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If you like Kent Weeks's story, you might also like:
Robert Ballard,
Lee Berger,
Mohamed ElBaradei,
Donald Johanson,
Richard Leakey,
Meave Leakey,
George Lucas,
Richard Schultes
and Tim White

Related Links:
Theban Mapping Project
Kent Weeks at TMP
American University in Cairo
Valley of the Kings

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Kent Weeks
Kent Weeks
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Kent Weeks Interview (page: 7 / 7)

Living Legend of Egyptology

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  Kent Weeks

Archeology aside, as we approach the 21st century, what do you see as the greatest challenges facing our society?

Kent Weeks: I think we have a couple of problems. You say "archeology aside," but let me hit archeology for the moment.

One of the biggest problems we have is conservation. Some of my colleagues have told me, and I believe them, that if something isn't done, for example, with the Valley of the Kings now, those tombs are not going to be around in 200 years. And other of my colleagues have said, "That's too optimistic. If we don't do something now, they're not going to be here in 50." That was one of the reasons we started this project to begin with, to make an archeological database so that we could set up a system to conserve and protect these monuments. Because I can't think of anything that would depress me more than knowing that the Valley of the Kings was no longer around. And my grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, or great-great-grandchildren could not get the same pleasure, the same thrill that I have enjoyed over the last years by seeing the Valley of the Kings, or reading about it. And that's just one site among many. You have thousands of sites in Egypt that are in desperate need of conservation. And here in the United States we have thousands of sites that are in desperate need of protection. I think our cultural patrimony is so important, that we're going to have very soon to come to grips with the problems of protection, or it's going to be gone. People are going to read about this in old, dingy library books written in the 1950s, going back through National Geographics and saying, "Gee, wouldn't it have been nice to have been able to see these things? What a pity they're gone." I think that would be an awful thing to have happen.

Kent Weeks Interview Photo
Kent Weeks Interview Photo

On a broader scope, we've got a real problem with the environment. Not just the conservation of tombs, but the causes of their deterioration: pollution, rising ground water, irrigation schemes and so forth. Increase in population, the problems of urban sprawl, all of these things that are having a negative impact, not just on archeological monuments, but upon the natural environment, natural resources like parks and reserves and so forth. These too I think are crucial. We have to come to grips in a very serious way. We're going to wind up having to pay big bucks to deal with it, I'm sure, but we've got to come to grips in a serious way with trying to protect these for future generations.

Looking back from this vantage point, what advice do you have for young people starting out?

Kent Weeks: If you're lucky enough to -- at an early age -- know what you want to do, go for it. But don't allow yourselves to become so narrow that you fail to look at all of the other wonderful things there are in this world to study. It may very well be that mathematics to you is heaven. You want nothing more than to be a mathematician, you love it with all your heart and soul. But give yourself the opportunity to look at music, at art, at literature. To look at the sciences, the natural environment, geography, what have you -- foreign languages -- and give yourselves as good a liberal arts background as you possibly can. You can go into electrical engineering, you can go into architecture, you can go into whatever you want, but remember, a lot of the tools that you're going to spend three of your four years in college learning are probably going to be tools that are totally out of date within ten years of your beginning to practice. What won't be out of date is what you've learned from literature and art and music, and all of these other areas that are going to provide you with not only your leisure hour activities -- something to do perhaps in your old age -- but they're going to give you the breadth of knowledge that will make everything you do more meaningful.

I cannot imagine ever wanting to hire an architect to build a home for me if that architect were strictly a draftsman who had no concern about human needs, human emotions, about the environment, you name it. I would rather hire an architect who was a good musician than an architect who was really strong at getting proper mixes in concrete. He can always go out and find somebody to do that, or a computer program to do it, but I want somebody with the human side to him. Somebody who has human emotions, has read, has listened, has looked at the products of humankind for the last several thousand years. Because that's the kind of person who will be able to come to me and say, "Sure, I can build you a house. This is the sort of thing that I know is going to work for you. Now, let's sit and talk about it. What do you think about this? What do you think of the proportions? What about the design? This is a place for you to live in, this is not a box where you come and sleep six hours, eight hours a night, and then leave." That's not the person for me. Give me a person with a liberal arts education and I can make an archeologist out of him. Give me somebody who has done nothing but courses in archeological method and theory for four years, there's no way in the world I can make a good, nice, pleasant human being.

Could you tell us one or two books that you would choose to read to your grandchildren?

Kent Weeks Interview Photo
Kent Weeks: Yeah. I think that I would read a selection of poetry: Whitman, Robert Frost, Rudyard Kipling. Good ways to introduce people to the joys of poetry. This will put them to sleep I know, it's a long book, but I would love to read them some biographies. David McCullough's wonderful biography of Harry Truman, I think it's a wonderful, wonderful book, very stimulating book. I would love to read them almost anything that Charles Dickens ever wrote. I'm a great Dickens fan. I would love to read them almost anything that Thackeray wrote. That gets a little tedious at times, but it's fun, it's almost a soap opera, it's great stuff. I would love to read them things of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And I would like to be able to take them on a long leisurely stroll through a museum of art, and maybe finish off the day with a concert in Central Park with a glass of Coke and an ice cream.

Finally, what does the American Dream mean to you?

Kent Weeks: In my own case I think it's doing what I'm doing. Thank God, I was very fortunate. I do consider myself to have been very fortunate to have known what I wanted to do. But at the same time, to have had mentors who kept saying, "Look at the broader picture. Don't get too focused. Don't get too narrow at this point. You can always narrow your perspective down to the proper shape of a trowel for removing pot shards from the ground later on. Keep it broad, take broader courses. Look at the bigger picture." The opportunity to have that happen, a society that permits it to happen, the willingness of people, teachers, friends, relatives -- except my aunt! -- teachers, friends, relatives to encourage it to happen. I think that is truly the American Dream. It sums up in one word, I guess: Freedom.

Thank you, Dr. Weeks. It's been fascinating.

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This page last revised on Jun 11, 2011 09:22 EST
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