Meet the teen Egyptologist who wants to be the next Zahi Hawass

Youssef Hawas devours books about Egyptian antiquities and is fascinated by the history of the pharaohs

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Youssef Hawas, 14, sat in the audience dressed in a white and black tuxedo, clutching famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass’s Arabic autobiography in his hands. This was Youssef’s chance to have The Guardian signed at the launch event in Cairo and perhaps communicate his love of Egyptology to his idol.

As the event drew to a close, his father Sameh, seated next to him, posed the last question of the evening: “My son is captivated by antiquities. He has read tens of books and practically memorised the entire history of the pharaohs. How can we support him in pursuing this passion and put him on the right path?”

Zahi Hawass – who over the past five decades has served as an antiquities inspector, archaeologist, Egyptologist, international lecturer, author, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and Egypt’s first Minister of State for Antiquities – answered: “Bring your son to my office and I’ll talk to him.”

My dream is to become a scholar in antiquities, that I make archaeological discoveries, that I become like Zahi Hawass
Youssef Hawas, aspiring Egyptologist

In the meantime, Youssef’s life has transformed over the last few weeks as the who's who of Egyptology were present at the autobiography event. Youssef has since visited directors of Cairo’s museums and archaeological sites who have welcomed and supported him, and he started a guide training programme at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

“My dream is to become a scholar in antiquities, that I make archaeological discoveries, that I become like Zahi Hawass,” Youssef, a year 10 pupil, tells The National.

There is nothing quite like the 5,000-year-old Egyptian civilisation, the subject of endless documentaries and books and the source of archaeological discoveries that have captivated the world. Many are eagerly awaiting the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum, planned for this year.

Zahi Hawass, known for his trademark Indiana Jones hat and ubiquitous media presence, has been instrumental in igniting global interest in ancient Egypt.

His major discoveries include the tombs of the pyramid builders at Giza and the Valley of the Golden Mummies at Bahariya Oasis. He also founded the Egyptian Mummy Project, which uses CT scans and DNA analysis to study famous mummies.

Youssef says he was maybe 6 or 7 when he came across Mr Hawass through programmes on National Geographic.

“I started to get interested in antiquities and it made me want to visit the Pyramids,” he says.

On Youssef’s first visit to the Pyramids of Giza, he says he felt “the depth and majesty of the ancient Egyptian heritage”.

He then began seeking out more knowledge, starting with a small book he found on his older brother’s shelf about Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt in the 15th century BC.

He says he started to read more and delve deeper into the topic about a year ago. His repertoire of books now includes Egyptian archaeologist Ahmed Fakhry’s Arabic history of pharaonic Egypt, historian Richard Gabriel’s biography of warrior king Thutmose III and Egyptologist Selim Hassan’s 16-volume Arabic Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt.

His father sought to encourage him by taking him to museums and archaeological sites, such as Luxor, Aswan and Saqqara.

It was on a visit to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation last year that Sameh Hawas realised quite how passionate his son is about Egyptology. Twenty-two royal mummies had been moved from the Egyptian Museum to the NMEC in the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade in April.

“When we went to the museum to see the mummies, he could explain the entire history of each mummy entirely on his own. That’s when I knew that we needed to do more to support him on this path,” Mr Hawas says.

During the recent mid-term break after the autobiography event, they revisited Saqqara, one of Youssef’s favourite places, after seeing the Netflix documentary Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb. By chance, they ran into Dr Sabry Farag, the general director of the Saqqara area.

They also went to the Egyptian Museum with a guide and asked to meet the museum’s general director, Sabah Saddik. She offered to let Youssef start in the guide training programme on Saturdays and during school breaks to learn about the more than 170,000 pieces on display.

“He is very interested in Egyptian antiquities, so we wanted to encourage him by training him and educating him on the pieces in the museum,” Ms Saddik tells The National.

The museum offers educational programmes for children as young as 5, but the guide training course is usually reserved for university students.

“I want to train to have more information about the pieces and if I’m able to be a guide in the museum, that would be amazing,” Youssef says.

Youssef also had the opportunity to meet Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who granted him free admission to all of Egypt’s museums.

At a recent lecture at the NMEC on Egypt’s royal mummies by Salima Ikram, the renowned Pakistani professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, she signed her book Ancient Egypt: An Introduction for Youssef with the message “Become an Egyptologist!!!”

“It was so nice that not only was Youssef enthusiastic, but his father was so supportive and proactive,” Ms Ikram tells The National. “I feel that if one has a chance to foster this and encourage it, it is an honour and a pleasure.”

Youssef wants to eventually visit the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris and the Neues Museum in Berlin, which hold famous Egyptian antiquities like the Rosetta Stone and the Bust of Nefertiti. He also dreams of working at an excavation site, such as Saqqara.

For now, Youssef and his father are planning an eight-day trip from Sohag to Abu Simbel in Upper Egypt, partly by car and partly by boat.

And he is waiting for an appointment to speak with Mr Hawass in more depth.

Updated: February 27, 2022, 8:16 AM