A leading Egyptologist explains how a 4,000-year-old culture continues to fascinate.
Brier (Senior Research Fellow/Long Island Univ.; The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man's Obsession Led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt's Greatest Mystery, 2009, etc.), known as “Mr. Mummy,” contends that ancient Egypt excites people in ways no other country can, possibly due to the age, monuments like the pyramids, mummified rulers or something less concrete. When asked for their greatest attractions, he writes, nearly all museum curators will answer, “Egypt and dinosaurs.” Brier is an expert on mummies and mummification and also collects objects associated with ancient Egypt. Some, like the letters Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamen's tomb, sent his sponsor, Lady Amherst, are close to his professional expertise. Others, like the packaging for Kamut breakfast cereal or sheet music for songs like “Old King Tut was a Wise Old Nut” or “Cleopatra had a Jazz Band,” reflect more of the popular interest exploited by marketers and entertainers. Brier became convinced that there is a kind of stratification in the production of these mass-market objects that is related to the different phases of the growth of knowledge of ancient Egypt. In the modern era, the beginning is marked by Napoleon's ill-fated invasion and the first large-scale scientific expedition. The author shows how the transport of three obelisks—to France, Britain and the United States—in the 19th century shaped a culture in which coverage by news media heated up public enthusiasm for all things Egyptian. There followed dinner sets, ladies' fashion accessories, sheet music and hit songs, and movies about mummies. Brier is sure that the fascination will continue.
A lively account combining history and popular culture with guidelines for possible future collectors.