I was offered an opportunity for my son and I to attend an exhibit of KingTut at the Science Center downtown. Apparently, with the new regime in Egypt, they are recalling all their artifacts, worldwide, home again and the King Tut exhibit was leaving US soil, possibly forever. My husband remarked that they would probably melt it all down and destroy it because the Muslim Brotherhood does not believe in all that history, just the history since Mohammed. And I was a little frightened by that, so I signed us up to go. We were invited to attend with a local homeschooling group and there ended up being 22 of us, showing up that day, in the rain! My son was not that excited and was not looking forward to going. But when we got there, and were in line outside with the “bazillions” of local school kids, his interest was a little more piqued. In addition, a neighborhood buddy had told him just the night before, that his school was also going at the end of the month. He was a little more invested than I originally thought. It was fun to see his excitement building as we stood in the anteroom, watching an introductory video.
I cannot express how truly exciting this was for me…and for my son – we are still talking about it. My major in college was Forensic Anthropology/Physiology with a minor in Biblical Archeology, and for an anthropology major to see artifacts like this in person, well, I wasn’t drooling, but almost! My son, as we progressed in, was enthralled. Our ticket included an audio tour by none-other-than Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford! It was so fun, walking up to an artifact, and having “Indie” tell us all about it. There was also commentary from a renowned Archeologist in Egypt; Dr. Zahi Hawass and he is the Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs in Egypt. When he was asked if Archeology was really as exciting as Indiana Jones, his response was, “To an archeologist, it certainly is!”
The entry contained some very large, and very tall, statues. We were overwhelmed. But what drew us, and what kept us enthralled, was this one, tiny, statue and as we walked all the way around it (which was so wonderful) I was remarking that it was created, by hand, in 2037 BCE. I explained to my son about the new “calendar declarations” in that BC is now BCE (Before the Christian Era), so year “0” is the year Christ was born. It is now 2012…that artifact was more than 4,000 years old. He could not get over how it looked brand new. And we both noted the extensive detail and how you could just imagine someone sitting in Egypt, under some papyrus shading, carving this little statue in his hands. It seemed almost alive in that the detail was so incredible.
As we walked through this exhibit, we were more and more impressed by the culture and refinement of the Egyptians. My son was impressed by a marble toilet seat and an elaborate coffin for King Thumtose’s cat! I explained that the Egyptians were very into hygiene and science, and were, in fact, a very advanced culture. They had showers and running water, and bathed regularly. Another interesting thing that I shared with him was that most archeologists are nothing more than curious trash-diggers! We look through the cast-offs of a culture and try to understand them, from what they tossed aside or left behind. In the case of the Egyptian tombs and mummies, however, we were venturing into a completely different area of exploration; we were exploring a past culture’s view of eternity. The early Egyptians cared deeply about the afterlife and prepared for it each day. One of the Kings of Egypt even believed that each sunset was a sort of death. He would review his day in light of dying that night, and hoped he had been as good a man as he could be, because his death would happen with certainty, one “night.” Hmmm….examination of conscience!
At a Halloween party this past weekend (which does not do it justice! It was, rather, a Sherlock Holmes Murder Mystery, with a Steampunk theme, wherein our friends’ entire house, every room, was decorated with clues. It is an amazing thing they do each year), a friend dressed as a Princess (and whose husband was coincidentally Indiana Jones) was saying that she just couldn’t go see the King Tut exhibit because of all the curse lore, and the fact that she felt we had invaded a person’s personal belief and privacy about the afterlife. More importantly than curse lore, she felt that it was wrong to dig up and invade these tombs. As an anthropology major, I had never thought about it quite like that. I had always felt that we needed to dig to get to the truth, to the hidden facts that may lay in layers upon layers of “dirt” beneath our feet. Because the things archeologists look through (mostly trash and other things “left behind”) I had not considered it an invasion of someone’s privacy, but more of an opportunity to learn. And certainly, finding a tomb that was untouched, and the tomb of such an important ruler untouched, we learned so much about Egyptian culture we never would have known, had we not explored. Dr. Carter was one of my heroes in college; I never thought of him as a tomb raider or someone who desecrated someone else’s tomb. I tried to share with my friend about how meticulous and careful of the remains the archeologists were (the original team, however, did break some bones and relics, because the science was so new in the 1920s that they did not know what they were doing then) and that even now, King Tut’s remains were handled with respect and care. In fact, he has never left his tomb, but rather, science has come to him. In 2005, when they were able to CT-scan his remains, he was gently lifted out of his coffin and laid on a table, still in his tomb and then gently returned. He was out of his tomb for mere minutes and 1000s of images were taken. Only Egyptians are allowed in his tomb and only Egyptians are allowed to touch any of the artifacts. His remains will never leave Egypt; it is out of respect.
And of course, I thought of all of this overnight, through endless football games on TV on Sunday, and into this morning. Did you know the Statue of Liberty celebrated her birthday yesterday, with a remodel of her crown and stairway system to include handicapped accessibility? The Statue of Liberty is 125 years old and for America, that is ancient. We are such a new country, we have a hard time conceiving of the idea of national relics being 4,000 years old. My son had a hard time wrapping his head around that concept. And we treat our “National Treasures” with dignity and respect. Arlington Cemetery, the former home of General Robert E. Lee, is treated with great respect as it is the resting place for 1000s of our soldiers, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And yet, Arlington has only been around since 1864, as a National Cemetery…that’s an embryo compared to King Tut’s remains, from a timeline perspective.
I was involved in a conversation regarding our system of electing our leaders online yesterday. We discussed the “electoral college” system, the “two-party” system and the frustration many feel that their candidates did not have a chance in this race; “it is all big government” and “the two candidates are basically the same,” etc. When I remarked that our country was founded on principles that celebrate our independent thinking and our creative minds, I thought back to that craftsman, sitting in Egypt, with that little statue in his hands, almost 4,000 years ago. And I thought, “how profound!” I was able to walk around that, have a conversation with my son (and our particular situation would never have taken place a mere 200 years ago), and remark on its age. And people in America think we are so stuck in our system, because it is so entrenched and so “old,” that there is no hope to make a difference. That Egyptian craftsman, who was probably a slave, carved away knowing he was contributing to the “hereafter” of his ruler, one among literally 1000s of objects being place in King Tut’s tomb. A small thing, but also representative of something much larger. His efforts are being acknowledged 4,000+ years later. Do we know his name? Do we know anything about him? No, we don’t. We only see the results of his efforts. Well, I personally think that we can effect change with some personal, small efforts, too. I was told that four years is not enough time to get the system to change. Perhaps it isn’t in time for the next Presidential cycle, but it is enough time to start, to engage, to get a groundswell of enthusiasm started. If just one person says, “Yes, let’s get this thing going,” it can lead to great change. And perhaps that person won’t be acknowledged; we won’t know the name or personal history, but perhaps our grandchildren will live in light, in a better country, because one craftsman held the electoral process in his (or her) hand and decided to work to make something out of it. History is a great teacher, if we look to it for guidance. It is invasive to look deeply into our past, to be sure, but it is also a great place to start to form our future.
That little statue, Thumtose III, so profoundly shows how personal effort can be celebrated far beyond anything imagined.
And a side note: King Tut had a box in his tomb, a very simple box, and the archeologists assumed it would contain perhaps clothing or something along those lines. When they opened it, they were astounded to find two small coffins within it. The coffins contained the remains of King Tut’s daughters – one was a miscarriage; the other was still born. I find it remarkable that this young King (only 19 when he died) had such profound love for his daughters that he had them buried with him. I can only imagine the emotions of his wife, Queen Ankhesenamun, when the tomb was sealed, containing her husband and her two daughters. Four thousand years ago, a young widow respected the life of her husband and babies so much, that she buried them with honor. One of those babies, or perhaps both, would today be considered viable – for abortion. Respecting life is not something new, or off in “right wing” thinking; it is as ancient as humanity, because deep down, we all know that murder is wrong. Just look to King Tutankhamun and his wife, Queen Ankhesenamun, over 4,000 years ago; a legacy of respecting life. What is our legacy?