Greetings once again, gentle readers! One of the positive benefits of staying indoors to avoid the sub-optimal air quality here is that I have been spending a lot of time catching up on my TLC/History/Discovery Channel programming! I discovered one night, much to my chagrin, that a new show was premiering on the Discovery Channel entitled ‘Out of Egypt’. A nice lady from UCLA was apparently going around the world to show us viewers how all sorts of other civilizations were influenced by the Egyptians. I had 2 issues with this right off the bat. 1) ‘Out of Egypt’ is the title of my Masters dissertation. 2) While I love my Egypt, not *everyone* was influenced by them but there are lots of fun parallels to explore. On the night of the premiere, I decided to give it a bit of a grudging watch to see what sort of madness would unfold. The first episode, naturally, was on pyramids. Pyramids of the world! Pretty standard for this sort of thing so we were off to a fair start. There was of course the usual traipsing around the Giza Plateau and surrounding areas to see pyramids of various ages and sorts, and then it was off to Latin America for a look at the pyramids of the Aztec and Maya empires. Once again, pyramids were walked upon, experts were spoken to and all of it was done in glorious HD. It was at this point I changed the channel and opted for the newest episode of ‘Mad Men’ because I just couldn’t take another segment of the show. Why? Let’s take a look at a basic breakdown of the issues and questions of the Egypt/Mexico pyramid adventure:
Show: OMG THESE PYRAMIDS WERE FULL OF TREASURE AND GOLD AND JEWELS AND PHARAOHS AND TREASURE!!!
Me: Well, yes…to a degree. Pretty shiny things would have been included because people tend to hold onto their good jewelry. One never knows what sort of parties might go on in the afterlife so you need to look your best. Also, pharaohs, being the kings (and queens!) and all that, would have had more jewelry and ornate things than the average Egyptian. It was all placed in and around the deceased so they could come back and use it in the afterlife…and then it was promptly plundered. There’s a very good chance the gold n’ jewels n’ treasure wasn’t around very long. It’s also very possible that bodies and goods never even made it into the pyramid for a myriad of reasons. Sooo…
Show: PHARAOHS WOULD HAVE BEEN IN HERE SURROUNDED BY TREAAAASURES!!!
Me: Didn’t I just cover this?
Show: OMG NO WAI MEXICAN PYRAMIDS ARE MADE OF STAIRS! THEY HAVE STEPS!!
Me: And so do Egyptian ones if they’re in Saqqara…
Show: OMG U GUYS. AZTEC PYRAMIDS WERE USED FOR HUMAN SACRIFICE! THEY WOULD RIP OUT THE STILL-BEATING HEART OF THE VICTIM AND KICK THEM DOWN THE STAIRS AND THERE WOULD BE BLOOD EVERYWHERE AND…
Me: *facepalm* Yes, sacrifices happened. Any point of the Latin American portion of the show would have been a wonderful time to mention that in the mythology of the area (Aztec, Mayan, Inca) the gods didn’t have blood because they were, you know, divine and godly and otherworldly and all that. Thus, sacrifices involving blood were required so the people could provide the gods with nourishing blood and in turn allow them to continue existing and provide food, rains, good battles, etc. Sometimes this blood came from the losers of a recent battle, sometimes it came from their own people. That’s just how they rolled. A lot of the flair was just that…flair. One needs to make sure your people and enemies know who’s boss.
Show: DUDE. THIS PYRAMID IN MEXICO HAS AN ANTECHAMBER. THIS IS SO UNIQUE I’VE NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE EVER ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. EVER.
Me: *points to Egypt* Pyramids have antechambers. So to all the tombs. Trufax.
Show: OMG U GUYS LOOK AT THIS CARVING THERE’S A TREE OF LIFE AND A BIRD ON IT AND IT’S FOR A KING SO IT’S SUPER PRETTY.
Me: Yay! Parallel to Norse mythology!! Yggdrasil anyone? Or any other type of Tree-Of-Life? No? No parallels? Oh, okay then.
Show: EXPERT MAN, TELL US ABOUT THE HUMAN SACRIFICES THE AZTECS DID.
Me: Didn’t we just do this?
Show: THEY HAD HORRIBLE BLOODY SACRIFICES RIGHT?!
Expert Man: Yes…they did.
Show: AND ALL THE PEOPLE WOULD WATCH THEM AND THE VICTIMS AND THE BLOOD EVERYWHERE?!?
Me: Is this show being serious right now?
Expert Man: They would have been in public, yes….people would have watched since it was usually for religious purposes…
Me: Wait, wasn’t this show about showing us connections between other cultures and Egypt? Where are my connections? Oh, hey! A new episode of ‘Mad Men’! *click*
Once again, my desire to change the face of historical programming on TV has been heightened. I’m sincerely hoping that the show I saw was the product of questionable editing. The host seems pretty knowledgeable, as she is an Egyptologist from UCLA with a PhD and everything, so I can only hope better questions were asked and that editing demons simply made off with the good sound bites. I was really hoping there would be some good connections made between cultures and it wouldn’t simply be a rehashing of the same tired and somewhat sensationalized information that gets recycled on these shows.
If you want some quality archaeology and/or history to watch, check out Time Team America. They do it right. Some parts are a little hokey but it provides the best overall depiction of the archaeological field process and the fun shenanigans and discoveries that occur in the field.