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.