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. http://archaeology.about.com/cs/egyptegyptology/a/firstplot.htm
iiFarlex. “Egyptologist.” The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 3 April, 2012. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Egyptologist
iiiWikipedia. “Canopic jar.” Retrieved April 3, 2012.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canopic_jar
ivDigg! This. “Sacarab Beetle.” Ancient Egypt: The Mythology. Retrieved April 3, 2012. http://www.egyptianmyths.net/scarab.htm

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