Zahi Hawass, born May 28, 1947, Al-ʿUbaydiyyah, Egypt, Egyptian archaeologist and public official, whose magnetic personality and forceful advocacy helped raise awareness of the excavation and preservation efforts he oversaw as head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). He served as Egypt’s minister of antiquities in 2011.
Hawass grew up near Damietta, Egypt, and entered Alexandria University with the intention of becoming a lawyer. He eventually changed his course of study to Greek and Roman archaeology, but it was not until after graduation (B.A., 1967) that he developed a passion for the subject, while working as an inspector for the Department of Antiquities (the forerunner of the SCA). Following a one-year postgraduate course in Egyptology at Cairo University, Hawass won a Fulbright fellowship and enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1987. He then returned to Egypt, where he was named general director of antiquities for the Giza pyramids complex as well as for the historical sites at Ṣaqqārah and Al-Wāḥāt al-Baḥriyyah (Bahariya Oasis).
At Giza in 1990, Hawass discovered a necropolis that housed the tombs of the pyramid builders, which proved, contrary to then-popular fringe theories, that the pyramids were indeed erected by Egyptians. Hawass’s frequent outspoken denunciations of the alternative theorists, whom he termed “pyramidiots,” established his international reputation. His profile was further raised in the late 1990s when he began the excavation of an extensive collection of tombs at Bahariya Oasis. The site became known as the Valley of the Golden Mummies after the tombs’ well-preserved denizens, the most that had ever been found at a single site.