Egypt to announce huge archaeological discovery in Luxor this March: Zahi Hawass

Nehal Samir
20 Min Read

World Renowned Egyptologist and former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass has revealed he is leading excavations beside the temple of Mina Habu in Luxor, and will announce a major discovery next month.

In an interview with Daily News Egypt, Hawass said that he is now currently working in the western part of the Valley of the Kings to find the tomb of the Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. This is running alongside additional work at the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramses II, also in Luxor.

He highlighted that the discovery of Queen Nefertiti’s tomb will be the greatest discovery of the 21st Century.

Zahi Hawas
World Renowned Egyptologist and former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass

The interview touched on a range of issues, including the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on archaeological missions, and the latest discovery at the Saqqara archaeological area.

Hawass also touched on the details of important upcoming events, including the Royal Mummiesparade, and the establishing of an archaeological replicas factory. 

The interview also looked at the concerns that some people have on sending Egyptian antiquities to temporary exhibitions, and retrieving stolen antiquities. 

Your name is synonymous with fame and stardom, but this is not related to any positions – what is the secret to this? 

The secret lies in my fondness for antiquities. Let me explain that the word love is very simple in comparison to my fondness for antiquities. 

I think what distinguishes me is my fondness for the antiquities that appears clearly while I talk about them, and this enters the people’s hearts locally and internationally. This fondness makes people love to hear me, either locally or internationally.

A lot of people are fond of antiquities, but they do not have your fame. How has this come about?

I think this is the so-called charisma, which is given by God’s grace, and which has ensured I received the attention of the media when I travel to any country.

Can you tell us more about your continued cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities?

[Minister of Tourism and Antiquities] Khaled El-Anani is not afraid of my fame, but is instead using it to achieve success. I think he is the only one that completed and built on my work that had stopped in 2011, such as completing the Museums in Sohag and Kafr El-Sheikh, as well as the Museum of Royal Chariots, the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), and the Museum of Egyptian Civilization. The most important thing that I love in him is that he is continuing my approach, which is to ask successful people to help.


Can you tell us more about the latest Saqqara discovery in 2021 and its importance?

The most recent Saqqara discovery is a very important one, because it changes lots of things in history. The unearthed funerary temple reveals, for the first time in history, the name of Queen Nearit, the wife of the Pharaoh Teti. Now we are writing a new page in the history of the Old Kingdom. 

We had previously discovered this queen’s pyramid in 2010, but this year we found her temple and her name.

We also found important New Kingdom artefacts inside the area, such as mummies and coffins, around we found stelae, models of boats, and important pottery. This is really an important discovery that will tell us a lot about the cult of the Pharaoh Teti, the first king of the Old Kingdom’s Sixth Dynasty that ruled Egypt over 4,300 years ago.

The latest discovery in Saqqara was carried out by a purely Egyptian mission under your leadership. Does this mean we can dispense with foreign missions and rely solely on Egyptians?

The idea is not whether we should dispense with foreign missions or not. In any case, we cannot dispense with the foreign missions, because I personally, along with 70% of archaeologists studied in universities abroad, so they complete us. 

But the idea is that, in the past the Egyptian archaeologist was an assistant to and serving the foreigners, but now Egyptian archaeologists are competing with them. In 2002, I said that I wanted to rearm the humans before the restoration of the stone. 

I have taught a large number of young people, and we now have Egyptian archaeologists of no less experience and knowledge than foreigners. Competition here does not mean conflict, but cooperation in the service of Egyptian antiquities. 

How did COVID-19 impact archaeological missions in Egypt?

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the foreign missions as they could not come to Egypt due to the health crisis in their home countries. But it had no impact on the Egyptians. 

You are against analysing DNA of mummies, especially from abroad or seeking the help of foreigners in this regard, why?

In general, I’ve been against the DNA analysis of mummies because there was no Egyptian laboratory doing this work. However, I then decided to try and follow all scientific principles, and established two laboratories, one at the Egyptian Museum and one at the Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University. 

I then put scientists in both laboratories who did not communicate with each other, and they both started taking samples, and comparing the results. The results were a success, with our work reviewed for eight months by the American Journal of Medicine.

By using both DNA analysis and CT scans, we proved for the first time that the Pharaoh Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten rather than Amenhotep III, and that Queen Tiye was his grandmother.

We are looking now for the mummies of Queen Nefertiti and her daughter Ankhesenamun by using DNA technologies and analysis. This comes in addition to using scientific evidence that will definitively prove what killed Tutankhamun.

I am against DNA tests on Egyptian mummies being conducted by foreigners or in foreign labs, because foreigners can alter the results of the DNA for their own good.

Moreover, some archaeologists are not trustworthy, for example the scientist who conducted the study on Ramses II in France stole his hair. As a result, I don’t want to bring a foreign scientist to conduct DNA analysis and announce that Tutankhamun is Hebrew, and I can’t prove it.

That’s why I always urge for DNA tests and analyses to be supervised by Egyptian archaeologists. This is why I also supervise the Egyptian project to study the royal mummies. We announced huge discoveries, such as finding the mummy of Hatshepsut, and we found out that Ramesses III was killed.

Is it true that 70% of the Egyptian antiquities have not been discovered yet?

It is true that modern Egypt was completely built over Ancient Egypt. I am an archaeologist working everywhere in the world, so I put this estimation from what I see as an archaeologist from my work everywhere in Egypt. For example, if you go to Saqqara you will find antiquities everywhere you walk. 

In the last century, people have been obsessed with red mercury. Does this substance really exist, and how did people discover it? Does it really have a value? 

During the last century, there was a mission working in the Saqqara archaeological area which found the coffin of an army chief from the 27th Dynasty. When they opened the coffin, they found a liquid inside, which they put in a bottle. They sent it to the Egyptian Government and the artefact is now in the Mummification Museum in Luxor.

In fact, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the sale of uranium began which is a powder or mineral red powder used in nuclear fission operations, and this powder carries a radioactive substance sold for millions of dollars on the black market after being smuggled from nuclear plants and reactors by the world mafia. 

But the swindlers are the ones that lie and say to the Egyptians that the substance found in the coffin is red mercury. However, there is no such thing called red mercury.

Is the alleged curse of the Pharaohs real?

These are words that have no basis in truth. I myself was subjected to some incidents, including while I was involved in conducting the CT scan on the mummy of Tutankhamun and the device stopped.

But this is not related to the curse of the pharaohs. In fact, if you locked a mummy in a room for 3,000 years, and then opened it, you would have to bear in mind that invisible germs are likely to grow in this environment, which could affect the modern day archaeologist and lead to their death.

So what I am doing now, after I discover a new tomb, is leave it open for several hours after the discovery to replace the bad air with fresh air.

Some are concerned sending Egyptian antiquities to temporary exhibitions, believing that this will harm or destroy the pieces. What is your response to these concerns?

I want to mention that those that are against the transfer of the antiquities and say that it can be stolen are not aware of the full situation.

The artefacts travel abroad accompanied by archaeologists, restorers, and a police guard to protect them from the moment they leave Egypt until they return. So the packing, transportation, and the insurance or safety of the artefacts, are of the highest level, and there is no reason to worry.

Zahi Hawas
Zahi Hawas

Having said that, when I was president of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, I drafted a policy for foreign exhibitions, stipulating that no unique artefacts shall travel abroad whatever the financial return is. So the artefacts that travel abroad in exhibitions are not rare.

I want to mention that while Egypt has participated in many temporary exhibitions, there has never been any illegal exchange or theft of any of these artefacts. This is because archaeologists, restorers, and a police guard accompany the artefacts 24 hours, from the moment they leave Egypt until they return.   

These exhibitions provide a large return and motivate potential tourists in different countries to visit Egypt. They also strengthen the bilateral relations between Egypt and the countries that host the exhibitions.  

Some people also have concerns that the tourists may not come to visit Egypt as they already have seen the monuments abroad in the exhibition?

This is not true at all, the artefacts that travel abroad are treated as the appetiser, motivating tourists to come and visit the rest of Egypt’s monuments.  

Following on from all the exhibitions that have travelled to America, Spain, Japan, and the like, we have noticed that the more we participate in exhibitions abroad, and the more artefacts that travel, the more tourists come to Egypt.

Significant efforts have been exerted in retrieving stolen antiquities, but the world’s museums still have many Egyptian antiquities. Were all taken illegally, and how can they be retrieved?

Not all of them left Egypt illegally, as some antiquities were officially sold until 1983, until a law was introduced preventing this. Unfortunately, UNESCO has ruled that antiquities that leave their countries of origin before 1972 cannot be retrieved.

When I was in charge of antiquities, I succeeded in retrieving 6,000 artefacts that had illegally left Egypt. I was also able to ensure the return of a lot of antiquities through a tough stance, and by stopping foreign missions. This does not, however, resolve the situation of those pieces that left before 1972. 

You set up an initiative to retrieve the bust of Nefertiti from its current residence in Berlin. What were the results of this initiative?

I tried to retrieve the bust of Nefertiti, but I couldn’t. However, I think that we must not stop demanding its return, and I am currently forming a team of Egyptian and international thinkers and intellectuals who will sign a petition to be sent to Germany.

This petition will demand and highlight the importance of the bust’s return, because it left the country illegally. This is a unique artefact and must return to Egypt. I think this is the most important piece that needs to be retrieved.

Could you talk further on the Royal Mummies Parade and its importance?

The event will be a big ceremony held after the COVID-19 pandemic, and will leave the Egyptian Museum at 6 in the evening before heading towards the Museum of Egyptian Civilization. We are expecting that President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi will receive the mummies at the Museum. 

The transportation of the mummies between the two museums is my idea, and it is very important, because for the Museum of Egyptian Civilization to be opened without a starring exhibit will ensure that no one will ever go to it. 

This is why we thought we should transfer the mummies. People who do not know may think that it is dangerous, not dangerous at all. We have the most sophisticated evidence of transportation. The mummies came in a boat from Luxor then the minister of antiquities are doing all the steps to preserve the mummies but the presence of the mummies inside the civilization museum will make this museum a very important one that will tell us the history of Egypt.

What is your opinion on establishing the archaeological replicas factory?

It is an important project, because the replicas will be produced and stamped with the seal of Egypt’s different museums, including the Grand Egyptian Museum, the Islamic Museum and the Coptic Museum.

The factory will work under the full supervision of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, with the replicas to generate a very strong income. They will also ensure that there will no longer be any need for Chinese replicas, because they are not produced according to standards, but the seal of the Egyptian Museum will ensure our antiquities are sold everywhere. I think the private sector will go to the state rather than China, but we have to make reasonable prices so that people can buy. 

Could you tell us more about the Zahi Hawass Center for Egyptology and its goals?

It is a centre affiliated to the Library of Alexandria, whose activity is focused on increasing the archaeological awareness of Egyptians. 

Through this centre, I visit the different universities in Egypt, rotary clubs, schools and talk about the greatness of Egypt, to increase their archaeological awareness and teach them Hieroglyphics. Also through this centre, I have lead digs at Saqqara and in the Valley of the Kings. 

Did you partner through this centre with foreign institutions to teach them the history of Egypt?

No, the main aim of the institution is to benefit the Egyptians.  

Which of your discoveries is closest to your heart, and why?

All the discoveries that I made are close to my heart. I cannot pick out one discovery, but the most important could be the tombs of the pyramid builders, that proves to the world that the builder of the pyramids were Egyptians, and they were not slaves.


Let me explain that the word love is very simple in comparison to my fondness for antiquities. 

The most recent Saqqara discovery is a very important one, because it changes lots of things in history.

The transportation of the mummies between the two museums is my idea, and it is very important, because for the Museum of Egyptian Civilization to be opened without a starring exhibit will ensure that no one will ever go to it. 

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