You might imagine that there couldn’t be many of Ancient Egypt’s wonders left to discover given the amount of effort devoted to revealing the hidden secrets of this most amazing of civilisations over the past century. One American researcher, however, claims to have done just that. Using no more sophisticated a tool than Google Earth, she claims to have identified two previously unknown ‘pyramid’ sites, one being almost three times the size of the Great Pyramid at Giza.
Perhaps unsurprisingly this ‘discovery’ has been treated with a fair bit of scepticism by archaeologists and geologists alike, the general consensus in the scientific community being that these ‘pyramids’ are actually easily-explainable natural features. One archaeological geologist was fairly withering in his assessment of the research:
Her Dimai and Abu Sidhum ‘pyramids’ are examples of natural rock formations that might be mistaken for archaeological features provided one is unburdened by any knowledge of archaeology or geology…In other words, her pyramids are just wishful thinking by an ignorant observer with an overactive imagination.
The fact that there has been such a backlash to this questionable theory shows that the appeal of Egyptology has not dimmed as we approach the 100th anniversary of its most significant find; that of the tomb of Tutankhamun (1342-1325 BC) by Howard Carter in 1922.
Indeed, we should now be in the middle of a ‘world tour’ of the ‘Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh’, with more than 150 precious artifacts from the tomb being cycled across famous museums and galleries worldwide as part of the centenary celebrations.
In a rather nationalist pronouncement, Egyptian authorities are claiming that this is the last time that King Tut’s funerary splendours will be shown off to the world “before they return back to Egypt forever”.
Carter’s discovery in 1922 coincided with Egypt achieving nominal independence from the British, with the restoration to power of an indigenous monarchy. Whilst Carter and his patron, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, had funded and executed the discovery of Tutankhamun – with substantial help from Egyptian archaeologists – the newly independent Egyptian state saw an opportunity to unite its people around this overwhelming source of national pride.
The astonishing catalogue of items recovered from the tomb testified to a civilisation arguably without equal in the history of the world. Even now, it is hard to comprehend how such intricate finery was crafted more than 3,000 years ago.
The current Egyptian regime is a poor successor to such a wondrous legacy. Strongman leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi spends most of his time suppressing internal dissent with the support of the military, having ruthlessly overthrown the leadership of Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood that rode to power on a wave of popular euphoria after the Arab Spring ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Sisi has tried, without much success, to forge a new Egyptian identity, whilst hoping to recover a more significant geo-political role for his morally and economically bankrupt state. He has generally refrained from trumpeting the glories and virtues of the old pharaohs, content for the pyramids at Giza and the Valley of the Kings to serve their purpose as a welcome attraction for tourist income.
After all, pharaohs were often overthrown, killed even, whilst Sisi is terrified of stirring nationalist sentiment because of its association in Egypt with pan-Arabism and Islamism, the latter allowing the Brotherhood – his sworn enemy – to win power in the first place.
That Egypt seldom makes international headlines today – particularly when compared to the monumental events on Tahrir Square in 2011 – shows the success that Sisi has had in solidifying his rule, a new Mubarak overseeing a worn-out and frustrated population.
No doubt the 2022 anniversary of Carter’s discovery will prompt some kind of celebration in Egypt don’t expect Sisi to use the occasion to stir the pot of nationalism. For him, the currently-postponed ‘world tour’ serves the purpose of displaying the glories of Egyptian culture whilst blinding the global public from the activities of his repressive regime and the frustrated aspirations of those that took part in that inspirational revolution almost a decade ago.