Every time we hear about a new archaeological discovery, he appears denim-clad and surrounded by rubble in a narrow hole. He tells us the details of what he and his team found.
Breathlessly and enthusiastically in claustrophobic conditions, he reads a hieroglyphic text about the tomb, which has been opened for the first time since it was closed by ancient Egyptians.
Then he surveys the artefacts around him and looks at them with gleaming eyes as if he is contemplating a newborn child.
This is Dr Mostafa Waziry, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), the government body responsible for the conservation, protection and regulation of all antiquities and archaeological excavations.
“It is an indescribable feeling when we dig and find these treasures,” Waziry told The Egyptian Gazette. “Antiquities are my love and passion.”
Prior to the SCA, he was head of Luxor Antiquities.
“During that time, I wanted to restore the Statue of Ramses II, of which the fragments lay scattered on the ground in front of the Luxor Temple for 1,500 years,” Waziry said.
The statue is 12 metres high and weighs 80 tons. It was found broken into 50 pieces since its discovery in 1958. It once adorned the temple façade but collapsed during an earthquake in antiquity.
“I ask foreign missions for help. But unfortunately, they are unable. Some say the restoration would need a huge budget. Others tell me that the site was not their priority. Still others say that it needed considerable time, which they could not spare,” he said.
“I felt alone, but I was determined to doing something,” he added.
So, he teamed up with Egyptian colleagues to embark on this mission.
“We took a long time to make studies on how to restore this towering statue. Former Luxor Governor Mohamed Badr helped us a lot by providing the materials needed for restoration.
“We restored the statue and re-erected it in front of the walls of the Luxor temple on International Day for Monuments and Sites on 18 April 2017.
“The then Minister Khaled Anani encouraged us to restore other broken statues in the area which we put up again on Monuments and Sites Day in 2018 and 2019.
“The facade of Luxor Temple returned to its original form in ancient Egypt.
He added that his team did excavation in 2017 in the necropolis of Dra’ Abu el-Naga’ located on Luxor’s West Bank and found many tombs, including that of an 18th Dynasty tomb of a goldsmith, Amenemhat, dedicated to the god Amun-Re, and a Middle Kingdom burial shaft for a family.
His enthusiasm and dedicated work earned him the appointment by the minister as SCA chief.
At first, Waziry was afraid that he would not be able to pursue his passion: archaeological digs.
“I don’t like to be in an air-conditioned office wearing a suit. I much prefer to be on site. If I stay in the office for a week, I feel like a fish out of water.”
He requested the minister to let him work three days a week at archaeological sites.
“I formed a group of Egyptian archaeologists to excavate Saqqara, 30 kilometres west of Cairo. I have also brought together an archaeological team in Tuna el-Gabal in el-Minya, followed by others up and down the country,” Waziry said.
“Things didn’t go our way when Covid-19 hit Egypt in mid-March 2020. Foreign missions returned to their countries, but we Egyptians didn’t stop.”
Waziry went on to say that 250 foreign missions mainly from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and US are working here in excavation.
“Foreign missions predominated until 2004 when we set up a school to teach Egyptian archaeologists the basics of site work. Then they went on to specialise in bones, pottery, mummification and other areas.
“Fifty trainees became supervisors, who each trained up 20 students, bringing the total to 1,500 highly efficient archaeologists. Consequently, foreign missions began to depend on the new groups.”
He said that there have been many Egyptian discoveries in recent years because Egyptians excavate in the site for at least ten months in a year, while the foreign mission spends only one or two according to their budget.
“In 2017, there were four Egyptian missions. Now that number is more than 50,” he said.
In the last five years, Egyptian missions dazzled the world with their discoveries, such as the lavishly-decorated tomb of Wahtye, a high-ranking official in the 5th dynasty in the Saqqara necropolis. Also found were 65 statues carved into the rock, in addition to mummies of sacred creatures — cats, a lion cub, a mongoose, a monkey and a beetle.
“We have also made breakthroughs in restoration,” he said.
The obelisk which stands now in Tahrir Square was previously found in nine pieces at San el-Hagar, 130 kilometres north-east of Cairo.
The hanging obelisk – the first of its kind in Egypt and the world – is at the entrance of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, the four obelisks which were erected in San El-Hagar, those in the capital museums were also restored by Egyptians.
Making temples’ inscriptions bright
He is currently working on the first ever project in Upper Egypt. All the temples at Esna, Karnak, Luxor and Dendera are coated in dirt and calcification on its columns, hiding inscriptions and colours.
“Egyptian restorers, especially women, are patiently removing the dirt to reveal the inscriptions and the bright colours as they were when these buildings were new.
“The team reaches the top of the temples, about 20 metres high, using scaffolding. They work with love, dedication.”
Waziry proudly said that Prime Minister Madbouli went to Karnak Temple and used the scaffolding to reach the young restorers. He told them that he was very proud of their work. He conveyed them a message from President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi thanking them for their efforts.
“It is the first time that a prime minister has spoken to restorers on scaffolding. It is an unmatched feeling.”
In Saqqara, he added, Madbouly went down to one of the three new burial shafts to inspect the discoveries and the coffins, and encourage the mission led by Waziry.
“When I see this appreciation from the president and the premier and every concerned body, this prompts me to work more and more.”
‘Waziry one’ Papyrus
During his excavation work in Saqqara, he found inside one of the coffins a papyrus.
“It is the first complete papyrus discovered by Egyptians in about 120 years,” he said.
This 16-metre-long papyrus is a hieratic text from the Book of the Dead. After they found it, Egyptian restorers sterilited and moisturised it to make the papyrus easier to open.
It was restored by Egyptians, transliterated into hieroglyphics and translated into Arabic.
The previously discovered papyri were named after their discoverers, who were foreigners. This one is unique, as it is named after Waziry, its discoverer.
“My colleagues thankfully named it Waziry One,” he said with a smile. “They believe that we will find other papyri in the near future.”
Grand Egyptian Museum
The Grand Egyptian Museum is regarded as the world’s biggest museum of Egyptology. Among its treasures to be on display is the 4,600-year-old ship of the pharaoh Khufu, which was transferred five miles away from its longtime home near the Pyramids of Giza.
This 20-ton, 42-metres-long vessel was found buried next to Khufu’s Great Pyramid in 1954.
“It will be one of precious pieces in the GEM as being the largest organic artefact in the world.”
In addition, the full collection of Tutankhamun’s treasure, about 5,000 pieces, will be together for the very first time, after they were unearthed in November 1922 by Howard Carter in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings.
Waziry added that GEM will display many of the recent Egyptian discoveries including the Assasif cache, found in 2019. It is a distinctive collection of 30 coloured wooden coffins of men, women and children, in a good condition.
Events to boost tourism
Waziry believes that holding international events outside or near the archaeological sites, “of course without harming the antiquities, help tourism to flourish”.
He said that the recent show by Swiss DJ Duo Adriatique was held a distance from the background of Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor.
“About 3,000 tourists came to the event, making the occupancy rate at Luxor hotels to 100 per cent,” he said. “The attendees spent three or four days after the concert and did shopping at the bazaars and markets there. Luxor people are so happy about such events.”
Last October, the Hatshepsut Temple was the venue for a fashion show by international Italian fashion house Stefano Ricci on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.
In December, Dior unveiled its Fall 2023 Men’s Collection at the Giza Pyramids.
“What distinguishes Egypt from other countries in the world are its antiquities. Antiquities are the soft power of Egypt.”
Bringing back antiquities
In recent years, Waziry said, Egypt succeeded in returning back 30,000 looted antiquities from abroad.
The ministry represented in the Department of Recovered Antiquities, Ministry of Foreign affairs represented by our ambassadors abroad, and the attorney general is working hand in hand to recover the looted antiquities.
“We will soon announce the return of other artefacts, and will keep announcing the recovery of our antiquities.
“Egypt will never waste any antiquity that came out of it illegally.”
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