Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cairo International Airport

"What do you mean, I cannot bring antiquities on the plane?  These were all legally acquired."

Airport Security: "Sir, we cannot allow the unauthorized transportation of cultural property without the express permission from the Egyptian government.  I will have to confiscate any antiquities that you have in your possession.  Please show me some identification."

Polly: "For Amen's sake, Rich, you can't seem to go anywhere without getting yourself into trouble.  You better figure out a way to talk us out of this.  Our tickets to Jordan are non-refundable."

Airport Security: Did that cat just talk?

"You overpaid, totalitarian Nazis!  I found this genuine mummy hand myself and I absolutely cannot part with it!  How am I to continue my research into the-"

Polly: "Maybe don't bring up Nazis, Heiny."

"Do not interrupt me, Polly.  You might distract this dictatorial blockhead.  If he loses his train of thought, he will never find it again."

Airport Security: "Not only are you removing important archeological material from its provenance, but you are attempting to smuggle human remains out of the country.  Where did you find this hand, exactly?"

"That is exactly what I am attempting to explain to you.  This is not a human hand.  I found this attached to the dessicated corpse of an alien being."

Airport Security: "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?  Did you say 'alien'?"

"Oh, and he is hard of hearing, too.  Listen, I do not have the time or the crayons to explain this to you.  Ramses II's corpse is not as it seems, this is the evidence, and I need to get to my gate before the flight leaves."

Airport Security: "You stole Ramses II's hand?!?!  How did you even manage to do that?  I'm going to have to call the police."

*slaps the officer with the dessicated hand*  "I resent your accusations of theft and smuggling.  I am an extremely ethical, globally-recognized professional archaeologist, and my companion here is none other than King Priam himself!  What would it do to either of our reputations to engage in corrupt behavior?"

Airport Security: "I do NOT get paid enough for this.  Get away from me.  You, the talking cat, and your corpse hand.  I didn't see anything."

"I knew you would come to see reason.  I am eager to bring this hand back to the lab for analysis.  Finally I can prove the presence of shapeshifting reptilian beings in the Egyptian royal lineage.  Now, let us hurry to the gate, Polly.  This ridiculous matter has delayed us greatly."

Airport Security:  "I quit.  I.QUIT."

Polly:  We have a laboratory?

"A laboratory, a garden shed.  Call it what you will."  *swings the hand around wildly*

Polly: "Ugh, put that gross thing away."

"This 'gross thing' is going to make us both very, very rich men."

Polly: "Well, then.  By all means, swing it around as much as you like but, if it touches me, I'm gonna poop in your hat."

"Fair enough, Polly.  Fair enough."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Khepri and His Responsibilities (Part 1)

"Amazing, Heiny!  Look at how, well, colossal those Colossi are!"

"The Colossi are aptly named.  I especially appreciate the reference to Troy, even if it suggests some Euro-centrism on the part of the those who named them."

"That's actually a really profound and mature thing for you to say."

"Obviously we should give them good, strong German names.  A strong name for a strong monument.  Perhaps something like, Jörg for that one on the east, and Jürgen for the other."

"Uh.  Ugh.  Never mind.  So, these are the statues that were supposed to sing?"  Polly turned to get a better look, shielding his eyes against the sun with one of his paws.

"Ja.  That one, over there."

Polly walked closer, with Heinrich following close behind.  The feline stopped abruptly, peering into the cracks between the stones.

"Erm, I think I hear talking coming from that Colossi."

Heinrich scoffed.  "Impossible.  The 'song' reported by ancient tourists was only the hollow voice of the wind blowing through the gaps in the rock.  Even if those claims are true, there is certainly no precedent for hearing voices."

"Seriously, Heiny.  Shut up and listen."

Heinrich bent down and placed his ear to the place indicated by his companion.  His eyes widened.  He could, in fact, hear a tiny voice coming from the statue.  It currently seemed to be engaged in an intense debate with itself.

"You are right.  It is a little squeakier than I would have anticipated."

"What's it sayin'?"

"It seems to be demanding a pay raise."

Suddenly, Heinrich's head snapped back, as if he had been struck.

"OY!  Didn't your mother ever tell you not to eavesdrop on people?"

Polly balked.  "Um, sorry Mr. Jörg.  We didn' mean ta pry into your statue business."

The high-pitched voice seemed to increase in pitch.  "Who is Jörg?!  Does he owe me money?  My name is Khepri, and I'd appreciate it if you'd watch your feet.  You're about two inches away from stepping on me."

To be continued.

Cruisin' for a Bruisin'

Polly and I decided that the best way to tour--ahem, EXPLORE Egypt would be to follow the Nile.  The obvious next step was to charter a cruise.

I ain't that fond of boats, or the Nile, or crocodiles, but neither Rich nor I have valid driver's licenses, and for some reason, the taxi cab companies in Egypt put us on a blacklist.

It was curious.  I did call several taxi service companies and asked why they would do such a thing, but they refused to comment on the matter.  In fact, the most I got out of them was something about finding hairballs on the seats.  You would not happen to know anything about this, Herr Polly?

Uh, no.  Of course not.  

As I suspected.  This is obviously another conspiracy by some mysterious organization, trying to throw us off their trail.

Mhm.  Yep.  That is exactly what happened.  

The cruise was an educational experience, particularly for my companion.  We began in Cairo and will continue upstream, all the way to the farthest edge of the Ancient Egyptian empire in the south.  Some of the notable monuments to alien ingenuity included in the tour package guided expedition include the Dendera Temple, the Colossi on Memnon in the Theban Necropolis, Luxor, Kom Ombo, and Abu Simbel at its new location (the entire complex was moved in 1968 owing to the flooding caused by the Aswan Dam).

Don't forget about the Esna Lock!

What did you think of the sites that we have seen so far?

Temple of Hathor:

Hmm, well the Temple was pretty neat.  Everything there is so well-preserved, although the ceiling is super dirty.  The ancient Egyptians sure know how to execute a paint job, unlike you.

The ceiling is blackened owing to smoke from fires long ago.  And what are you implying about my artistic abilities?

I don't understand why the goddess of beauty is a cow.  Bastet--now THAT'S a looker.  

The cow is sacred in many cultures, Polly.  In fact, one of Hera's epithets was "Cow-Eyed Goddess," and in India, cows are especially revered.

Did you see that one relief?  Were those really images of ancient light bulbs?

The Dendera Light?  Oh, do not be silly.  That is just a kooky fringe theory.  Clearly the relief depicts aspects of Egyptian mythology, not ancient light bulb technology. 

The Dendera Light

Wow, really Heiny?  That be surprisingly lucid.

I was being facetious.  OF COURSE those are light bulbs.  Just, just look at them!  They are lamps and even have filaments inside!  I hast never seen a more light bulby-looking light bulb in all of my years as an academic.  Anyone who suggests anything else is just trying to suppress the knowledge of the ancients, probably for some nefarious purpose.

I guess I'll take your word for it.

The Colossi:

How come the famous singing statues at don't actually sing?

The Colossi of Memnon, which are actually statues of Amenhotep III, are very, very old.  They were built in 1350 B.C.  In In 27 B.C., they survived an earthquake, which apparently damaged the eastern statue.  When the wind would blow through it, some bystanders would claim that they heard the sound, particularly at dawn (hence the name, ad Memnon means "Ruler of the Dawn").  The statues were repaired at some point in the past, and no one has heard a peep from them since.

 No one?

Well, except for the two of us, but there was a perfectly logical explanation for that.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Ride in a Hot Air Balloon

I'm not having fun.

H-dawg and I hitched a trip to Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut today early in the A.M.  Obviously, we stopped for breakfast beforehand (mmm, that restaurant had a delicious potted plant on their table), then were sent out to some patch of dirt in the middle of Nowheresville, Egypt, to be "borne aloft," as my man Heiny put it.  Well, I like heights, so I figured, why the hell not?  Plus the Muhammad's Budget Hot Air Balloon Travel and Mail Order Bride Company even gave us free t-shirts with their logo on them. 

The morning was pretty cold for Egypt, and I decided shortly before getting into the wicker basket that maybe heights this high might not agree with the big breakfast I just ate.  I knew I should have avoided raw vegetables but, man, that plant was just sitting there on the table, glistening and begging for a nibble.  My anxieties were NOT allayed when I noticed just how budget this budget hot air balloon was.  I swear the thing was held together with adhesive bandages and a prayer to Allah.  Plus, I might have used the wicker basket as a scratching post while no one was looking, and MAY have torn a giant hole in the bottom.  I steadfastly refused to get on this death trap, but Heiny picked me up and tossed me in.  Before I knew it, the scruffy-looking balloonist had stoked the flame and sent us soaring.

I didn't get much of a look at the temple, to be honest.  I was too fascinated by the birds fluttering down below.  We got a pretty good look at Cairo's rooftops and backyards, and many a cat was seen.  I waved at them, but the simpletons didn't even seem to notice we were there. 

When we were at maximum altitude, Heiny slipped and almost fell out of the hole I MIGHT have made.  Hah, he deserved it for switching my cola out for diet last night.  He didn't think I'd notice, but I can taste the difference, even if I don't have sweet receptors on my scratchy little tongue.

The descent began as the sun heated up the atmosphere, meaning the air in the balloon wasn't as hot relative to the air surrounding it.  We floated down slowly, slowly....

"Hey, didn't we just pass the landing point?  I thought we were supposed to end up in that field."

Muhammad shrugged.  "Impossible to steer balloon.  No worries.  We come down somewhere, eventually."

"Somewhere, eventually" turned out to be the middle of the Nile.  I clawed my way up onto Heiny's hat as the basket fell into the water with a huge splash.  We were all soaked, and I was more than a little vexed, especially considering that there were probably more tapeworm eggs than water molecules in that particular stretch of brown sludge.  By the time we swam to shore, it was eight in the morning and I was already "funned out" for the day.

I'm never getting on one of those things again.  Heinrich is still licking the mud out of my coat.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New Camera

Success!  Polly employed his "ub3r 1337 h4x" (what is that supposed to mean?) and got us a state of the art DSLR, the Nixon D3000 REBEL P Zoom FPS Self-Flushing Camera and Back Scratching Device,or the NRPZFPSSFCBS, for short.  This camera has it all, and then some!  So many uses!  Beispielsweise, it can take pictures, and I used it to scratch the rash on my hindquarters.  Sehr gut.

Hey Polly?

Polly: You want to know how I managed to swing this sweet gnu camera?

Indeed; I do.

Polly:  I got a credit card approval letter yesterday by courier.  These "Nigerian Xpress" guys can find anyone anywhere!  10,000 dollar limit, bitchazzzz. Check it, I also bought these postcards to send to all my wives back home.

I wasn't aware you were married.

Polly: A kingly stud like me?  Of course I am.  I have like, 400 chicks.  There are a lot of Priam's descendants wandering around downtown Istanbul.  Hey, weren't you marr-?

*Ahem*  A credit card, then?  How do you intend to pay all of this back? 

Polly: Trust me, bro.  I'm good for it.  I'll just use my treasure to cover the bills.  Let me tell you, when we find my stash, we are gonna be ROLLIN' in it.  I'll get you that diamond grill you always wanted.

What a kind sentiment, Polly. 

Polly: Bros before hoes, man.

"A noble love which attaches to a youthful [male] spirit issues in excellence upon the path of friendship."*

Polly: Close enough.  Right, so what's next on the bucket list?

I thought we might book a hot air balloon ride for tomorrow morning.  We will be able to see the Djeser-Djeseru and the Nile from there.

Polly: Fine with me.  I don't mind seeing the Nile from above.  I just hope we don't land in it.

*Plutarch, Dialog on Love

Monday, August 8, 2011


Well, this is unfortunate.  I seem to have misplaced my camera on the way to Saqqara, location of the Step Pyramid of Djoser (designed by the renowned Imhotep himself).  I vaguely recall last seeing the device in the men's bathroom of the restaurant where we went for lunch.  While conducting my business, I may have accidentally kicked it under the gap between my stall and the one next to me while it was set on an automatic timer.  I have no idea what happened to it after that, but I did notice that the toilet in that stall was stopped up and the water in the bowl overflowing.  

I feel really terrible about this, dear readers.  Luckily for you, Polly volunteered to use his expert artistic skills to reconstruct the scene for posterity.   He is such a stand-up guy.

"Why are you taller than me, Polly?"

Yet, I think I ought to purchase a replacement camera at the first opportunity.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How Centuries of Uncritical Analysis has Affected Public Perception of Ancient Egyptians

As I'm learning, upon my return to doing archaeology full-time, the trends have shifted since I've been away.  Of particular interest to me is history, as it is tangentially related to my own specialty.  One of the most striking features of the "New History" that's popular in academia these days is revisionism.  I recently attended an academic conference on Sapphic poetry, where the first thing one speaker said upon introducing herself was not, as I was expecting, "Ehemann, I brought you your lunch," but rather, "I am a revisionist historian".  Revisionist, in the sense that researchers must constantly challenge established interpretations of historical events, to the point where it seems the truth matters less than the academic exercise.  I have also noticed a proliferation of papers that deals with only the historiography of a particular topic, not even the topic itself!

Of course, I understand the criticism.  "Old" history was little more than a collection of allegorical narratives constructed, often, for the benefit of a patron.  Still, I wonder if historians are not trying to shoehorn a fundamentally biased field into the sciences.  Disingenuously referring to history as a social "science" not only undermines the actual scientific process (with its rigorous methodology), but also seems counter-productive.  What is wrong with treating history as a literary art form?  The past, barring the invention of some sort of time machine, is forever unknowable; historians merely offer their best guess.  Oh, but of course, that wouldn't appease the suits intent on enforcing their multicultural agenda by infiltrating every academic discipline, now would it?  Same process, really; new patron.

My point is, tallying and crunching a few numbers from some old census record, then telling me what those numbers imply about male bias, does not make your field of study a science.  Leave the science to us archaeologists, with our forensic anthropology, high-resolution satellite images, and trowels.  Archaeology is no longer the handmaiden to history.  Jealous, perhaps?

Roguish and trend-bucking as I may be, I am perfectly capable of reading the writing on the wall.  Literally and figuratively.  I will never be published again unless I am willing to hop upon the fahrender Wagen; so, hop upon it I shall.  As such, I have produced a new paper on an old topic, the Egyptian civilization, in line with current new history thinking.  I cannot reproduce it for you here, as academic journals have strict copyright policies,  but I can give you, my dear readers, a summary of my ideas.

Viewing Egypt in light of revisionism, I would like to propose the following random ideas* theories:

1. Since 1822, when Jean-François Champollion announced the decipherment of the Egyptian texts on the Rosetta Stone, Egyptologists have been reading hieroglyphs in the wrong direction.  That is, one ought to read them diagonally.  In cases where the text appears as a single row or column, one should only read every other glyph, as the others serve merely as "spacers".  As the texts are now incomprehensible, according to my interpretation, I can only conclude that the Egyptians were actually illiterate morons scribbling nonsense on the walls like children.

2. The development of mummification suffered more set-backs than previously known.  It is apparent that the first mummies were of natural origin, as the climate dessicated bodies buried out in the desert.  When Egyptians attempted to replicate this process artificially, they tried various methods of extracting moisture and halting decomposition.  Extracting the internal organs was crucial, but before they finally mastered the process, the embalmers attempted several variations, including: 
- Leaving the organs in intact
- Removing all the organs, then stuffing them back into the corpse, leading to rot.
- Removing the organs by squeezing the body under a heavy weight, and collecting them as they squeezed out of some orifice like toothpaste.
- Removing the organs while the individual was still alive, starting with the brain-hook (pardon the technical jargon).

I also suspect that the first person to wrap a mummy in bandages did not do so to preserve the body, but rather had witnessed the benefit of wrapping a wound in linen, and was attempting to replicate this effect in order to cure the ultimate wound: being dead.

3. After Imhotep's initial success with the stepped pyramid (inspired by the mastaba), other architects attempted to develop their own version of the pyramid, all of which failed.  We all know of the Bent Pyramid, but what of the Oblong Pyramid?  The Egg-Shaped Pyramid?  What of the first pyramid that was actually pyramidal in shape, but built up-side down?  Why don't we see these in the archaeological record?  I postulate that it is not because they are not (and never were) there, but rather because the Egyptian government hides them to conceal their national shame.

* Oh, was that an unfair attack on a strawman?  Du kannst mich mal.