Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some of the reader commentsabout Dr Hawass on recent posts are for my taste a little strong. I have left them because diverse opinions are welcome (although I will delete any which I feel to be unwarranted personal attacks). Personally I have two practical difficulties with his modus operandi. In previous articles I have talked of the frustration that there are no reliable, regular news reports of excavations like the dig diaries we see from Western universities. If the Egyptian teams are to be credible not only must they work to the same standards as the best Western teams, they must also be as transparently open about progress.

My second objection, however, is much more important. Valuable opportunities for fundraising are being missed. Funding for excavation and conservation work is always difficult. Kent Weeks struggled until he found KV5 and I don't think Otto Schaden has raised that much for the work at KV63. And yet very large sums could easily be raised. There was an opportunity with KV63 and an even bigger one with KV64 if it has been found.

When I lived in Clevedon, the pier was restored by public subscription, individuals, families or businesses could sponsor a section of each plank. The idea could probably transfer to Egyptian conservation work, perhaps seeking corporate sponsors for restoration of each of the coffins and jars in KV63.

Obama, however, showed again the power of thousands of small donations. That is the opportunity which could easily be missed. Enaging the public is an even bigger source of funds than corporate sponsorship. The obvious model for a new tomb is the Million Dollar Website. A picture of the opening of a sealed tomb could become one of the archetypal images of the 21st century. By sponsoring each pixel for $1, $1m or so could be raised. All it would take is a website recording the sponsors. If anything equivalent to Tutankhamun's mask was found, then that picture could raise even more.

It's not the way Egyptology works though. The SCA, to my mind, is also making a mistake by allowing Dr Hawass to release the news through his own site. Commercially news should be released on an SCA site and the SCA branding reinforced. The commercial opportunities for major new discoveries go well beyond the big media companies and, with active outreach, millions of individuals could also be encouraged contribute. More than any other archaeological site, save perhaps Giza, the Valley of the Kings holds a fascination for millions of people. The present excavations could easily have been used to raised millions of dollars to fund the excavations themselves and overdue conservation work for the Valley. One only needs to visit YouTube to see that quite random videos are watched tens or even hundreds of thousands of times. A weekly dig diary of a major new find has the potential to attract thousands of regular readers - even advertising space on that diary would raise worthwhile funds.

My chief gripe with Dr Hawass's inability to engage with the public is that a rare opportunity to raise significant funds is being wasted.


Geoff Carter said...

I am aware that some Egyptology sites get 500 hits a day, and the site meter on Egyptology News tells its own story. There is a huge appetite for information, and Egypt has a fabulous unique selling point, (USP), that is of vital importance to it as overall economy.

Dr Hawass, in many ways so media savvy, has been slow to grasp the potential of market, ironically leaving it open sites like this.

On a professional level it is impossible to comment on the standard of work in the Valley of the Kings, which is where funding comes in; problems may arise if they make any significant discoveries, the idea of opening several tombs simultaneously would appear gratuitous and a little fool hardy.

Finding things can be a mixed blessing, it can make you famous, but it can make archaeology expensive.


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