Egyptologists from the Planet Vulcan.

Egypt0061On Thursdays from 8 AM-12 PM, the five undergraduates studying Egyptology at Johns Hopkins would gather in the Near Eastern Studies room—nicknamed “the Fish Bowl”—of Gilman Library’s basement for four rollicking hours of uninterrupted Middle Egyptian text reading. Presented here, in a fairly regular manner, will be some of my favorites from that class.

One of my favorite things about the field of Egyptology has always been Egyptologists who never studied anything Egyptian. These are the guys who show up at conferences at the Oriental Institute in Chicago dressed as Vulcans, who storm the stage in order to read from their manifestos about how Akhenaten‘s lost city was a secret portal for the Stargate and how we should all be preparing for his imminent return. What’s even more dangerous/fun is when one of these Egyptologists (and/or Representative of the United Federation of Planets) has a PhD. You hear Dr. So-and-so of Oxford University, and automatically assume he’s some sort of authority on the subject he’s talking about.

Unfortunately, such is not the case. The field has a rather large group of outliers, most of whom couldn’t tell the difference between a talatat and an ostracon. Case in point: the thin volume I picked up at a used book store in England, The Influence of Ancient Egyptian Civilization in the East and in America by Dr. G. Elliot Smith. Ancient Egypt? In the East and in America? Sounds fairly earth-shattering, especially considering all of this was discovered in 1916! And then, you read the fine print under Dr. Smith’s name: Professor of Anatomy in the Victoria University of Manchester.

Turns out that Dr. G. Elliot Smith is Dr. Grafton Elliot Smith, an ingenious anatomist (one of the first specialists to study the evolution of the human brain), a legendary forensic Egyptologist (the first person to x-ray a mummy) but a really wacky historical Egyptologist. Dr. Smith was a proponent of hyperdiffusionism, the theory that all human technology and civilization emanated from a single starting point. For Dr. Smith, this starting point was ancient Egypt. Though his book did contain some very intriguing illustrations (pictured below), I guess his theory didn’t hold much weight, even back then, as most of the quarto-pages in The Influence of Ancient Egyptian Civilization in the East and in America remain uncut.

Thus, we should:

  • Only listen to Egyptologists who hold PhDs in Egyptian-specific fields,
  • Prefer those with German last names, and,
  • Not trust those with pointy ears, especially if they’ve just announced to the conference that they have their phasers set on stun.


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Filed under Matters Archeological &. Egyptological//

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