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.

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