Sometimes temptation sucks me in. OK, so it’s more often than sometimes. In this instance, I was lured by a stack of magazines. They’d been set out for anyone to read, not take home. But I couldn’t resist and didn’t.
I promise to return it tomorrow. Or the next day. If I’m done.
You see, it’s a subject I can’t resist, archaeology. The glossy cover is a delicious photo of the pharaoh Amenhotep III rendered in quartzite, serene and smiling. This article is about a new find in the Valley of the Kings that doesn’t pertain to kings or queens, but about less elevated people. Historical detritus of every day folks, like us, isn’t usually hashed over with the same amount of glee as the finds that yield the treasures of the rich and famous. But for me, archaeology is a form of controlled substance, and here’s an article that gives a peek into the lives of every day Egyptians. These are the people who thousands of years ago used honey on bone fractures, which is starting to catch on today. Skulls are found with trepanning holes, brain surgery folks, and they’ve unearthed a battery that worked. Didn’t you ever wonder how they painted all those murals with no smoke smudges on the tomb ceilings?
Yeah, I’ll admit to being a bit loony about ancient history. There’s so much we don’t know and so much that we believed to be true and are now discovering it’s wrong.
I love reading about archeology so much that I made up a character for one of my books, Philadelphia Hafeldt, spoofing Indy Jones. I’m hooked on it because it’s the investigation of the mysteries of history contemplated, studied, and on occasion, figured out with accuracy.
Fossilized history can be tricky. Relics unearthed have provided educated types with opportunities to proclaim their discoveries as definitive. History’s joke is that often down the road, the facts turn out to be not so true. (Did George really chop down that cherry tree?) Some overlooked piece of the grand puzzle gets tweaked into place, and poof, up goes the definitive fact. So what is real? Will these discoveries change our lives?
In this issue, there are the top ten discoveries of 2014. I drool during the reading of that article. There are pictures of misty, mystical jungles, shipwrecks found, and perhaps the juiciest bit of all, we learn that the Stonehenge we see is only the tip of a vast site. More structures are found underground. Nowadays, buried history is having a hard time staying buried with the onset of ground-penetrating radar, aerial laser scanning, and other remote sensing, hi-tech equipment.
On the other hand, I have a lot of faith in oral history, the stories told by aboriginals and pooh-poohed by accepted experts because it can’t be authenticated with physical evidence. I was entranced by the ending of Enemy Mine, the part about coming of age and reciting one’s entire family ancestry.
One of the purposes of history, for me, is seeing how we don’t change much as people, especially when one considers that the same mistakes keep being made, over and over, down through the ages. On the upside, there’s always a chance to learn, since history never ends.