Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 October 2003
Issue No. 658
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Dig days:

In response to Fletcher's theory

By Zahi Hawass

Zahi Hawass There has been a great furore over Joan Fletcher's recent announcement that she had discovered the mummy of Nefertiti. As head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), I feel it my duty to set the record straight. Two things in particular have disturbed me. The first is that Dr Fletcher's theory, which is no more than that, has been presented in the media as fact. The second is that my criticism of Dr Fletcher, who ignored SCA regulations and thus betrayed responsible Egyptology, has been interpreted as nationalism and fundamentalism.

I should like to take this opportunity to share the opinions of two Egyptologists, both of whom support my position, as do the majority of other Egyptologists around the world). The first is Dr Rosalie David, professor and director of the Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at the School of Sciences, Manchester, who was Dr Fletcher's thesis adviser. Dr David is one of the foremost experts on mummies and mummification in the world (in contrast to Dr Fletcher, who wrote her thesis on wigs and hairstyles in ancient Egypt).

In a letter to the SCA, Dr David writes: "Apart from electron microscopy of a head-louse found within one of the hairpieces that Joan Fletcher was studying, there was no specific scientific content to the research or the thesis. The electron microscopy was carried out by the university's electron microscopy unit (not by Joan Fletcher herself) and she was allowed to use the results in her thesis... Joan Fletcher received no training in anthropology or biomedical Egyptology or any other scientific techniques related to human remains, she was never involved in any of the work or research undertaken by the Manchester Egyptian Mummy Project, and indeed she showed no interest in the anthropological and biomedical research on the mummies that were undertaken at that time."

Dr David adds that "in summary, she received no training in anthropology or studies related to mummy research during her university course at Manchester." Dr David had no contact with Dr Fletcher after she finished her thesis, even though, as she was her adviser, she should have had a close relationship with her. Dr David concludes by saying: "I am surprised to see that in recent years she has chosen to describe herself in the media as an expert in mummy studies."

The second letter is from George Tassie, an archaeologist who works in the Delta and is extremely concerned with the preservation of our common heritage. Here is the full text of a letter that came to me over the Internet:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I don't know whether anyone else was outraged by the article in last Friday's edition of The Times (22 August 2003) "How Nefertiti put a curse on British Archaeologist" reporting how Dr Joan Fletcher and her team from York University have been barred from conducting research in Egypt. I though it was one of the most biased, offensive, bigoted, racist and inflammatory pieces of journalism I have ever read. This article is available on-line in The Times archives, but the minimum fee is 10 to become a member to access them. However, I do have a copy if anyone would like to see this terrible article. I have already written a letter of complaint to the editor of The Times, but as of yet have had no reply. If anyone else would like to express their feelings his e-mail address is below.

In my next article I will share with you passages from the passionate letter George Tassie sent to the editor of The Times as well as the letters I sent to The Times explaining the policies of the SCA.

The fight continues...

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