December 17, 2010

I really like museums.  On my 10-day London/Paris trip last month, I went to six of them.  On Wednesday this week, I went to the Denver Art Museum with my mom to see the King Tut exhibit.  (The Denver Art Museum is a world class museum with excellent collections of western art (of course), pre-Columbian American art, and Native American art.  Highly recommended.)

I like museums because of the stories they tell, and the stories they make me think about.  Here’s what I thought while looking at the King Tut artifacts:

It was somebody’s job to make little model boats to go into pharaohs’ tombs.  That’s probably all this person did.  Maybe the whole family made little model boats to go into tombs, and the parents taught the children, who taught their children, and maybe that went on for dozens of generations.

I asked Mom, “So what if we got a time machine and brought one of these craftspeople forward in time and showed them their thing set behind glass so people could come look at it?”  Mom said, “They’d probably say, ‘Why are you showing people this one, I had this other thing that was so much better!'”  She’s probably right.

I thought about how this entire economy was bottom-up.  All that labor, all those resources, all for the benefit of the kings, and all sealed up in those tombs.  How unsustainable that is.  (I wish those folks who think tax breaks for the wealthy are a good idea because it will somehow “trickle down” would think about this for a little bit.)  But it wasn’t unsustainable because the tombs all got robbed, which means maybe the tomb robbers were actually an important part of the economy, ensuring that all that wealth and resources went back into circulation.  Must think on this.

Speaking of which, so you know how the pharaohs filled their tombs up with things they would need in the afterlife, so their time after death would be filled with ease and luxury?  And you know how almost all the tombs were robbed?  And that the pharaohs themselves did a lot of the robbing?  They’d take statues and grave goods from previous burials, scratch the names off, carve their own in, and repurpose the goods and statues and stuff for themselves.  Okay, so what if the Egyptians were right about what goes on in the afterlife?  So you’ve got this high-and-mighty pharaoh who has died, and he’s in the afterlife now thinking, “Oh yeah, now I’m set, I’ve got my boats and my clothes and furniture and shabtis to do my work, and. . . Hey, wait a minute.  I’m supposed to have all this stuff.  Where’d it all go?”  And the other pharaohs are sitting around without any of their stuff, and they tell him, “Oh, your grandson took all your stuff, scratched out your name and put his name on it.”  “Why that little pipsqueak!  I’ll murder him!”  Can’t you just see it?  The arguments as all the pharaohs are in the afterlife yelling at each other for stealing their stuff?

And that’s why I like museums.


7 Responses to “museums”

  1. Debbie W Says:

    Wonder what you would think about an old exhibit the Witte Museum in San Antonio used to have: shrunken heads from South America. I hear they don’t have it out for the public any longer but it was a creepily popular stop when I went there as a kid!

    Wish I’d been able to see the Tut exhibit when it was in Dallas a few years ago. Always wanted to be an archaeologist as a kid.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Something vaguely like the pharaohs scenario you described was brought up in Terry Pratchett’s “Pyramids”. Quite amusing the way he did it.

  3. Beccy Higman Says:

    My favourite museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford also had shrunken heads.

    But the reason it is my favourite is that it displays things by function so you get ways of using yarn, weaving, knitting, knotting and so on from all over the world side by side. Or musical instruments. Or cooking pots. The best thing of all you can open the drawers under the display cabinets and find more treasures. I love that place. Oh and you have to go through the University Museum s dinosaur display to reach it 🙂

  4. spiderorchid Says:

    Those are some very interesting thoughts on Egyptian economy (and grave-robbing), thanks for sharing! ^_^

    I love museums so much, I ended up working there (I give tours). They are so much more than just a collection of things, a good exhibit can make you think and keeps things alive. Wonderful places, one can visit the same museum many times and still find new things.

  5. LupLun Says:

    Museums are pretty awesome. I used to work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, actually. Not doing anything significant, but I got to browse the galleries on my lunch hour. What I loved was reading the labels accompanying the works– those brought out historical details and cultural tidbits that had been lost over time. Also taught my some stuff about the creative process- most notably that no one does it for free and everyone has to revise.

    About the pharoah’s afterlife: I heard it said on a TV documentary– I don’t remember how seriously– that the pharoahs built these elaborate tombs in search of immortality. And in a sense, they found it because the fascination of modern man with their treasures keeps their spirit alive. Food for thought.

  6. Joe Says:

    I am a retired truck driver and I just landed a part time job as a Gallery Attendant (“please don’t touch that”) at the Dallas Museum of Art. Pretty incredible way to get by… The labels are great! If I can just get my back used to standing up for the hours!

  7. Rose B. Says:

    Glad you liked the exhibition, and loved your take on the boat-builders! (BTW, recently finished Discord’s Apple and enjoyed the heck out of it … any thoughts of a sequel?)

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