Sunday 7 February 2010

The Zahi Hawass Hat

[this post is not really heritage related] Before I set off for Egypt, an Internet pal in the States announced he had something he would like me to "take to Egypt". I agreed (thnking it would be something like pork scratchings for an expat friend living there), but the package did not arrive in time. I learnt from copies of correspondence that were forwarded to me that the supplier had problems "meeting demand" because their suppliers in Hong Kong were unable to fulfill the orders. Also looking up the supplier in the Internet, I had an inkling what was on its way to Poland....

In the event the package did not arrive in time, and I had to go without it. At home however a few weeks later my nearest and dearest received a spanking new Zahi Hawass hat by courier. The real McCoy with his signature inside and everything. I only saw it yesterday when got home, it is magnificent. The label attached says "Tutankhamen/ DR ZAHI HAWASS REPLICA EXCAVATION HAT/ This is an exact replical of my famous excavation hat. All profits from sales of this hat will go to fund the Suzanne Mubarak Children's Museum in Cairo (100% wool, made in the people's Republic of China". The website given is of Exhibit Merchandising LLC [Streetsboro Ohio 44241] which is where my hat comes from, it is connected with the Tutakhamun exhibition in Toronto and San Francisco (where I hear from other sources that the museum shops were doing extremely well, being sold out of many things faster than anyone expected).

On the reverse of the label is a picture of Hawass smiling away in a hat... not (it has to be said) quite like the one I have which is said to be an "exact replica". The hatband is stitched and mine is not, neither would I think the original Hawass headband is plastic. The rim of the Hawass'hat is turned under, while mine is turned up (important if you are going to "be an explorer" in a country where rain actually does fall). In fact, however if you start to look into it Hawass appears in photos in at least three different "Zahi Hawass hats". So, being pedantic about the use of the term "exact replica" is looking a gift horse in the mouth. It was a great thought and a great present, which I shall treasure as an interesting object in its own right.

Zahi Hawass is a cultural icon in his own right. Sadly, I never got to meet him when I was in Egypt (few do), but met a number of (non-Egyptian) archaeologists who did great Hawass impressions. I also met a number of Egyptian archaeologists who had some varied opinions of him. Not all of them, I got the impression, were as frank as others. Still, it was a good talking point. He also has a blog, and indeed fan-club. Certainly he is a figure (one might say phenomenon) which cannot be ignored.

These hats are themselves an interesting phenomenon, and in certain parts of our milieu have become a part of the archaeological dress code. A few years ago I did a count of the archaeologists working in Europe and beyond who habitually wore them and it came to (as I recall) sixteen (more than Mick Aston striped sweaters). Then there is the fictional one, Indiana Jones who might to some degree have started the fashion trend in this particular milieu. I guess however much we may deny it, there may well be a little of the Indiana Jones in all of us - and I might do a post here later about my own "Indy Moment" in a Theban tomb a few days ago.

Now I have to admit I too bought an "Indy hat" before I went to Egypt. I have extremely fair skin which is not at all sun-tolerant and the wide brim protected my nose, ears and neck from some of it. I admit I also had in mind its use as a sunscreen in the course of the siestas I was sure I would be taking in the lunch break. My old canvas wide-brimmed hat had seen too many rainstorms and too many better days to take. I went into an outdoor wear superstore and chose (much against my conscience) a Bavarian wide-brimmed felt huntsman's hat. When I went to see what it looked like on, the only mirror was in the horse riding section, I noticed three models of leather stetsons, obviously for cowboy fantasists, and I bought one of them instead. In grey-buff suede type leather ("wallaroo Suede" made by Jackaru in Australia). It turned out to be very practical indeed. What I did not count on was the number of times I'd be scraping my scalp on the roofs of tombs in the dark, and wearing a strong high-crowned hat saved me from some nasty cuts by bat-poo stained rocks. It did the job of keeping the sun off and my head cool and was the sort of colour that when it got dirty (quite often in archaeology), all you had to do was rub some more Theban dust into it and the stains disappeared (the Zahi hat is not that sort of colour - maybe why he has three). I note though that after three months in the abrasive dust the stitching is going.

I am not really a hat person, I rarely wear one, so I am not too clued up on their typology or terminology. I'd always assumed that these were all the same, but in fact the Zahi Hawass hat is not the same as an Indy Jones hat. I now note that the latter is taller and has a much wider hatband, and is pinched more sharply in the front (sorry if those are the wrong technical terms). Both seem to be of felt however while certain of my archaeologist friends have leather ones. Leather is not so good when you are sweating I find, though might give the illusion of being more low-rock-proof than mere felt. Perhaps now I have one of both I will give them a field trial and see which is best - now where can I find a bat-filled cave, swirling dust clouds and mercilessly baking sun in central Warsaw in February? But then, do I really want to get my new Zahi Hawass hat dirty?

Picture: from the supplier's website.

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