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Is Archaeologist Zahi Hawass a Real Life Indiana Jones?

Updated on September 1, 2017
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Archaeology is one of Kelley's great passions. He's read many books on the subject, as well as every issue of "Archaeology" since 1987.

Many of Hawass' friends call him the pharaoh (the king)

I’ve been a big fan of Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass for a long time. Although now in his sixties, Hawass seems a dashing figure in the world of archaeology – a real life Indiana Jones, globetrotting from one archaeological dig to another. Naturally he wears a fedora, as he swings on ropes from tomb to tomb and then gets down and dirty in excavations, refusing to allow his assistants to have all the fun, as these words attest:

For me, archaeology is not just a job. It combines everything that I could want – imagination, intellect, action, and adventure.

(In this article, all of Hawass’ direct quotes are in Italics.)

As for having fun of a more conventional nature, I might add, Hawass also appears fond of swapping smiles and repartee with pretty ladies at parties and banquets.

Dr. Zahi Hawass currently serves as Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt and Director of Excavations at Giza, Saqqara and the Bahariya Oasis. I’m telling you, this guy’s curriculum vitae seems as long as the Nile River! For the complete package, Hawass is probably the most famous archaeologist in the world.

Of course, everyone famous or otherwise has behavioral quirks. After watching the History Channel’s program, Chasing Mummies: The Amazing Adventures of Zahi Hawass, I realize what a stern disciplinarian Hawass can be. In fact, some people might call him a hard ass, bully or tyrant. Nevertheless, whatever you do, if you don’t want to incur the wrath of Dr. Zahi Hawass, please don’t tell him slaves or aliens built the Pyramids of Egypt!

The monuments of Egypt are the heritage of everyone around the world.

Hawass stands before the Temple of Hatshepsut.
Hawass stands before the Temple of Hatshepsut.
Valley of the Kings
Valley of the Kings
Interior for the tomb of Sety I
Interior for the tomb of Sety I


In this episode of Chasing Mummies, Hawass and three members of the archaeological fellows program, a young man and two young women, climb into the upper reaches of the Great Pyramid at Giza (the tallest of the three), looking for graffiti that would help prove that the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids, not people from another civilization or planet.

The interior of the pyramid is hot, humid and claustrophobic, and climbing into it is accomplished by scaling high, flimsy ladders and squeezing through holes in stone blocks. At one point the young man, Derek Lincoln, looking awestruck, suggests the pyramid must have been built by aliens. Then Hawass berates Derek for uttering such nonsense and barks: Shut up!

(Another frequent quote from Hawass is: I will fire you!)

Later in their arduous ascent into the Great Pyramid, Zoë D’Amato, one of the female archaeological fellows, says,” Dr. Hawass, I lost it – I just went to the bathroom.” (Unable to hold it, she had urinated in her pants.)

Aghast, Hawass blurts: What you did is awful! The pyramid is sacred and divine. Therefore you can go and work at the supermarket and not for me. Goodbye!


Dr. Hawass yells at his team members too, as when they attempt to raise a nine-ton, granite pylon from Cleopatra’s Temple of Isis, which rests at the bottom of Alexandria harbor. Using a truck-driven crane resting on a flatboat, their first attempt fails, as the frayed rope cables break near the surface, sending the pylon back to the seafloor. Irate, Hawass chastises the team: I don’t want to see all of you again. Go!

Fortunately, on the second attempt - this time using steel cables instead of old rope - they raise the pylon and take it to the mainland, where it will eventually be placed in a museum.

I am not an easy guy.


Hawass oversees an excavation near the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. While helping with the raising of the stone sarcophagus of Queen Sesheshet, an assistant tries to help with the heavy lifting. Hawass orders him to stop and says: You’re not helping – you’re disturbing!


After having car trouble, Hawass, the two female archaeological fellows and the video crew, take an eight-mile walk through the Sahara Desert in the scorching110 degree heat. Hawass, wearing his usual long-sleeve shirt, jeans and Fedora, doesn’t even seem to break a sweat in the exertion.

Later, still miffed about Zoë relieving herself in the Great Pyramid, Hawass chastens Zoë for wearing perfume while excavating. He then orders her to change her clothes and take a shower.

When Derek Lincoln, the male archaeological fellow, uses profanity at a dig, Hawass barks: You’re fired! (But Derek is allowed to stay in the program, even though what he says often irritates Hawass.)


Team member Allan Morton leads Zoë and a cameraman into the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, where he leaves her in the king’s chamber. Later, though, someone turns off the lights in the interior of the pyramid, and then Zoë, stumbling in the dark, gets stuck under a rock. Soon, Hawass comes to Zoë’s rescue and then scolds Morton for leaving her in the pyramid.

Zahi Hawass is the first undertaker in Egypt.


Hawass oversees the return of a repatriated artifact from the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. The artifact is the corner piece from a naos (platform) from the Middle Kingdom temple of Karnak in Luxor. Hawass has been instrumental in the return to Egypt of over 6,000 stolen artifacts.

Lindsay Tanner, feeling unappreciated, leaves the archaeological fellows program and returns to the United States.


At Saqqara, while watching Hawass excavate a Late Period tomb from about 500 B.C.E, Zoë tells Hawass that her husband doesn’t respect archaeology and wants her to leave Egypt. Hawass fixes her with a stern look and says, Divorce him.

Later, Zoë tries to enter the burial chamber of the White Pyramid of Amenemhet II at Dahshur. But, whimpering as she tries to slide through the narrow passageway at the entrance, she finally gives up and leaves the site. Thereafter, Zoë exits the program.

When Hawass hears about Zoë quitting, he says he understands, because he thought Zoë didn’t show the passion an archaeologist requires. Hawass states that archaeology is not a job; it is a life.

At this time, both female archaeological fellows, Zoë D’Amato and Lindsay Tanner have quit the program.

Archaeology is my way.


Hawass crawls into a passageway beneath the Sphinx that had been dug in antiquity by people looking for treasure. Hawass wants to debunk the myth that this passageway contains artifacts and records left by the Atlanteans, as the so-called prophet Edgar Cayce had suggested many years before. Of course, Hawass finds no such “hall of records” beneath the Sphinx.

Also on the program, hoping to discredit the “pyramidiots,” who claim there’s a cave that leads to the Pyramids at Giza, Hawass investigates a cave beneath the Giza Plateau. Hawass crawls more than 300 feet underground until he reaches the end of the cave, proving that it doesn’t connect with the pyramids. Along the way, he encounters hundreds of bats.

I hate bats and snakes!


Curator and archaeological researcher, Alice Robinson, a scuba diver on the episode “Sunken,” wants to become an archaeological fellow now that Zoë and Lindsay have left. Hawass easily accepts Alice into the program.

Hawass and Alice travel on horseback to the Falcon Galleries, a Ptolemaic period (320 B.C.E.) tomb where thousands of mummified falcons lie interred. Distracted by the presence of poisonous snakes and scorpions, Alice can’t seem to keep her mind on the archaeological treasures around her, and for this Hawass scolds her.

Next, Hawass, Alice and Derek venture to the Valley of the Kings and the tomb of New Kingdom pharaoh, Sety I. First off, Hawass chides Alice because he doesn’t think she knows enough about the Valley of the Kings (for instance, she doesn’t know the exact number of tombs in the Valley). The tomb of Sety I is the deepest of any tomb in the area – a mind-boggling 440 feet! Alice seems nervous entering the steep shaft leading down to the tomb.

Nothing’s easy here.


Uncertain of his status with Hawass, Derek Lincoln initiates a conversation with him early one morning. At the opening of their conversation, Hawass warns Derek that he’s not good in the morning, but Derek persists. Finally Hawass snaps, Don’t ask me more questions or I’ll fire you! Then Derek assures Hawass that he’ll never get discouraged or quit, and hurries away.

While descending the shaft that leads to the tomb of Sety I, Alice Robinson becomes ill in the stifling subterranean conditions: 90-degree heat, 76 per cent humidity and little air to breathe. Hawass’ crew must lift Alice from the shaft, giving her oxygen along the way. Thereafter, Hawass sends Alice to Aswan and Lake Nasser, where she can resume her passion for underwater archaeology.

At the end of the 440-foot shaft, Hawass discovers a wooden ramp leading into a wall of rubble, prompting speculation that the treasure of Sety I may lie ahead (a treasure perhaps greater than that found in the tomb of King Tut). At this moment of high optimism, Hawass says he’s never been happier.

Now at the end of the series, only Derek Lincoln survives as an archaeological fellow. Bravo for Derek!

You never know what secrets the sands of Egypt may hide.


Dr. Zahi Hawass seems strict, gruff and outspoken with his colleagues, but I suppose he’s earned the right to act however he wants after generating decades of accolades and impressive scholarship, as well as overseeing numerous sensational excavations. As for the archaeological fellows, Hawass wants to be certain they have a genuine, all-consuming passion for archaeology; otherwise, he doesn’t want them to waste their time or his. After all, who would argue that at times at least, a tough boss is the best one to get the job done?

Please leave a comment.

Matters have changed in Egypt!

Political turmoil has ended Hawass’ reign as the supreme chief of all Egyptian antiquities. Once Hosni Mubarak left office in 2011, so did Hawass. Perhaps this parting of ways for Hawass is just as well, because most archaeological work in Egypt has ground to a halt and tourism has mostly disappeared as well.

But, according to the article “Pyramid Scheme” in the June 2013 issue of Smithsonian magazine, Hawass vows to return to his old job. Many people want him to return, though he also has many detractors who want him to stay away for good.

At this time, Hawass earns a living by collecting royalties on books and TV shows and scores big pay days when giving lectures. At any rate, Zahi Hawass is probably still the most well-known archaeologist in the world and will remain so for quite some time.

© 2010 Kelley Marks


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Im sorry, but its Hawass way or the highway!!

      Through careful research,aligning Cygnus starmap in place of Orion,british explorer Andrew Collins found the caves entrance at the back of the "Tomb of Birds" in 2008.

      Hawass officially denied cave & tunnel complex-pyramidiots, but was quick to make $ with US "mummies" show. The entrance is now locked!

      Glad to see this bias megalomaniac out of power, & once Egypt settles again, the new generation of local archaeologists, might be able to gain entrance into the underground chambers( there is 2 entrys)other under a well near sphinx, & finally reveal the "Hall of Records/Hermes" to the world & who actually built the pyramids.

      Hawass has been denying & hiding for years!! Good riddance!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks for the comment, Georgie Lowery. Hawass definitely is a character. It was fun watching Hawass be the teacher on "Chasing Mummies." But I also felt sorry for the students, many of whom took a psychological beating. Later!

    • Georgie Lowery profile image

      GH Price 

      7 years ago from North Florida

      Hawass is awesome. He reminds me of a cross between Donald Trump and that lady from The Weakest Link. And Indiana Jones. Thank you for letting me know this was here. :)

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks for the comment, Trumanswift. I can't wait to read the book that tells us exactly how the Great Pyramid was constructed. Later!

    • profile image


      7 years ago from Cambridge

      Excellent Hub. The Great Pyramid of Giza is an intriguing mystery. A new book recently released offers a blueprint to how exactly this pyramid was constructed. It will interesting to hear your views.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I definitely wanted to compose a small note to be able to say thanks to you for all the fantastic at this website.

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    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      8 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks for the comment, Brooke Lorren. Zahi is a very interesting character, a fascinating tyrant, if you will. Later!

    • Brooke Lorren profile image

      Brooke Lorren 

      8 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      I enjoyed Chasing Mummies when it aired a couple of years ago. I had never heard of the guy before that. Great hub!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      9 years ago from Sacramento, California

      I'll never forget the episode when Zoe wets her pants in the upper reaches of the Great Pyramid. This was high drama indeed. Later!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Just seen this episode on History and Hawass seems like a despot. Does he liken himself to the old pharaohs by any chance?

      Regarding the girl who wet herself, she shouldn't have gone there at all, she was in tears and frightened even before they started after Hawas frightened her by stating that thee excursion was dangerous?

    • supercibor profile image

      Hector Herrera 

      9 years ago from Dominican Republic

      Excellent hub. Congratulations


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