Interview With Fredrik Hiebert

Fredrik Hiebert has studied archaeology in Central Asia and is a National Geographic Explorer.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to travel to a distant land and dig for treasure, sort of like Indiana Jones? Have you ever unearthed something old and wondered about who it once belonged to and what it meant to them?

Digging up the past inspired this year’s Almanac Newsmaker Challenge led by National Geographic explorer Fred Hiebert.  Find out how he became a real-life archaeologist and what his favorite discovery is. 

When he was a child

I wasn’t actually interested in archaeology. I think most people think that you’re almost born to be an archaeologist. And I like to think that anybody who’s played in a sandbox is a future archaeologist. My own interests were different. I went to school. I thought I was going to be an artist. And I was trained to draw. I love drawing. I drew anything. I drew nature, I drew objects … and because of this, I was able to get my first job working on an archaeological excavation drawing artifacts.

I guess that’s where the [archaeology] bug bit me. And I became really interested in the story behind the artifacts. So slowly I became more interested in the artifacts than I was in doing the drawings, but I have to admit, I still do all the drawings on my own digs.

JOB: Archaeologist and NG Fellow

FAVORITE PASTIME AS A KID: Art and drawing. 

HEROES: My hero is actually a guy who lived more than 100 years ago. He was a geologist. His name was Raphael Pumpelly.

TYPICAL DAY: I don’t really have normal days. I read and think about how to bring ancient times back to life.

FOR FUN: Thinking about new digs.


"I was excavating a trade site on the Red Sea coast of Egypt. The reason people had built a town at this particular site was that it’s a great trading place. It’s a place where ships would come in. But it’s so dry that everything’s preserved.

So when we excavated there, we found the house of a merchant who had been on the coast waiting for ships to come in. He had warehouses, and there were remains of many of the things that came in and left through the warehouses of his house.

We were excavating this house, and we finished the excavation, and there was a reed mat in front of the house that was still preserved. This was about a 700-year-old reed mat. And we were done with our excavations, and I had taken drawings. I had done drawings of the house, and we had photographed it, and I thought “Gee, it’s a shame to leave this reed mat here on the ground.” So I pulled it up, and then we made a really interesting discovery. Underneath the mat was the house key the merchant had left 700 years ago and he had hid his key underneath the door mat, thinking he would return one day. And it even had his name written on it."