21st Century Reflections on the Study of Ancient Egypt with Peter Der Manuelian, Director of the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East

SPEAKERS

Jennifer Berglund, Peter Der Manuelian

 

Jennifer Berglund 00:04

Welcome to HMSC Connects! where we go behind the scenes of four Harvard museums to explore the connections between us, our big, beautiful world, and even what lies beyond. My name is Jennifer Berglund, part of the exhibits team here at the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, and I'll be your host. Today, I'm speaking with Peter Der Manuelian, a professor of Egyptology, and the Director of the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East who has spent an entire lifetime fascinated by ancient Egypt. I wanted to understand what captured his imagination in his early years, and what continues to inspire him in his vision for the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East. Here he is. Peter Der Manuelian, welcome to the show!

 

Peter Der Manuelian 01:10

Delighted to be with you. Thanks Jennie.

 

Jennifer Berglund 01:17

When did you first learn about Ancient Egypt, and what about it particularly gripped you?

 

Peter Der Manuelian 01:24

Well, that takes me back to memory lane, I think. It was growing up and fourth grade history class, Egypt was the topic then, and it just grabbed my attention somehow--the first part of school education that actively gripped my imagination. I don't think it was mummification particularly, or maybe even the pyramids, but it was something about the culture, so long-lived, and the wonderful, mysterious nature of Egyptian hieroglyphs that there could actually be a grammar and a language lurking back there, and then the style of Egyptian art just captured my thought. I also grew up in the Boston area, and so I had access to the Museum of Fine Arts collections, and I think that that certainly gave me the bug. If I'd grown up in another place without a wonderful Egyptian collection, I might have gone in another direction. After being exposed in fourth grade class, I was lucky to have these wonderful resources around me, and so, as I went through high school, I tried to sit in on any museum courses or Harvard courses where I could get permission, and so, anyway, to sort of feed that hunger, I took advantage of it as best I could. I'd first tried to work in the Egyptian department, and the first time around, they said sure, and then they rethought it and realized just how young I was, and I said, wait another year or so. So, I took some courses with them and gain their confidence, and in the summer of 1976, the Bicentennial year, that was my first connection with the Egyptian department at the MFA and with the field, and did a little bit of everything, you know, wheeling the objects back and forth to photography and conservation, assisting with visiting scholars, working in the galleries, helping to reorganize the library and the departmental offices. And then the following summer, the expedition then took me to the Giza pyramids, and that was a tremendous experience. Most expeditions in Egypt work during the winter months when it's more manageable in terms of temperature, but the curator at the museum in Boston was William Kelly Simpson, and he was MFA curator and professor at Yale University, so he was only free in the summers. So we worked at the Giza Pyramids during the hot months. My very first arrival at Cairo airport, I remember that was the summer that the very first Star Wars movie came out, and the first thing that hit me stepping off the plane in those days onto the tarmac because we didn't have the sort of enclosed corridors into the airport, and this raft of heat would just hit you in the face, and it was dusk, and I saw the desert in the sand all around the airport and the sun was going down, and my first thought was, "wow, this is just like Star Wars." And what made it extra special to as we worked at Giza, and this wasn't an archeological excavation, but it was an epigraphic, or documentation season. And by that, I mean that the Harvard-MFA expedition had worked at Giza and many other places for many, many years, and so there was a tremendous backlog of material, and many of the private tombs-not the pyramids, but the non-royal tombs that surround the pyramids-they all have decorated and carved and painted chapels, and so part of our work was to try to document to make facsimile line drawings of those tomb scenes and inscriptions for publication, so that's why we were there. We had the privilege of living on a houseboat on the Nile, and the breeze from over the river was certainly very helpful during those hot summer days. This was a Thomas Cook Steamer called the Fostat, and it used to be rented out for trips, and then it had a nice archaeological legacy during the Nubian salvage campaign when many expeditions worked down south because the Aswan Dam was going to submerge many Nubian archaeological sites, and then the engine was taken out of it, and it was parked permanently on the banks of the Nile, on the West Bank, near the Cairo Zoo in Giza, and that's where we lived. And that later became the residence of the Director of the American Research Center in Egypt, and then eventually, I think the taxes got too difficult and the ship was sold, but it had a glorious past and a glorious history. So we would take the, oh, in those days, 25-minute, 30-minute commute from the banks of the Nile, from the Fostat out to the Giza pyramids, and I still remember driving on the pyramids road, and eventually the pyramids would show up to the left in the background, and would be these gargantuan structures at the city's edge. Nowadays, there's so much development and high rises and things that you don't get a glimpse of the pyramids until you're basically out there at the site, but it was a tremendous experience. We had access to tombs that are normally locked and closed to the public, we were doing documentation, learning so much about the layout and the orientation, and I was sort of getting a handle on the magnitude of this site and trying to understand the layout of it and the development, and eventually would make that a major focus of my career and future years.

 

Jennifer Berglund 06:02

So tell me about that. How did you further develop those interests?

 

Peter Der Manuelian 06:07

Well, that's probably connected to where I grew up. So, the Museum of Fine Arts has a wonderful collection, and it was excavated by George Reisner, who organized the Harvard University-Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition, and that ran from about 1905, past his death in 1942, until it formally shut down in 1947. And so a tremendous backlog of not only antiquities legally divided between the Egyptian Government and the Expedition. These objects came back to Boston to the MFA, to Harvard's Peabody Museum, and also the archaeological records--the diaries, the glass plate negatives, and photos and drawings and maps and plans and manuscripts, all of this incredible material. So the MFA has one of the richest, most outstanding Old Kingdom collections, that's the pyramid age and the major period for Giza. So, think about 2500 BC or so, the fourth dynasty of the Pyramid Age. So, working in Boston, that sort of gives you a natural leaning towards the Old Kingdom with all of this fantastic material, and I ended up working at the site for many, many years, both in Boston with the excavation documents, and then out at the site as well, and I was hooked.

 

Jennifer Berglund 07:20

You mentioned George Reisner. The entirety of your career, you've worked with this George Reisner collection, and one of your major projects has been to digitize this massive archaeological archive of his. And he, as you mentioned, much like yourself, was a Harvard Professor and an MFA Curator, so it's interesting and very cool that you're sort of continuing that legacy. What's the value of this collection? And what are the greatest challenges you've faced caring for it?

 

Peter Der Manuelian 07:52

The value of Reisner's expeditions are just phenomenal. He worked not only at Giza, but at 23 different archaeological sites up and down the Nile. So, in modern Sudan or Ancient Nubia, and also in Egypt as well, and he really unlocked an awful lot of Egyptian and Nubian history. Not all of his interpretations make sense, and he was infected by the systemic racism of his age as well, but in terms of archaeological method and publications, and assisting scholars--Americans, Europeans, even Egyptians--training a well-honed work crew of Egyptians in photography and documentation and running the dig--he was ahead of his time in many ways. So the value of a collection like that is in the fact that it hangs together. It has an archaeological context. Reisner was at the forefront of responsible archaeological method, and that meant you documented as much as you could so that the excavation can be put back together on paper or virtually later by future scholars. So that means describing the site, photographing the site, keeping diaries of the progress of the work, making drawings and plans and architectural sections, and the discoveries all get numbers. Think early FileMaker, or Excel spreadsheet or database systems. He was right there with ledger books and registers and numbering systems, and it was all there. So the value of this collection is not only the great finds he made--objects of daily life, art historical masterpieces, royal statues, gold jewelry, from all up and down the Nile--but the fact that we have the archaeological context for it too. We know what pyramid or tomb or temple it came from. We know what room. We know the day it was found. We have the glass plate negatives to document the discovery. By the time he was done, there were 45,000 glass plate negatives in three different sizes, and for Giza alone, there were 21,000 glass plates. We might think back to the old days of 35 millimeter color slides before we had digital photos. Those are very nice, but back in the days of glass plate negatives, the size of these glass plates, the physical size is so big, but there's a lot of information there. So some of them are eight inches by 10 inches, others are five by seven inches, and the small ones at four by six are actually larger than, of course, 35 millimeter slides that replaced them down the road. So you can imagine that digitizing these gives you a tremendous advantage, and zooming in is fantastic. You can see incredible details. And the other reason they're valuable is because the monuments have suffered through a number of reasons, whether it's climate, or vandalism, or tourism, or just being reburied again for protection. So you can, in some ways, have more access to these archaeological sites through the photography than you could standing there in front of a monument today. It just may only preserve 30, or 60% of what you see in that photo from 1927.

 

Jennifer Berglund 10:47

Yeah, and that sort of gets to the heart of really why this collection is, is just so valuable, because you can continue to make discoveries for generations.

 

Peter Der Manuelian 10:59

When you have that foundation, you can build on it, so, not only more traditional archaeological interpretations, but then you can take that data and you can do new things, you can start scanning, and you can start constructing 3d models and restoring ancient colors, and creating immersive experiences, and all of these newfangled ways to make ancient sites accessible, they are now richer because we have that foundation of Reisner's archaeological documentation. One of my goals for the museum is to try to enhance our collections with technology all in the service of the educational teaching mission. So even before the pandemic came along, I was very interested in making the museum virtually accessible. So, using a technology called a Matterport camera, which, you may know from various real estate websites, where you can tour through all the rooms and decide if you want to buy. We created a model of the entire gallery space of the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East, so all three floors are available, and you can click through at your leisure, you can sort of run a self-guided tour, you can jump from one floor to the next. And then the pandemic hit, and this turned out to be a wonderful gift since you could get to the museum virtually. In terms of the Sphinx, this was an interesting story. There is a famous stelae that still stands, A stelae is just a big inscribed stone, usually with a rounded top that the pharaohs often issued their decrees or edicts or other types of propaganda. The stelae is 1000 years later than the Sphinx. So the stelae is about 1400 BCE, and the Sphinx is something like 24-2500 BCE, and a young prince from the New Kingdom, long after the pyramids were built, set this stealae up, and he told a particular story on it, basically, that he was a prince, and he loved to tool around at the pyramids, and he took a nap one day as the sun was overhead and the Sphinx appeared to him in a dream and basically said, "I am so covered with sand. If you will dig me out, I will make you Pharaoh." And he did, and he did, so the young prince, Thutmoe IV, took the throne, and then decided to inscribe this story on a stealae and set it up right between the front legs of the Sphinx. Propaganda? Undoubtedly. Did it really happen? I have no idea. But it's a wonderful text, and a mold and plaster cast had been made in the 1840s via an expedition from Berlin, and we had access to one of those. So, our curator Dr. Adam Aji, went to Leuven in Belgium where there was such a cast, and made a new mold from that using a sort of rubbery mold technique that he developed. We brought that home, we created a new modern resin cast of the dream steale--full size, full scale, and even pigmented and colored to look just like the granite of the original that is still out of the pyramids. And we set this up in our second floor gallery at the Museum of the Ancient Near East. And we felt that wasn't enough. We can't reproduce the entire Sphinx all around it, we just don't have the ceiling height in the space, so we made an augmented reality app. And so anyone can go on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and search for Dreaming the Sphinx, and it's free. And you can download that to your phone. And whether you're in the museum or at home, you can aim your phone either at the stelae in the museum gallery, or at a two-page PDF you can download that has a couple of hieroglyphs on it, and the stealer will pop up, and a line by line translation of the hieroglyphs in English will pop up. You can also get the Sphinx to appear as well, and there's a little time slider that lets you view the Sphinx as it is today, as it was in Thutmose's time around 1400 BCE, the New Kingdom, or all the way back in the Old Kingdom during the pyramid age. So we have a second version that's about to release on this that actually plays out a sort of an animation of the dream of Thutmose and other features that will be coming too, but for the moment, you can still have this experience even though you can't get into the museum. And we hope to develop more of these augmented reality experiences for our Mesopotamian Assyrian reliefs on the third floor, and other parts of the collection too.

 

Jennifer Berglund 15:13

I want to talk about another project that you all have done. You reconstructed this chair that was owned by Queen Hetepheres. Tell me, you know, who she was, the origin of the original chair, and how you learned enough about it to reconstruct it and put it on display at the museum.

 

Peter Der Manuelian 15:41

Sure. This is a wonderful story, ancient and modern. So, the year is 1925, and George Reisner was back here at Harvard teaching. He was taking one of his rare breaks from being out in the field, and he instructed the team to keep going on the eastern side of the Great Pyramid. There was another cemetery of so-called mastaba tombs, these big rectangular structures of members of his royal family. And a surprise discovery came when the photographer's tripod slipped, and turned out it wasn't in the limestone bedrock, but there was some plaster covering, and it was hiding something. And they cleared that away and realized they had some stairs and a shaft, and they went down the shaft and it kept on going and going. Most burial shafts at Giza might go five feet, 10 feet, 20, maybe even 30. This one went all the way down 90 feet, so 30 some meters or so. And so they thought, well, something pretty important must be down there if you have to bury it this deeply, and a little unfinished burial chamber went off to the side, and a mass of deteriorated furniture and stone and ceramic objects, and a beautiful alabaster or calcite sarcophagus was in there as well. So this was pretty exciting, as you can imagine, and Reisner basically said, "you better close this thing up until I can get back to Egypt and take over." And in fact, his rayas, or his Egyptian foreman, was the one who saved the day. The rest of the crew wanted to keep on going and the Egyptian foreman said, you know, let's just stop because only Reisner knows how to deal with something this tricky. And he shut the project down, and God bless him for doing that. Reisner got there, and eventually, the expedition spent the next two years essentially lying on their bellies and picking up with tweezers every tiny little fragment because, he said, "if we're ever going to reconstruct what this thing is, we've got to take care to document how everything collapsed, and in what direction, and if it's a box of furniture, and had vessels inside, you know, which way did they fall?" And a lot of the objects came from furniture pieces. There was a carrying chair that was stuck on four poles that you would hoist on your shoulders. There was another sitting chair, there was a bed, there was a kind of a bedroom canopy, a portable bedroom set, and other objects too. And it took a long time before they realized, "what was this thing? Who did it belong to?" And finally they came upon a hieroglyphic inscription that mentioned Queen Hetepheres. This is the mother of King Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid. And she was the wife of Sneferu, the first king of the fourth dynasty. So this was weird because you didn't have any superstructure, any building above ground as you normally would expect. It looked like kind of a secret burial chamber. And everyone was very excited and spent two careful years clearing out everything until they could have the VIPs come down the shaft and open up the lid of the sarcophagus and gaze on the only intact Old Kingdom royal burial ever found. So, four or five people were down there, they lifted the lid, they gazed inside, and it was empty. What? Don't you need a body for a successful burial in ancient Egypt? So, they were scratching their heads and they went back to Harvard camp, that was the dig house, for milk and cookies, and tried to figure out what was going on. Was this a tomb? Was she buried somewhere else and moved here? Where she buried here and move somewhere else? Was this some kind of ceremonial deposit of her grave goods and she was never buried here, but maybe nearby? Well, Reisner loved detective novels, and so he came up with a rather elaborate and romantic theory that originally the Queen was buried near her husband, Sneferu, at another pyramid site, and that tomb must have been plundered and the body destroyed, but no one had the guts to tell the young king Khufu that, "oh, your mother's body has been ruined." So they must have said, "well, we have good news and bad news. The tomb has been plundered, but she's fine." At which point he would have said, "okay, well, let's read bury her in the secret shaft I'm having prepared at Giza near my own pyramid," never knowing that the sarcophagus was empty. Well, it doesn't hold up, and there have been better a newer theories since that time, but none of them quite explain the whole story. There was another calcite, or alabaster, chest found in a niche that seems to have the remains of the Queen's internal organs. This is the so-called canopic chest, and we could still do some more analysis on those. So that may be all we ever find of the remains of Queen Hetepheres, but it's a sensational discovery made even more sensational because Reisner's meticulous documentation allowed a lot of the furniture and other objects to be put back together, often with modern wood, but the ancient gilding around them since all of the wood had deteriorated long ago. So that brings us to the chair. There was one chair that was put back together by a fabulous Egyptian conservator named Hagg Ahmed Youssef and the whole bedroom set is on display in the Egyptian Museum, and is probably moving now to the Grand Egyptian Museum, due to open soon near the pyramids. But there was a second chair, much more elaborate, fancy arms. There were Falcons flying on it and wonderful motifs, and a goddesses emblem on the back, but no one quite knew what it should look like. Reisner was kind of stumped. And it wasn't until after his death in 1949. He died in 42. In 1949, his assistant William Stevenson Smith finally created the reconstruction drawings of what this second, and more elaborate chair should look like. So we took those drawings and we thought, well, let's make our 3d computer model as we rebuild the whole tomb and allow people to virtually visit it. So that's one of the locations on our Giza website that you can go to. It's giza.fas.harvard.edu, and that's a wonderful virtual experience, but then we thought, and this is where my colleague, Russ Gant, had the idea, "why don't we try to build the real thing?" You know, most people go from a real monument and create a computer model. We went in the opposite direction. We had a computer model, why not try to create the first physical reincarnation of this thing? So we ended up learning a great deal about the ancient Egyptian construction process. We got real cedar wood, we got real gold, we learned how to bake faience inlay tiles, thanks to Kathy King and the ceramics program across the river in Allston. And bit by bit, over more than a year, using a computer-controlled sort of carving machine since we were not woodworkers, we actually had the computer carving the falcon shaped arms in the back and the legs with lion legs at the bottom, and put the whole thing together, gilded it, put faience inlays in, and we had a displayable object. So in Cairo, there is not one of these reproductions. They have everything else, of course, but they don't have this second more elaborate chair, and you can see that on the second floor of our museum.

 

Jennifer Berglund 22:26

You know, I had this really wonderful conversation with Jen Thumb at the Harvard Art Museums a few months ago about how part of the value of this work is getting into the heads of the makers, and giving the makers and the people of the past a name and a voice in our modern era. Do you feel similarly? And in reconstructing objects like the chair, do you feel like you're able to get into the heads of the makers and of people of the past?

 

Peter Der Manuelian 22:59

To a certain extent, I would say absolutely, and that is the goal of studying Ancient Egypt in the end. We try to put our own modern biases to one side as best we can, and it's never 100% accurate. And over the past, of course, we've got a lot of reconstructing to do, but we have their language, we have their texts, we try to read between the lines when there's propaganda, but in terms of the rich, rich material culture legacy, there's so much to study and enjoy. It's very easy to look at a finished product, and not be appreciative of all the decisions that went into it. Even balancing out columns of hieroglyphs, there are so many decisions that have to be made to stretch them out, to make them bigger or smaller. You can spell Egyptian words in many different ways, so you've got a lot of choices. In English cat is always C-A-T, but in Egyptian, you can add hieroglyphs or take them away, and so it's really quite a composition challenge. In making the chair, we faced a lot of these problems. Do we put the faience inlay bits into the wood first and then apply the gilding afterwards? What did the Egyptians do? Did they gild it first and then sort of puncture through the holes to set the faience pieces in? So although we use computers, and they didn't, we cheated, but we certainly learned an awful lot about the creation process, and we had so much more respect for how they put these things together. So yes, it's a wonderful combination of a learning process, an appreciation process, and there were skilled craftsmen like you wouldn't believe creating so much of this material record.

 

Jennifer Berglund 24:35

I wanted to talk a little bit about the sordid history of Egyptology and the history of colonialism within Egyptology, and you talk about the field as traditionally having many blind spots. Can you explain what you mean by that and how you feel that presents opportunities for the field to grow in the future?

 

Peter Der Manuelian 24:57

Sure. It's an interesting question, and especially for these times. So, in the very, very early days, a lot of what motivated Egyptology and early archaeology, and maybe we should put archaeology in quotation marks when we go that far back, was the motivation to prove, quote, unquote, the Bible. So there were a lot of agendas in terms of understanding the ancient Egyptians and where they came from, and racial theory came in, and people started measuring crania and skull size and trying to equate intelligence with skull size, and some try to differentiate between predynastic or prehistoric Egyptians, and the Egyptians who supposedly later came in and built the pyramids and did all of these incredible things almost as if there was some kind of dynastic race that must be from somewhere else. This stuff is too amazing, it couldn't be the locals who produced it. That was basically the thinking. And so, there was a pendulum shift back and forth. Where did these outsiders come from? They couldn't be Egyptians. They couldn't be indigenous. Did they come from Mesopotamia and through the Levant, that was one prevailing theory for a while. Then, because of Semitic connections that made some people uncomfortable, it shifted. Oh, they must have come into Egypt, from the west from Libya, and some fell to this interpretation that Egyptians or even Nubians are basically displaced, or wandering Libyans. So there's been a tremendous denial of the indigeneity of both Egyptians and Nubians further south. And that's been rectified, or being rectified, I should say, in recent decades. So, there's a breath of fresh air and new life, I think, being blown into Egyptology. We're hearing from marginalized voices that we haven't heard from before. Egyptology is interested in more interdisciplinary work with archaeological sciences and anthropology and the study of other cultures and ways that had been somewhat closed off in earlier decades, certainly in the more traditional training that I grew up with. So this is all to the good. At the same time, I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater, and some of these earlier scholars and archaeologists, though infected with the systemic racism of the milieu that they grew up with, you know, we can set aside some of those interpretations, but still recognize their accomplishments and their contributions in creating great collections, in uncovering fantastic sights in documenting what they found. And of course, there are a lot of other studies such as the grammar of the language and a craftsmanship and things like this that have continued and improved over generations. So Egyptology is an umbrella term for really so many subfields, whether it's grammar and philology, or archeology, or history, or art history, or study of costume, or ritual, or religion. So many of these things come under that rubric. So in each case, we need to know what we're talking about, what decade, what generation are we talking about? What are the agendas? Are these Westerners or Easterners we're talking about? And try to get it as straight as we can now. I think that future generations will look back on us, and they'll have correcting to do, so it requires a bit of humility as we go forward, but I'm encouraged by what I've seen in recent years.

 

Jennifer Berglund 28:10

What's your vision as Director for the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East over the next decade? What kinds of things you hope to accomplish and what would you call the ultimate success?

 

Peter Der Manuelian 28:23

Well, our museum is much smaller than the MFA, of course. The MFA is huge. The Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East is much smaller, and it used to be called the Semitic Museum, and we changed that name because we felt Museum of the Ancient Near East is more inclusive and more descriptive of the different ancient cultures from that part of the world that we hold. Semitic Museum was always a confusing term for most people. They didn't know what the word meant, or they thought it was a Jewish museum collection only. So, we house objects from many, many different cultures--Egyptian and Assyrian, Babylonian, Philistine, Israelite, Phoenician, all kinds of things. So, this is one reason we changed the name. And we're certainly aware that Near East is a problematic term as well, you know, whose perspective are you talking about? If you live in China, it's not exactly the Near East. But we felt that geographically where we're situated in Cambridge, this was the best we could do. We didn't want to call it the Harvard Museum of the Ancient World because that would be presumptuous. We don't have collections from the entire ancient world, just from this part of Mediterranean, Middle East, Near East, whatever you want to call it. So my view of success for this museum is to enhance the collections that we have from these different cultures, with technology. So to put more on view, to provide the students with more, sort of enhanced learning experiences, whether it's augmented reality or virtual reality, or websites that they can access when they're in their houses and rooms, you know, down by the river and not necessarily in the building. But I also hope to build out the museum as a must-see destination. I always tell the undergraduates that you're not allowed to spend four years at Harvard without at least setting foot in the building once. And I would love to have some festive occasions too where we could be a destination, and I don't know if that's within the safe parameters in terms of what the building can hold and all of that, but to have some gatherings or parties, or we've done escape rooms in the past that have been very popular. So I want people to know where we are, and that we're a cutting-edge museum that not only has these objects from the distant past, but we're bringing them to life in new ways with new ways to experience them, whether it's 3d scanning and printing, or rotating 3d models on the sketchfab website, or enhanced augmented reality. You know, many times an object is in a display case, and you can't see what's inside, or you can't see the inscription on the back because it's up against the wall. These are things that we can resolve with 3d modeling, and website access or 3d printing, so ways to manipulate these objects safely, obviously, without touching them, and they're non invasive techniques. So lots of ways to improve the collection. We'd love to improve the building too. All kinds of climate control improvements and things that we could bring as well. I won't go into details on all of that, but if anyone wins the lottery out there, please let me know.

 

Jennifer Berglund 31:14

What do you personally think the value of studying the ancient world, particularly Ancient Egypt, is to us in the modern era?

 

Peter Der Manuelian 31:27

Well, the gen-ed, the general education program at Harvard, which is a series of different courses and undergraduates are required to take selections from those, we're refocusing a lot of those to have a connection to the present world today. So, engaging with a modern problem or relating to how the students can be trained to be global citizens, and how some of these topics affect their life. So, it's been an infusion of fresh air for me to teach my survey course on Ancient Egypt called Pyramid Schemes, and I love making these connections between their current experience and the ancient world, whether we're talking about propaganda, alternative facts, fake news, you know, the Egyptians did that too, and many of their royal inscriptions, what they claimed they did, or even individual elite members talking about their autobiographies and their tomb chapels about all that they accomplished, and whether we should believe it or not. But the aspirations are often the same. And I try to ask the students, think about these ancient Egyptians, and what's your connection across the millennia? And I ask them, either they were just like us, or they were nothing like us, and which way are you leaning given this particular time period or set of historical events. So they have the same hopes and dreams and aspirations, wanting to live in security, have enough food and shelter, and of course, thinking of the big questions. How long will I live? What will happen to me after I die? How do I prepare for that? What's the equipment I need for a successful existence in this world and in the next one? We think about all of these big time questions now just as they did. We may have different-shaped gods and different solutions and different types of burial equipment and grave goods that we deem are important from what they had, but I think the human experience, in many ways, is quite similar, once you look beyond the exotic and foreign looking trappings. So there's a connection there, and then I think there are lessons to be learned as well, whether it's studying how ancient climate change affected decision making and empires rising and falling, dictatorships, the rights of individuals, the rights of women, all of these are live issues in ancient Egypt, and of course, they're live issues today. So I see a continuity. I see a need for context. And you can't just jump in without a larger view of the region that you're interested in, or where you come from, or what you're studying. So, I see this as nothing but advantageous to have exposure to these kinds of experiences with the ancient world, and bring them forward, wherever they go, doesn't have to be on into a career of Egyptology. They could end up in law school or international relations or whatever it is, but I think that skills come with studying these cultures, and they can be applied in many different directions.

 

Jennifer Berglund 34:14

Peter Der Manuelian, thank you so much for being here. This has been fascinating.

 

Peter Der Manuelian 34:19

It's been a pleasure to talk about these things and share a bit of the passion for Ancient Egypt. Thanks so much.

 

Jennifer Berglund 34:28

Today's HMSC Connects! Podcast was produced by me, Jennifer Berglund, and the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture. Special thanks to the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East, and to Peter Der Manuelian for his wisdom and expertise. And thank you so much for listening. If you liked today's podcast, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podbean, or wherever you get your podcasts. See you in a couple of weeks!