Egyptian Action Figures?!

Staff members have been helping out during our very, very busy fall exhibitions by taking guard duty in the permanent galleries. A number of colleagues have dropped by my office to share visitor comments regarding the Egyptian galleries (always good comments and fun stories). This morning, Laura F dropped by and made my day with her anecdote. When she was on duty in the Egyptian gallery, a small boy of about 9 zoomed passed her straight to the vitrine with our two statuettes of Isis and Horus and one of Osiris with great excitement. “Egyptian action figures!” he exclaimed enthusiastically.
(Laura’s rendering of story also made it very funny.)

I howled with laughter! It made my day!

A rather poor photograph taken by yours truly this morning of the so-called 'Egyptian Action Figures.' (The Museum is not open to the public on Mondays, so the galleries are not lit... hence the poor photograph.)

A rather poor photograph taken by yours truly this morning of the so-called ‘Egyptian Action Figures.’ (The Museum is not open to the public on Mondays, so the galleries are not lit… hence the poor photograph.)

An afternoon with Agatha Christie

On Sunday, I went to the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History and spent part of the afternoon with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, in the exhibition Investigating Agatha Christie. I have been a fan of Hercule Poirot for decades–and have been re-reading all volumes in order these last couple of years–and, evidently, I know of Christie’s work on her second husband’s archaeological digs.

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Photo taken by my brother, who tagged along for the afternoon.

The exhibition was interesting because it presented Agatha Christie beyond archaeology (I wished there had been more of that, though).  We learned more about her as a girl (with great family pictures to go with the information) and while I knew she had been trained as a nurse, I didn’t realise that she also had a degree in pharmacology.  No wonder there is murder by poison in several of her novels!

The second floor was dedicated to archaeology, Near Eastern archaeology to be precise because Sir Max Mallowan worked at Ur, Niniveh, and Nimrud (among other places), but there is a small section on Egypt as well.  Artefacts from the British Museum in London as well as the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto were displayed in this archeological section. There were great excavation photos and I did notice on a wall panel a mention that certain archaeological sites presented in the exhibition had been destroyed by Daesh this past year (many people gasped at reading this).  That touched me particularly…

I visited on my own, but there was a guided tour at my heels and I did eavesdrop a little (it was hard not to!).  Should you plan to visit the exhibition, do take the guided tour–it sounded like great fun! The exhibition brings remarkable context to the literary work of this prolific author and it’s worth a visit if you’re a fan of Poirot, Miss Marple or anything else written by Agatha Christie.

 

Alexander the Great and Star Wars

If you’ve been following my blog for while, you should know what’s going to happen in this post.  I’m going to make a crazy link between ancient history and Star Wars… You know that, right?  (I’m very tempted to quote Simply Red here…)

It’s probably not the link you have in mind, though…  If you’re thinking about Samurais, you’re on the wrong track (even though you’re right). In fact, it’s something a little bit more personal, an idea I came up with when I was young: a weird connection between Alexander the Great and Luke Skywalker…

One of three things I absolutely wanted to see at the Archaeological Museum of Naples when I was there in 2014: the famous Alexander Mosaic, representing the Battle of Issus, between Alexander and Darius III.

In my head, Alex was like Luke, a young a man of convictions, fighting an enemy in order to free his universe.  He had the Greek philosopher Aristotle as mentor (Jedi master Obi-wan Kenobi) and his father, Philippe II, was assassinated (Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were killed by the Storm Troopers)… Then, all you need to do is replace the Achaemenid Persian Empire by the Galactic Empire and Darius III with Emperor Palpatine… Needless to say, I had loads of imagination and even if the comparison might be a tad flawed, you get the drift! (Hey, I was just a kid!) Sometimes, one needs to find cool ways of remembering historical facts and people and if Star Wars can help you figure it out, go for it!  Even if you can’t quite make Darth Vader fit in there…

While one of the best military commanders in history and a general never defeated on the battlefield, Alexander failed to fill in the infrastructure vacuum after the fall of the Persians. As as result, at his untimely death in 323 BCE, his vast empire was divided amongst his generals and soon chaos and strife took hold of the Hellenistic world, a world he had fought so hard to unite.

Now what remains to be seen is whether something similar happened in that beloved galaxy far, far away… Were the Jedi able to build a peaceful universe…. or did it go to Hades in a hand basket? I’ll find out tonight…

The Hangman’s Daughter and Emperor Augustus

I am currently reading Oliver Pötzsch’s international bestseller, The Hangman’s Daughter, a story that takes place in Bavaria in 1659, after the 30 Years war. Although the characters live in a small town called Schongau, there are many references to the big town nearby: Augsburg. One of the reasons I am enjoying the book is that, earlier this year, after the CIPEG conference in Munich ended, I visited Augsburg with my friend Dana. What on earth does that have to do with archaeology?

Well, the city of Ausgburg was actually found in 15 BCE by Tiberius and Drusus on the order of their step-father, Roman Emperor Augustus. (I’ll admit that I do have a soft spot for Augustus…) The city, Augusta Vindelicum, which was originally a military camp, soon prospered thanks to its prominent location at the crossroads of various trade routes and became the capital of the Roman province of Raetia. While there is a Roman Museum in Augsburg that would have liked to visit, it was closed during our day trip. I’ll have visit again because I would very much like to learn more about the Roman period in Augsburg and the region.

On this note, I leave you with three photos of this beautiful city… including a nice shot of a statue of Emperor Augustus.

Playing Memory during Thanksgiving

During holidays like (American) Thanksgiving and Christmas, I bring out my archaeological/Egyptological Memory game, which I set up on the coffee table in the living room. When I walk by (while otherwise puttering around the house), I try to find matching pairs of artefacts or galleries of the Neues Museum in Berlin.

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A memory game fit for archaeologists and Egyptologists, given to me by my good friend Dana (who happens to be an Egyptologist herself).

When 5pm rolled around, I was officially off for the long Thanksgiving weekend and the game came out.  I have already found four out of thirty-six pairs. (Still looking for Nefertiti.) Even though I do have some activities planned this weekend, I’m pretty sure I’ll find them all by Sunday evening!

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends.

 

Musing about film canisters

When I did laundry earlier this week, the ribbon from my pyjama bottom came out of the waistband. As I threaded it back on, using a safety pin, I mused about the little container I use to store all my safety pins: a photo film canister.

obsoleteDigital cameras having replaced the film ones, the little canister is now an obsolete object, a rare thing. Strangely enough, film canisters were rather useful archaeological digs back in the day. Team members would “collect” them during the year and bring them on the dig each season. We had tons! What were the film canisters used for, you ask? Well, they came in really handy to store the small tiny objects like beads and amulets, which were carefully placed inside with a label and cotton batting so they wouldn’t rattle around. Nowadays, small objects get placed in mini Ziploc bags, but they aren’t quite as protected as in the film canisters. Small objects now need to be placed in baskets separately from the big artefacts because the latter can crush the small items. In this day and age, there are probably very young archaeologists who have never used a film canister on a dig…. Heck, maybe some of them have never used film cameras!

Back to the Future Day

October 21, 2015 was the day on which Marty McFly travelled to the future in Doc Brown’s time-travelling DeLorean in Back to the Future II.  I love those movies and yes, I have found a way to connect them to archaeology….

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As archaeologists, we study the past through archaeological excavations… but millennia separate us from the historical periods in which we are interested and to which we devote our lives.  What we find on digs is only a small percentage of what was there thousands of years ago.  And even if we do find lots of architectural vestiges, written texts or artefacts, sometimes it’s rather difficult to figure out what they mean and how they were used. That’s when we wish we had a plutonium-powered flying DeLorean so we could travel back in time… and figure it all out.

How cool would it be to figure out how the pyramids were actually built?  To stand with the masses as the barque of Amun is borne in procession during the Opet Festival? To ask Akhenaten what the heck was he thinking when he decided to be depicted in that odd fashion? To glimpse at Cleopatra and discover if she really was all that and a bag of chips? To witness the Romans get their butts kicked by a powerful Nubian queen?

Would you want to know? Or would you rather the past remained mysterious? Or would you rather travel to the future… and give the archaeologists there a few hints about what is going on back in good old 2015?!

Happy Back to the Future Day!