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Preserving the past: linking cultural heritage with the media

CAIRO: When Nigel Hetherington was packing for his trip to Egypt in 1997, he had no idea he would come back a few years later. This time, he wouldn’t just be a tourist, he was coming back as an entrepreneur running the first company specialized in providing historical and archeological consultancy to the media industry …


CAIRO: When Nigel Hetherington was packing for his trip to Egypt in 1997, he had no idea he would come back a few years later. This time, he wouldn’t just be a tourist, he was coming back as an entrepreneur running the first company specialized in providing historical and archeological consultancy to the media industry in Egypt.

An accountant for 15 years, Hetherington decided to pursue a career in archeology after a short encounter with the Ancient Egyptian civilization.

When he went back to England after his first trip, he took an evening class in Egyptian history. In 2000, he went back to school for a BA in Egyptian archeology, followed by an MA in cultural heritage, which is what brought him back to Egypt.

In 2003, Hetherington came back to Egypt for a placement at the Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CultNat) as part of his degree. “It was the longest month of my life, he said, “I had absolutely nothing to do.

“One day, however, they asked me to interview Dr Kent Weeks, one of the world’s most acclaimed archeologists, who has led the excavation work for KV5, the largest tomb ever found in Egypt, Hetherington said.

After the interview, Dr Weeks asked Hetherington if he would like to join the team that was responsible for coming up with a strategy for conserving the Valley of the Kings, an offer he couldn’t refuse.

For the next two-and-a-half years, the team systematically studied the Valley of the Kings to look at its history and its current condition, proposing ways to manage it in the future.

While working at the valley, Hetherington would see many documentary crews shooting their films. “I noticed that most of these filmmakers don’t do their homework and some of them are completely clueless about the locations they were shooting, he said.

“They would ask the fixers questions they were not able to answer because they lacked the necessary academic background, he added.

“One day, for instance, there was an American crew shooting and they didn’t know which tombs to use, Hetherington said, “so I suggested Tutankhamen’s tomb and the director refused, saying that it was not special enough.

Hetherington then told him, “Do you know why it’s so special? It’s because Tutankhamen is the only pharaoh in Egypt still in his tomb! The director said, “Oh my God! Let’s shoot it then.

“Dr Weeks told me I should have charged them for this information, and this is how the idea first occurred to me, Hetherington said.

“Documentaries made about Egypt usually have fatal mistakes, he said. “Archeologists hate watching these documentaries and make fun of them all the time. This is why I decided to establish Past Preservers, to ensure TV viewers are not getting wrong information about Egyptian history.

So far, Past Preservers has done consultation for seven documentaries. They were involved in each project since its inception, as they check the validity of the film idea, help the team with research, location scouting and expert casting.

“International TV stations concerned with archeology and nature conservation, such as Discovery, National Geographic and the History Channel, shoot between 400 and 600 documentaries in Egypt every year, according to the number of permissions provided by the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Hetherington said.

“People in Europe, particularly in Germany and the UK, are fascinated by Egyptian history, he added. “Some TV stations keep making documentaries about the same subject over and over again just to fill space and please viewers who are mad about anything coming from Ancient Egypt.

Being the first company to offer such services, Past Preservers is still struggling to prove their ability to make a difference in this business. “At the beginning, clients couldn’t understand the value of our service, Hetherington said, “but after working with us, they see the huge burden we take off their shoulders and the value we bring to the end product.

Past Preservers now has an associate in the UK and a potential one in the US to help develop their business. They are taking a proactive approach to the business by constantly proposing new ideas to international TV stations and production companies, instead of relying solely on participating in existing projects.

Topics: Aboul Fotouh

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