The Apple science site is celebrating a 3D archaeological “find” detailing — The Amulets of Seramon, including the Dung Beetle seen blow — where the trinkets of an ancient priest of Thebes are now revealed for the first time in 3,000 years.


Seeing amulets inside a royal scribe and middle-class “Egyptian of importance” is a keen and fun thing, but is it good science and does this sort of promotion create good cultural morality?

Does the virtual 3D dissection of Seramon play to our better intentions — or does this artificial archaeological process instead indicate a debased, patriarchal, need to celebrate wealth and power over the ordinary?

I ask you: “If Seramon were s slave and not a priest, would he be given the same investigation and celebration 3,000 years after his death?

In  a previous article I wrote here in Urban Semiotic on November 22, 2006 — “Worthy of History:  Only Expensive Things Survive” — I argued this:

The perversion of the historical accuracy of
how our ancestors lived, and how we currently live, is created by
preserving only expensive possessions — tokens, icons, valuables – and
in the purposeful construction of indestructible architectural
monuments used by the privileged few.

History is skewed by this preservation technique because it only
pretends to tell future generations how people actually lived.
When we visit museums we are only seeing what the powerful majority of
the culture of that time deemed important enough to save and pass down.

Why are we so excited and interested in the lives of the previously rich, famous, and well-connected? 

Are our own lives modest and depraved in comparison with the past?

Does our infatuation with historical glitter plague our present by imperializing our human ancestry?

Does the ordinary life of the commoner deserve the same protection of history and modern scientific celebration?

Do we have any interest or research money to divine the ugly and the misbegotten that survived before us?

Or do we only acknowledge what our ancestors wanted us to remember by their determined — and transparent — preservation of the powerful and their indicating of what they believe we should know is important and charitable?

14 Comments

  1. I see that history is written by those who write history. If enough people put the historical writing out there it will gather notice. Start out small and grow it over time. McMenamin’s didn’t start out with all of their present pubs, movie theaters, and hotels – they started with one pub and grew into what they are now over time. Not exponential growth, but sustainable logarithmic growth.
    So too can we grow “indie” history writing.

  2. Archeology is expensive, Gordon. The old digs in ancient Egypt were paid for by wealthy men who expected to reap the riches of the tombs. In many ways we’re in the same condition with this Seramon discovery. It took tons of money and time to “find” the hidden amulets in the mummy without disturbing the mummy and then render them for us all to see.
    Would the same time and money be expended on revealing the life of an ancient slave — or are glamor and money and the Apple science page only reserved for those who were in historical positions of power?

  3. Of course they wouldn’t – at least not by the Grand Science Community. That’s what makes it a damn shame.
    If there would be sufficient interest, it could be microfunded – my five dollars might not do much good but my five dollars with your five dollars with Janna’s five dollars adds up to millions. Hmm. I hope I’m not sounding like a Socialist here. 🙂

  4. I think you’re right, Gordon, and it is terribly depressing that only part of these ancient ruins and archaeological digs are valued for the prizes they reveal and not for the ordinary life that spun below the wealth and opulence.
    There are some museums in Nebraska that try to show “life as it was” during the Dustbowl Days on the prairie but then you turn the corner and there’s the opulent ancient silk from Persia adorning the sitting rooms of the rich politicians of the time.
    So much of these historical dioramas focus on what was decided to be preserved instead of what we need to know wasn’t preserved — and for what reason.

  5. David,
    What are we going to do about it?
    I always see it as – it’s down to us. There’s always something we can do.
    Where can we start? What can we do?

  6. We write articles about it and hope people read the argument to do the right thing, comment on the article, and then be hopeful enough to support the right sort of history preservation!

  7. I think you’re right on the center of it, Katha. Old money talks and new money walks. The poor and the powerless are not only forgotten they are made worthless in the now because of their station then.

  8. David!
    What a probing topic!
    it’s a pity that we may never know what history has failed to record and preserve what isn’t found in archeological digs. but in a way, that too says a lot doesn’t it?

  9. You’re exactly right about that, Dananjay. What we choose to protect and show future generations speaks to our values. It’s too bad that those in the best position to preserve the record are those in the majority power with the ability to shape the vision of us in the future.

  10. Yes, we are consumed by the lifestyles of the rich and famous! The Tutankhamon exhibit has got to be the most successful in history. I remember going as a teenager in NYC and having to have tickets for it. And there was still a line–
    And people are lined up to see the crown jewels at the Tower of London, and the rest of it, you can easily view.
    Thank goodness for the Williamsburgs and Old Salems that show and attempt to preserve life as it was.

  11. Donna! Absolutely right! We worship the “baller” lifestyle even today on all those raggedy celebrity shows and websites! I guess it’s because we have such miserable lives? Tut and the jewels are right on point. Isn’t Williamsburg sort of a tourist trap? I do agree that places like that are better than nothing. I’d just love to see a worldwide exhibit celebrating the life of Tut’s slaves and then see the people line up to wonder on those that served him.

  12. I don’t know enough about Egyptian burial.
    But who knows what the Egyptians did with the slave bodies and their stuff. They took such great care to preserve the royals burying them with all their gold and finery.
    Maybe nothing to find. I know that sounds cold, but that maybe the truth . . .

  13. I appreciate your experience, Donna. The slave towns used to create the pyramids were buried under as part of the architecture plan for the land. They’re starting to excavate those sites now, but not bodies yet. Slaves that were “part of the family” were sometimes buried in the tombs with the royal families.