Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Television and Archaeology: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This entry is going to be rather unique compared to the previous ones as it relies solely on my own experience and opinions. This time I will look be looking at three different television shows that are similar in that they all have connections to archaeology, but are different in how they portray it. I have used the headings 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly' to portray my personal opinion of each.

The Good:

National Geographic recently aired a new show titled 'Diggers' which follows the stories of a team whose hobby is metal detecting. Although this seems like a fair idea for a show, many people took issue with it before its pilot even aired, saying that it encouraged treasure hunting and the destruction of historical sites when proper measures are not taken to document the site before removing artifacts.

With the show promoting the destruction of historical sites and possibly artifacts, you must be questing why I have placed it under the banner of 'The Good'. National Geographic has acknowledged the concerns and issues raised, and while they are continuing forward with the show, they have agreed to consult with archaeologists over the issues raised. As you will see, this is quite the agreement compared to other shows.

The Bad:

Spike has also jumped on the bandwagon of having a show centred around metal detectors. Recently they aired their show 'American Digger'. It was met with the same concerns that 'Diggers' was. People criticized it for promoting recovery for profit, and the destruction of sites.

Unlike National Geographic, Spike's response to these concerns were quite different. Essentially Spike responded that what they were doing was not illegal, and that it was not anybody else's business. But, this is a television show, it is mean to be everybody else's business. For the reason, 'American Digger' and has earned the title 'The Bad'.

The Ugly:

A wild mummy chase across Egypt. Sounds exciting... except mummies can not run so it is really not a chase, but a hunt. 'Chasing Mummies' which has been aired on the History channel snags the title of 'The Ugly', though not for reasons you would expect.

A team of archaeologist, led by Dr. Zahi Haswass, travel across Egypt in search of ancient mummies. Although the show does not show anything being documented before being moved around, Hawass is Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and is trained in proper excavation techniques. What earns 'Chasing Mummies' the title of 'The Bad' is Hawass's attitude towards his team (and other people in general). Constantly yelling at them and calling stupid, the show is not complete without Hawass threatening to fire someone multiple times.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Authenticity and Expectations - 'The Mummy'

-No worries ~ no spoilers!-

If you have not seen The Mummy (and it sequesl- The Mummy Returns and Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) I highly recommended you do so. The Mummy highlights a thrilling adventure whereby Evelyn Carnarvon and her brother team up with the adventurer Rick O'Connell to locate Hamunaptra, the fabled 'City of the Dead'. The search turns into a race when O'Connell former friend Benny appears leading a group of Americans to the city. The Mummy contains all the plots needed to make a successful box office hit – a resurrected mummy, a ancient curse,“a cult of immortality, a love story that spans millennia, and accidental (or intentional) grave robbing”.i

Although The Mummy was a great hit and is still enjoyed today by many people (myself included), there are many components of archaeology and Egyptology within it that have been criticized. The first big criticism revolves around how the film portrays archaeology and archaeologists. The film is not centred around archaeology, but nonetheless there are archaeologist within it, and they are 'excavating' ancient Egyptian tombs. What is problematic is that in the case of the Americans (whose team has an archaeologist on it), they are portrayed as treasure hunters seeking a profit. When they do discover a tomb, proper excavation techniques are not employed. Instead they focus on getting into the tomb through whatever means necessary without doing any documentation. They remove the canopic jars and kept them for themselves. If proper archaeology was being done, these jars would be placed in a museum. However, that would not make for an exciting movie.

The next few criticisms relate specifically to Egyptology. Egyptology is defined as “[t]he study of the culture and artifacts of the ancient Egyptian civilization”.ii Near the beginning of the movie the Americans open a chest contain 5 canopic jars, 4 of which were intact and one which was broken. In ancient Egypt individuals were only buried with 4 canopic jars, which I have outlined below:
  1. Duamutef, the jackal-headed god representing the east, whose jar contained the stomach and was protected by the goddess Neith
  2. Hapi, the baboon-headed god representing the north, whose jar contained the lungs and was protected by the goddess Nephthys
  3. Imseti, the human-headed god representing the south, whose jar contained the liver and was protected by the goddess Isis
  4. Qebehsenuef, the falcon-headed god representing the west, whose jar contained the intestines and was protected by the goddess Selket”iii
Another inaccurate portrayal that falls under Egyptology is that of the scarab. In the movie scarabs are represented as flesh eating beetles used for the mummification of individuals who have been convicted of treacherous crimes. But scarabs did not eat flesh, rather scarabs were and worshipped by Egyptians and featured on much of the jewelry. Mythology has it that the scarab, who pushes a ball of dung in front of it, inspired the story of the god Kehpera, “he who came forth”, who pushes the sun along the sky.iv

Even though there are these controversies, which for the most part you would realize unless you were educated in Egyptology, The Mummy still presents a fun and action filled look into ancient Egyptian culture. The producers did not accurately portray certain aspects of it so as to entice viewers. The Mummy is a good example of how movie industries have to carefully balance accuracy, authenticity, and the expectations of viewers in order to create a box office hit.

iHirst, Kris. “The Mummy in Fiction.” Retrieved 3 April, 2012.
iiFarlex. “Egyptologist.” The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 3 April, 2012.
iiiWikipedia. “Canopic jar.” Retrieved April 3, 2012.
ivDigg! This. “Sacarab Beetle.” Ancient Egypt: The Mythology. Retrieved April 3, 2012.