Why Archaeology and Reality TV Don't Mix

Today I watched the first episode of the archaeology reality series Chasing Mummies: The Adventures of Zahi Hawass. It follows Zahi Hawass, until recently the head of antiquities in Egypt, and what I can only describe as his entourage as they he discovers all manner of wondrous things.

Hawass is normally a somewhat brusque guy, but in Chasing Mummies he is unbelievable. He isn't an abusive boss. He's a parody of an abusive boss. This can't be Hawass's normal personality, or his normal life.

Nothing about the show is normal. Two of the three young "fellows" have studied acting, and every word that comes out of their mouths is too perfect, too scripted. Normal speech doesn't sound anything like that. And getting stuck in a pyramid is only realistic if you're a character in a book or movie.

For the most part, Chasing Mummies is like an unfunny version of The Office. Here's an example of a typical scene:

Zoe the intern: It is a pleasure to meet you, hi--
Hawass: Nice meeting you. I have no time. Goodbye. (Leaves.)

Okay, so there are a few funny parts. Most of the time, though, they're trying too hard to make it funny and dramatic. It's as if the creators of Chasing Mummies saw this sketch by comedian Eddie Izzard and took it too much to heart:

Hawass has been criticized in the past, but I actually rather like the guy. You can't deny that he's done so much for Egyptian archaeology. If you want truly exciting Egyptology without the faked melodrama, I recommend reading his memoir Secrets from the Sand: My Search for Egypt's Past.


  1. Please tell me that that show isn't real. I thought it was bad enough that every other documentary about Ancient Egypt had Hawass swoop in the minute an important discovery was made but this takes things to a whole new level of "awful"...

  2. It's real, but only the sense that it's on TV. It's blatantly scripted, and the exciting "situations" like getting trapped in a pyramid are highly improbable. Two of the three interns are actors, although they do have generic backgrounds in anthropology and art history. Never fear though; I'm pretty sure the show was canceled after this one season. I cringed almost the entire time I watched.