by Mahmoud Fouly
CAIRO, March 9 (Xinhua) -- There are promising horizons awaiting the Egyptian-Chinese first-ever archaeological cooperation with the first Chinese archeological team coming to Egypt later this year, Zahi Hawass, Egypt's top archaeologist and former antiquities minister said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
"When the Chinese team starts their first season here, of course we're going to cooperate in many things, in excavations, 3D and radar technologies. I think this is the beginning of further archaeological cooperation between China and Egypt," said Hawass, describing the anticipated cooperation as "the best news for archaeology in 2017."
Earlier in January, Chinese Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences signed in Beijing a cooperation agreement with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, and a Chinese archeological team will accordingly visit Egypt in October for joint excavation work at ancient Karnak Temple in Upper Egypt's Luxor city.
"It was me who started this cooperation, as we did a three-hour TV show at the Chinese Cultural Center in Cairo and I raised the idea to visiting director of Institute of Archaeology, Wang Wei. Then the Chinese side invited head of the Egyptian archaeological sector, Mahmoud Afifi, and the agreement was signed," Hawass recalled.
The Chinese team has a rich excavation experience, unique artifact reparation skills as well as advanced mapping and 3D modeling technologies that qualify it for conducting distinguished work at the relic-rich North African country, particularly in Luxor.
The top archaeologist said that Egypt will start in a month a major program to survey the Valley of Kings with new equipments for the first time to find missing royal tombs, expecting the undiscovered tombs of Amenhotep I, Thutmose II, Ramses VIII and those of the queens of the Eighteenth Dynasty to be there and inviting the Chinese to take part in the project.
"When the team comes to Egypt, I will talk to them to cooperate with us and work with me in the Valley of Kings," Hawass told Xinhua.
With regards to the Chinese government's attempts to promote the idea of archaeology for the public, the world-renowned Egyptologist said that their work in Egypt and participation in key archeological projects in Luxor will best serve the purpose.
"When the Chinese team comes here, their work will be published everywhere. The public in the streets of China will know that Chinese scholars of archaeology are working in Egypt for the first time ever," said Hawass.
As two of the oldest civilizations on earth, Egypt and China have been suffering growing thefts of rare antiquities and artifacts and they struggle hard to return them through legal and diplomatic channels.
Hawass said that he returned more than 6,000 stolen artifacts from all over the world to Egypt and that his strategy in this regard was adopted by many countries, including Peru, which he helped return some of their artifacts.
"We now have a department in Egypt, where I am a member, called the Department of Returning Stolen Artifacts. I think we can give our expertise to the Chinese to tell them how they can bring back all the artifacts stolen from China," Hawass said.
Hawass valued the Chinese love for Egyptian antiquities and the study of Egyptology at some Chinese universities.
"I did a five-minute live TV show to China the moment I finished sending a robot via a tiny hole inside the Great Pyramid, an event that was followed by billions of people around the world, especially in Asia and China," he told Xinhua.
The top Egyptologist excitedly recalled that the moment the robot found a second door inside the Great Pyramid in Giza was "unforgettable" in his life, saying he was stunned as the idea was beyond his imagination.
"I did drill a small hole of 1.1 cm and I sent an optic camera inside the Great Pyramid and I found a second door. I never thought in my life that anything could be discovered inside the Great Pyramid," he narrated, saying the scanning project this year may reveal secrets of the Great Pyramid for the first time in history.
Hawass continued that the Pyramids scanning project involves teams from Japan and France, noting it will be a very important year for archaeology with attempts to reveal what is hidden behind the secret rooms found by the robot.
Although rich of antiquities, Egypt's tourism sector has been going through a sharp decline due to various security issues and terrorist attacks that led several Western states, besides Russia, to suspend tourist flights to the country.
The country's Pyramids plateau has been visited by three major world figures in March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel accompanied by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Hollywood's superstar Will Smith and FC Barcelona's legendary soccer player Lionel Messi.
Hawass' previous statements on Messi's unexcited reactions at the Pyramids were highlighted by some media as an offense. However, Hawass explained to Xinhua that his remarks were misunderstood and that he respects Messi, follows all his matches and sees his visit to Egypt as extremely important for tourism promotion.
As for Smith, Hawass referred to him as "my friend," saying he knew the American movie star since 2006 when they both were chosen by Time magazine among the top 100 world's most influential figures. "Smith took a selfie for me and him in front of the Sphinx and I think this photograph was published all over the world."
In conclusion, Hawass stressed that the three visits of Messi, Smith and Merkel will help Egypt's tourism recovery, inviting people all over the world and the Chinese in particular to visit the country, reassuring that "Egypt is safe."