Yesterday night, a couple of thousand archaeologists and prominent figures flocked to the Cairo Opera House Grand Theatre where the fifth annual Archaeologists’ Day was held. The site became a temple for the day, embellished with an imposing façade, columns, and statues of ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and deities.
This year, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) celebrated Archaeologists’ Day differently. The event focused on paying homage to pioneering archaeologists, dead and alive, who have spent their lives exploring, enriching, documenting and preserving Egypt’s heritage. A number of specialists were honoured along with skilled workers who helped in excavation works.
During his speech at the event, Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the SCA, highlighted a number of projects that the SCA undertook during his tenure that started 2002. Among them, SCA excavation teams are spread all over Egypt digging for new secrets of Egyptian history. “Those young excavators are competing with their counterparts abroad,” asserted Hawass, saying the teams have unearthed distinguished artefacts and magnificent sites that changed the view of the history of Egypt.
“I have worked especially hard to make sure that SCA archaeologists have been given excellent fieldwork training, and that they are allowed to travel the world to learn about excavation techniques and museology in other countries,” he said. “I am confident that after I leave the SCA, I will have hundreds of well-trained young Egyptians to take over where I left off and continue to make the SCA a world class antiquities organisation.”
“Today, after years of working in my beloved field, I am very proud of what the SCA has achieved, not only to restore, preserve and protect Egypt's heritage but also to enrich and develop the life of archaeologists,” he continued.
A social club for archaeologists is under construction in Al-Fustat, Hawass announced, while plans for a hospital for members of the profession are being studied. SCA officials are also looking at ways to increase archaeologists' salaries and retirement pensions.
Hawass also announced the establishment of a medical insurance plan for archaeologists. This insurance coverage, he continued, provided by Life Health Care, ensures excellent medical care for 32,000 SCA employees at well known medical centers and hospitals in Egypt.
Major General Sameh Khatab, head of the Finance Department at the SCA, has developed a payment plan so that five per cent will be deducted from the monthly salary of each employee for medical care; the SCA will cover the remainder of the cost from grants and other funds.
Archaeologist Hisham El-Leithi, the organiser of the ceremony, explained that the new medical coverage is part of a plan to develop an entire social insurance package for SCA employees and their families. Hawass, El-Leithi continued, has always been intent on improving the lives of SCA staff and over the past few years many improvements have been made to their lives, including an increase in salary, new office facilities, and educational training opportunities.
During the ceremony, archaeologists, restorers and painters were honoured with a certificate and a golden collar. Posthumous honours were received by family representatives.
Among those honoured were Fayza Heikel, professor of Egyptology at the American University of Cairo, Schafik Allam, professor of Egptology at the Tubingen University in Germany, Saleh Lamiey, head of the Islamic Architecture Heritage Revival Centre, Mamdouh Yakoub, general director of the Architectural Department at the SCA, the late Fathy Malek, former director of the Coptic Museum, late archaeological illustrator, sculpture and musician Ahamed Sedky, and others.
As for workers, they were honoured with an honorary certificate and a sum of money.
A book of photographs in colour reviewing the SCA's archaeological work along with those honoured in the ceremony was launched.