Media Hype and Family Gossip

So THIS is the dramatic announcement “of one of history’s greatest mysteries” that was promised for February 17? 

As far as I can see, the press conference at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was a nice publicity promo for a novelty article in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association and free advertising for a new Discovery Channel documentary “King Tut Unwrapped,” scheduled to air on Sunday and Monday.  And of course it was another chance for the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities to strut its stuff.

But beyond the technological gimmickry of CAT scanned and DNA tested mummies, seamy references to incestuous marriages, physical deformities, and sudden death in the palace, have we really learned anything significant or even new from this “dramatic announcement?”

Archaeology Magazine’s Mark Rose offers his usual level-headed assessment that navigates between the hype and the minutiae of New Kingdom genealogy to offer us a reasonable view of the significance of the announcement, which– as I see it– tends to reduce ancient Egyptian history to a royal family soap opera by the Nile.

Look, Egypt is a vast country with major problems of poverty, overpopulation, religious fundamentalism, political authoritarianism, and environmental degradation– and the world’s press is called time and again to focus not on the significance of its history in the context of the present– but on “dramatic” discoveries about about ancient royalty that are possibly far more ambiguous than are claimed.

Egyptomania remains one of modern Egypt’s most important exports but it is a dream realm, like a New Age Atlantis, a canvas for modern fantasies.  It offers little in the way of historical explanation beyond pharaonic curiosities.  Maybe we should wonder how the remains of this civilization could be of more value to the modern reconstruction and development of Egyptian society than merely to be exploited as a source of entertainment, ancient celebrity gossip, mass tourism, and souvenir sales.


One thought on “Media Hype and Family Gossip

  1. Very good article!! I am a Middle Eastern history grad student in so cal and am working on a thesis that looks at the ways in which the American fascination with ancient Egypt throughout the twentieth century has influenced and shaped tourism in Egypt after World War II. Tourism became a point of interest for foriegn diplomacy and international relations during the Cold War as a way to promote American culture and thwart communism. The evolution and development of tourism in Egypt is reflective of the fact that the popular imaginings of Egypt in the United States directed the contemporary tourism industry. Conrad Hilton’s Nile Hilton hotel and Belly Dancing are two examples of how this has played out historically. I really like your final paragraph, it really sums up the major theoretical points of work on the subject.


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