Science

Mummies for Dummies

Read this very funny article in today’s New York Times about an Egyptian archaeologist who has unearthed a new find. Dr. Zahi Hawass is Egypt’s chief Egyptologist. He’s exactly who you would get if Indiana Jones’ underappreciated assistant wrote a tell-all — all show, no substance.

To be fair, this article is very clearly biased (which is exactly what makes it so funny):

He has a theory about KV 63, but by the end of the day on Wednesday it was hard to know how much of that was show business and how much science, or whether there was a bit of both.

Hawass just found what is basically the ancient Egyptians’ Mummy for Dummies kit — a coffin containing a large amount of mummy-preparation materials. It sounds like a pretty great find. Even though the public at large would probably be more interested if it had contained, say, the reanimated corpse of an ancient pharoah with a taste for blood, the researchers would much rather have these tools. I mean really, if you’ve seen one reanimated pharoah corpse, you’ve seen ’em all.

Hawass’ theory is that the tomb where the coffin was found is the tomb of King Tut’s mummy’s mummy. That is, the boy king’s actual mother, who died during childbirth. It’s no reanimated corpse, but it probably sells the papers faster than “box of junk found in random Egyptian hole.” The problem is that other archaeologists aren’t so sure.

More snarky funniness from the article:

Deep beneath the surface, as Dr. Hawass performed for the cameras — pointing, thinking, walking, staring — Dr. Schaden stood off to the side and in a very clinical manner laid out what seemed to be a refutation of Dr. Hawass’s theory, though he did not call it that. He said there was some evidence linking the tomb he discovered to the tomb of King Tut.  . . . But, he said in his understated way, the team had not uncovered any evidence that mummies had ever been buried in KV 63.

Best of all, the article even talks about Dr. Jones’ Hawass’ underappreciated assistant:

All she could think about was the work involved in trying to remove and preserve the delicate items before her.

“It’s like powder,” she said, as if talking to herself. “I was happy, now I am worried. I am not sure I can save them.”

Ms. Lokma was asked a question about the contents and she looked up, saw Dr. Hawass and seemed a bit nervous. “Please,” she said, “ask Dr. Hawass.”

One can only hope that the next crazed mummy demon they come across decides to cast his evil spell over the more deserving party.

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Oh, and congratulations to TheCzech for winning yesterday’s “Best Snarky Comment” contest with his very first post, including such gems as “Hello LRH appendix! No part of our Lord and Master is useless!” and “Yay! We finally made it to LRH’s stomach! Ouch! It burns! It burns!” Way to go, TheCzech. You can pick up your prize hug in London this Saturday. Details are in yesterday’s post!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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4 Comments

  1. Just about what I'd expect from Dr. Hawass.

    My acrchaeology professor at uni has many stories to tell about this guy. He's seen as a bit of a joke by all the professionals doing digs, an extra bit of annoyance imposed on them by the Egyptian government.

    I've heard that he doesn't actually do any archaeological work, but just shows up with the cameras once the government is notified of a discovery (required by Egyptian law). He's basically an arm of the Egyptian gov't's tourism department- he hams it up for the cameras & reporters to draw in the tourists.

    To give credit where credit is due, he doesn't go in for anything pseudo-scientific, and he hates the woo-woo, to the point of having nutbags thrown out of the country occasionally. (Consipiracy!!!! The Egyptian gov't knows aliens built the pyramids and is trying to suppress me!!!11!!11!)

  2. Thanks for that, Rebecca and Scotty. Prior to reading those comments, I'd had some respect for Hawass, based on his (many) appearances in Ancient Egypt documentaries and news-stories. Without being told the background, I had believed he was a decent sort of chap, but now… hmmm… it's so easy to fooled by the right presentation and a bit of charm in front of a camera.

  3. Thanks for the recognition, especially since I happily snark for free. I wonder if there is a way to get paid for this. Hmmmmmm.

    I am, alas, going to be on the American side of the pond in the weeks to come, so I will have to accept my award in absentia. No doubt, there will be a deserving Londoner available to take the hug in my place.

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