Books & Serenity

song du jour: Caravan, Ella Fitzgerald

mood: mmmm(!)

One of the coffins found in the newly discovered tomb, KV63

Have you ever seen a more serene face? When it comes to portraying the gaze into eternity, the Egyptians remain masters of all time. Even if you're not gaga for Egyptian art, most people find it impossible not to be struck by how compelling those faces are. For me, it beats the hell out of the nonchalant, lackadaisical expressions of the Hellenistic and Classical Greek era: "Oh, look, I'm a lovely woman lounging around in my vast amounts of drapery." and "Oh, look, I'm a fierce warrior slaying Achilles." always appearing pretty much the same from the neck up.

Alright, so the faces in Egyptian art don't change expression much either, but they catch the viewer up in their gaze beyond, inviting the viewer to do the same instead of just appearing mildly bored. Not that I'd turn my nose up at a trip to view more Greek art in situ, or sailing around the Aegean, or eating olives by the pound, or entertainment in the way of something tall, dark, and handsome... what was I talking about? Oh, right... art.

Bets are on that the face on the coffin pictured above is that of Ankhesenamun, wife of Tutankhamen. Unless, of course, it turns out to belong to a man, or they find the name of someone else on it when the team conserves the damage. She gets my vote for now. Funny, even before I read of that pure speculation, I'd thought of her as a possible candidate. As I said last week, the tomb was found by the team from the University of Memphis. It seems to be New Kingdom, probably 18th dynasty, and I had to laugh when I remembered my last trip to Memphis. Tennessee that is.

I was meeting with Dr. Lorelei Corcoran, co-director of the dig, and the professor who would have been my advisor had I not changed my mind about going to grad school at the last minute. I think I muttered something that gave away that I was less than enamored at the idea of studying the Greco-Roman period of Egypt, only for her to tell me that was her area of expertise. - I learned in that moment never to talk serious business without at least trying to research someone ahead of time. - When she asked me my area of interest, and I declared my love of the late 18th dynasty (Ankhenaten, Nefertiti, and Tut's world), she gave me a slightly patronizing though patient smile, as that era is considered so overly popular with wannabe Egyptologists and KMT thrill seekers as to be positively cliche. Well, Dr. Corcoran is up to her neck (literally) in the 18th dynasty now, in the kind of discovery that makes careers and legends.

Excavations at KV63 are still painstakingly going on, with the usual mum to the public enforced by Zahi Hawass, Supreme High Potentate of the Supreme Council of Anything Old or Valuable in the Grand State of Egypt. Dr. Zahi seems to be trying to singlehandedly bring down the illegal trade of antiquities, a laudable effort in theory, by a trickle backwards method. By making museums so afraid of purchasing anything that might have ever been smuggled out, no matter how long ago (as in back when the Egyptian government and people couldn't have cared less), I believe he hopes the dealers' trade will dry up, making them less likely to do business with the poor farmers, who get lucky looking for bits of the past in the fields like diamond diggers in Sierra Leone.

Unfortunately, neither the thirst of private collectors nor the complete poverty in which most Egyptians live is likely to dry up along with the acquisition of artifacts by museums. I suppose Dr. Zahi's grand plan is that by keeping everything in Egypt, people will either have to travel there, increasing the tourism industry, or rely on grand exhibitions like the one currently on tour in the U.S. Egypt is certainly making enough off this one to take care of a chunk of its citizens, but like all 3rd world countries, the problem is not one of lack. It's one of distribution, and the $$$ has to be funneled through the greedy politicians first.

What was I talking about? Oh, right art...

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