Glad to read that Dr. Zahi Hawass has been reappointed Minister of Antiquities today. Like millions of others around the world, I’ve been concerned that looting of antiquities sites was far greater than we’d been led to believe and that without any person to stand up and coordinate the protection of those sites, looting and theft would continue. We still don’t know what was taken from the storage magazines at Giza, Saqqara, Tell el Fara’in, and Qantara East, And blocks were removed from tombs in Giza, Saqqara, Abusir, and Ismailia.
The good news is that many of the stolen items have been recovered and Zahi’s on it. His management style may be controversial, but his passion for antiquities and his presence for order are both palpable—assets in a country like Egypt. I’m glad he’s back at the helm. Mabrouk, Dr. Zahi!
(In other good news, the Peruvian government is expecting to receive their first shipment of Machu Picchu artifacts from Yale University.)
I caught this promo yesterday and laughed with joy—Dr. Zahi finally has his own TV series! Mabrouk, Zahi!
The posters just went up in NYC this week, as History has begun promoting the July 14th premiere. From what we can see in this promo (and from what I’ve heard from my friends who were involved), it’s part archaeology, part reality-show, and part just-hold-on-and-see-what-Zahi-does. He truly is a man of boundless energy and I’m hopeful people respond well to the series. Lord knows he’ll love that attention.
I give History and Leslie Greif credit for making this happen, and for injecting a little fun into the project. The title alone sounds like a comic book—perfect for someone larger than life like Dr. Zahi. Official site for the show is here. Curious what you think of the show.
I’ve spent the last 5 or so days in Jerusalem to attend the Israel Museum’s annual International Council. Over 520 people from 15 countries have flown here to attend it—the largest Council ever. The reason for the record turnout and all the excitement? In just a couple of months, on July 25th, the museum will reveal the results of a three-year, $100-million renewal project. The attendees of the Council represent major donors, sponsors, supporters and others who have played a critical role in this project. As part of the Council, I was honored to visit the museum a little early to witness the final stages of the construction and hear about the design features from the people who led it (for photos of everything, see my Twitter feed and photos on Twitpic).
The entire project was, in large part, the vision of James S. Snyder, the museum’s director since 1997. Under his astute insights and careful watch, and with the architectural expertise and sensitivity of Jamie Carpenter and the people at James Carpenter Design Associates in New York, the entire campus has been revamped. Not only have so many of the old buildings been completely redone, but new buildings have been brilliantly inserted into the campus and the architectural elevations in a way that both improves the flow of the visitors’ experience and enhances the original vision of the museum’s design by Alfred Mansfield in 1965. Things that weren’t possible 45 years ago but are now possible today were done. For example, the windows that allow Jerusalem’s special light to come into the galleries couldn’t be transparent back in the 60’s because the UV rays of the strong sun in Israel could have damaged the artwork. But today, thanks to advances in glass technology and multi-layered filters, new glass panes (and therefore, new lighting) give each gallery and the artwork within an elegant glow.
In addition to straightforward changes like the glass, the campus has been reorganized, consolidated (in some places) and expanded (in others) so that building functions are more logical and the flow across the campus more efficient. Everything has been streamlined, important for an encyclopedic museum that sits on 20+ acres. In honor of the renewal, two unique pieces were commissioned by the museum. The first is a spectacular 9-ton Anish Kapoor piece entitled “Turning the World Upside Down [Jerusalem]” that reflects the sky to the ground and the ground to the sky. Honestly, it’s mesmerizing to walk around it and watch the reflection change.
You’ll find the second commissioned piece at one end of the all-new “Route of Passage” tunnel carved into the very bedrock of the hill. It’s an installation by Olafur Eliasson called “Whenever the Rainbow Appears” and will greet people as they approach the museum galleries from below-ground. I wasn’t able to see the real piece (only a temporary placeholder), as it hasn’t been installed yet, but the effect should be pretty incredible—a 50’ by 8’ spectrum of colors celebrating the rainbow that signified the covenant between God and Abraham in the Bible.
And then there are all the other exhibits in the newly refurbished wings and galleries of the museum, including the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology Wing (my favorite). Honestly, if you ever find yourself in Jerusalem or even anywhere near the Holy Land, you should give yourself a full day or two to walk around the Israel Museum. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to return in late July for the official grand unveiling.
Exciting announcements showing up in recent days regarding a new branch of the human family tree. Tomorrow, the journal Science will publish this report on Australopithecus sediba. Discovered at the Malapa cave site in South Africa, Australopithecus sediba walked upright on long legs, but still moved through trees with apelike arms, scientists reported. Bones date to 1.95 to 1.78 mya. In addition to the Science paper, this website does a great job explaining the site location and the significance of the find.
Good lord, it seems the news about King Tut’s DNA is everywhere right now. Kudos to Dr. Zahi’s media department—that man sure knows how to attract an audience. Of course, King Tut has fascinated people ever since Howard Carter discovered KV62 in 1922. Even though Tut’s reign as Pharaoh wasn’t nearly as impressive as that of some other Pharaohs in Egypt, the 18th Dynasty / Amarna Period is particularly interesting, and it doesn’t hurt that KV62 contained inestimable treasures.
As some may know, I’ve done three shows on this period—one on Nefertiti (allegedly Tut’s mother, although not likely the case), one on Akhenaten (Tut’s father) and one on the Boy King himself. All of them intrigue me, as the political and religious upheaval surrounding Tut and his father make for a great story. Throw in there some theories about incest, genetic abnormalities, and murder and, well, what’s not to like? And now we’ve got malaria in the mix, too!! Truly fascinating.
I’m looking forward to Discovery Channel’s 2-part special on King Tut that will begin this Sunday. Should be some good TV, and always fun to watch Dr. Zahi in action.