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'Lost Treasures of Egypt': Common Egyptology and archaeology myths—debunked

'Lost Treasures of Egypt': Common Egyptology and archaeology myths—debunked

Don't get confused!

Text: Genie Leong

History is peppered with myths and misunderstandings—and Ancient Egypt, as well as the archaeology work that goes into learning about the ancient empire, has its fair share of common myths to lay to rest

Ancient Egypt is known as one of the greatest ancient civilisations to have ever existed. With a history spanning over 30 centuries, it has long been a location of high interest for archaeologists all around the world. We were able to catch a quick conversation with archaeologist and Egyptologist Dr Meredith Brand, who features on the National Geographic series Lost Treasures of Egypt S3, about the misconceptions surrounding her work and Ancient Egypt.

In addition to the fascinating historical and cultural information Dr Brand shares on Lost Treasures of Egypt S3, we also unearthed the truth about some widely-believed myths on the Ancient Egyptians and archaeology.

1) Hollywood’s depictions of archaeologists and Egyptologists, and their expeditions, are accurate—False

Films like The Mummy and Indiana Jones actually present rather distorted images of what the fields of archaeology and Egyptology are like, with unrealistic portrayals of the experts working in these lines of work. These movies tend to poorly capture how methodical archaeology is, as well as misrepresent how archaeologists are while on a job.

“Physical expectations of people that come from these Hollywood movies are ridiculous,” Dr Brand says, referring to how Hollywood movies have glamorised depictions of the way archaeologists live and work whilst in the field. This applies to the clothing worn while at dig sites too. “You wear clothes that are suitable for working in the hot sun and you have your heavy boots, your long pants,” says Dr Brand, who adds, “No one wears tiny little shorts.”

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2) Cleopatra was a seductress—False

This common (and honestly, sexist) misconception about Cleopatra being a great seductress who had the power to bend men to her will is more fictional than the very movies that perpetuate this myth. Cleopatra was quite intelligent and a skilled leader, which infuriated the Romans who wanted to claim Egypt as part of the Roman Empire. This common misunderstanding about Cleopatra undermines her work as ruler, minimizing her power and achievements and defining her by the men she encountered.

Dr Brand states a valid point: “Women would like to be recognized for their own work and efforts, and not who they were romantically involved with.” This is relevant to most women, regardless of what time period they come from.

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3) What you see on archaeology shows are exactly what happens in real life—False

In a field as detailed as archaeology, it should be no surprise that what is shown on screen is only a portion of what happens in real life. The time that a TV show runs for is just simply not enough to contain every single detail. Hence, productions tend to include only the most exciting snippets. “There's just so many zillions of hours of footage that are probably never going to be seen, but it's people actually doing the work,” Dr Brand says. “Because you have an hour to do an episode, you kind of have to get to the most exciting bits,” she explains.

So, what you eventually see is actually a compacted version of the real deal, a small peek into the world of archaeology, but thrilling discoveries are all “the results of countless hours of hard work”, and what is pieced together for each episode is only the tip of the iceberg.

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4) Pursuing archaeology and/or Egyptology is high cost, low reward—False

Both fields are definitely rather niche and are known to include long work hours with no shortage of trial and error. However, for anyone interested in entering the field, there is bound to be much to gain. Furthermore, it’s common for students to opt for degrees that are more applicable to various fields and job opportunities due to the pressure to be employable after graduating, which in many cases means that young people give up what they’re passionate about.

Dr Brand states: “Fewer and fewer students are open to majoring in something that is strange or different, or maybe the path to a job is less obvious.” Yet, with so much left to discover about our past, archaeologists are at the forefront of unearthing and recording history. Going into archaeology isn't a dead-end, as expertise in a field that is less populated enables young people to stand out from the crowd and offer skills their peers can't.  "I would love to see people coming into university being brave and studying something that they're passionate about.”

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Lost Treasures of Egypt S3 premiered on Thursday, Dec 9 at 9pm on National Geographic with the first episode in the series, 'Ramses' Rise to Power'. New episodes air weekly.