—which, as we know from its coverage of President Bush’s antics, is not renowned for its neutral or scientific approach—and denied the existence of tunnels going out from the Tomb of Osiris, an underground structure near the Sphinx. In April 2009, he repeated this story, as if he needed to do so once per decade. But, as mentioned, in August 1996 he was actually filmed walking inside a tunnel under the Sphinx!
As Bauval points out in Secret Chamber, the controversy involving Hawass and the Giza Plateau dates back many decades: “Meanwhile something unusual happened involving Zahi Hawass. For reasons that are not clear he started a dig in front of the Sphinx temple, apparently in connection with the Institute of Underground Water of the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation. A drilling through some fifty feet [15 metres] of debris struck red granite instead of the natural limestone of the area.”25
Red granite is not native to the Giza Plateau; the only source is Aswan, hundreds of miles to the south. The very presence of red granite, discovered in 1980 in the vicinity of the Sphinx, proves that there is something underneath the Giza Plateau. And if Hawass says anything different, it should first be seen as a case of “methinketh he protesteth too much”.