Egyptology...What?

June 19, 2017

 

When I tell people that I'm majoring in egyptology, one of the most common follow-up questions I get is: "So, what is that, exactly?" While I recognize that there are many people out there familiar with the field of egyptology and everything it entails, I've gotten the impression that most of the general public is unaware of the finer details of the discipline and what being an egyptologist truly means. So here we go!

 

First thing's first: mummies. This seems to the be point that most people are fixed on when it comes to ancient Egypt, most likely due to the role of mummies in pop culture (shoutout to you, King Tut!).Yes, many egyptologists are also archaeologists: they do travel to Egypt to conduct fieldwork and work on digs, and they do find loads of interesting ancient artifacts (mostly pottery shards, called ostraca, but also jewelry, weapons, and, occasionally mummies)! However, being an egyptologist is not the equivalent of being Indiana Jones. There's so much more to the field than excavation and the discovery of new tombs. For every Howard Carter, there's ten more experts behind the scenes cataloguing and researching every discovery, translating every scroll of papyrus, and working diligently in museums and universities to keep Egypt's rich cultural heritage safe for generations to come.

 

One HUGE, often overlooked component of egyptology is linguistics. Language is so, so significant when it comes to studying the ancient world, particularly ancient Egypt. The Egyptians left a vast number of written resources behind, from literature, to religious documents, to trade records, to the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the walls of tombs, temples, and statues. These written sources play a vital role in helping us understand the world of the ancient Egyptians, even down to its most mundane aspects. Without the dedicated work of egyptologists translating these resources, we would be left in the dark about many parts of ancient Egyptian daily life, history, and customs.

 

There are a lot more career options for egyptologists than just working on archaeological digs, too. Egyptologists can be found teaching at universities, working at museums and research institutes, even writing books. It's also a field where many top positions are occupied by women. If you're interested in learning more about some of today's leading egyptologists, I would suggest researching Drs. Kara Cooney and Joyce Tyldesley. Both are published authors and university professors/lecturers, and serve as good examples of egyptologists who have done more than just fieldwork.

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