In Search Of The Mummies

Two French amateur Egyptologists (one a realtor, the other an architect) have challenged Egypt’s leading eminence on the subject of pyramids, the big Zee himself, Dr. Zahi Hawass. For two years, the Frenchmen have asked for permission to put a 15mm lens through a floor of the Great Pyramid at Giza, behind which, they believe, lies the burial chamber of Cheops (Khufu). After Hawass refused to grant their request, the amateur egyptologists went on a campaign to challenge his scholarship.

The Frenchmen’s challenge to the Big Zee’s authority has ruined the image of Egyptology as the gentlemanly pursuit of studied introverts. What has emerged since the Frenchmen went public in September with their accusations is a backstabbing world of academic ambition, national pride, tourism dollars and television ratings. “Dr Hawass treats Egypt as his private hunting ground,” says M. Verd’hurt, from Lyon. “They are speculators, amateurs!” comes the retort from Dr Hawass.

There is more to this fascinating saga, at the heart of which is essentially a struggle between modern-day Egyptians and foreigners on who gets to study what, where, and how, who funds the excavations, and in what language the results are published.