The Age of Egyptology

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Date Host Ian Punnett
Guests Toby Wilkinson, Mr. Lobo

The uncovering of Egypt's ancient past took place in an atmosphere of grand adventure and international rivalry. Acclaimed Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson joined Ian Punnett (Twitter) beginning in the second hour to describe this fascinating history. For most of the last 300 years, Wilkinson said, people have believed that "there's no ancient civilization as interesting and exotic as ancient Egypt." Emerging European powers saw the opportunity to connect themselves with the history and majesty of the culture as a way of reinforcing their ambitions of power and permanence. The late 18th century saw "an incredible rivalry between France and Britain" to procure and transport ancient artifacts such as statues, mummies, and obelisks, he added.

Wilkinson explained how the art of reading and writing hieroglyphics was almost lost by the time of the Romans, when the Egyptian civilization was already 3000 years old. Amazingly, "the last hieroglyphics were written in 394 AD," he noted, and not deciphered again until 1822, and even then, the translation was not fully decoded until 20 years later. Currently, Wilkinson related, we still cannot understand more than about "60-70%" of Egyptian writing. This is because we need to study the civilization in greater detail and understand more context for their language. One translation actually reveals a medical treatment that used an "electric catfish" from the Nile River to relieve migraines.

Interest in ancient Egypt was first rekindled in 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte arrived with his army. They also brought archaeologists and scientists along with the soldiers to excavate, study, and retrieve artifacts for the first time in modern history, although Wilkinson mentioned that the Egyptians knew full well that they were living on top of "a huge archaeological site" and regularly robbed tombs of their treasures. The idea of any sort of curse associated with tomb raiding, Wilkinson said, was basically "an invention of the media of the 20th century." Although some tombs had inscriptions that warned, "he who visits this tomb and does honor to the tomb will be blessed, and he who visits this tomb and does damage will be cursed," although he hastened to add that this was meant as a simple request asking people to "be respectful when they visited." Wilkinson specified that the history and royal drama made little difference to 95% of ancient Egyptians, who could not read and whose "biggest fear was premature death."


The first 30 minutes of the program featured Coast regular Mr. Lobo speaking about the history of classic Universal horror movies, such as the Wolfman, whom he referred to as "just having a bad day," and "The Mummy," whom Lobo characterized as "nobody's favorite monster." Relevant to the main guest, he alluded to the fact that at the time the film was released in 1932, "the whole country was in love with the Egyptian theme" because of the recent discovery of King Tut's tomb. The second half of the first hour featured Open Lines.



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