Connect to share and comment

Will the real Indiana Jones please stand up?

The charismatic head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities fights on in his war to win back his country's artifacts.

U.S. President Barack Obama is given a tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza by the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, left, while in Cairo, Egypt, June 4, 2009. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

CAIRO, Egypt — Move over Indiana Jones. Not since the (OK, fictional) treasure hunter in the distinctive leather hat set out on his "Last Crusade" has a man attempted such an improbable mission.

Zahi Hawass, the charismatic head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, has long been at war with the world’s leading museums over the return of ancient Egyptian artifacts that he says were stolen from his country.

And his campaign just got a major jolt in the arm: Last week, the Louvre agreed to return a set of ancient frescoes stolen from Egypt in the 1980s.

Hawass had demanded the frescoes’ return for years, but the Louvre had long refused. Then, in a moment of sublime — and now typical — showmanship, Hawass severed ties with the world’s most famous museum. The move sent reverberations throughout the art world, and the Louvre backed down, announcing that the pieces would be sent back to their native Egypt.

“Any museum that bought stolen artifacts, we have to cut ties with them,” Hawass told GlobalPost, indicating a more aggressive posture on his part.

While Hawass is famous in Egypt for his frequent archaeological finds and his extroverted personality, many have criticized him for his obsession with the spotlight. Members of the antiquities Council cower at the thought of breaking news that “Dr. Zahi,” himself, might want to. Archaeologists who may or may not have a lot more to do with Hawass' discoveries than Hawass himself have found themselves held in the shadows thanks to his media savvy.

The Louvre victory has emboldened Hawass even further, though he appears to be using the renewed attention for the forces of good by refocusing the spotlight on Egypt's right to reclaim artifacts that were taken during British colonial rule.

Hawass has a list of six artifacts in particular — known around the Council as “Dr. Zahi’s wish list” — that he is lobbying hard to have returned, among them the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum in London, a bust of Nefertiti in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin, and the bust of pyramid builder Ankhaf at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“You can’t have the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin,” Hawass said matter-of-factly. “The bust of Nefertiti has been taken out of Egypt illegally, and I have put together a case to prove this!”