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Modern Day Mummy at the Museum of Man, San DiegoYesterday, Rowan went to his first-ever lecture, at the Museum of Man. From their advertisement:

Tomorrow at 11am, in conjunction with the Museum’s highly acclaimed exhibit Modern Day Mummy: The Art & Science of Mummification, SDMoM will host a lecture on the ancient Egyptian mummy genre and its return to American film screens.  With Universal Studios’ special-effects-driven remake and sequel, The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001), mummies have made a comeback in cinemas across the country.

Join us and Stuart Tyson Smith, PhD, Professor & Chair of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, and Co-Convener of the Archaeology Research Focus Group, Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, for this fascinating look at mummies from this unique perspective.

Dr. Smith will outline the basic Egypt-inspired themes in film with a focus on the mummy genre.  He will also compare Hollywood’s depiction of mummies to the insights that archaeology and Egyptology have given us into the reality of death and burial in ancient Egypt, where mummies took a central, if a generally less mobile, role.  Dr. Smith will conclude his talk by considering the origins of Hollywood’s mummy myths and offering some insights into the process of being a consultant on Stargate, The Mummy, and The Mummy Returns.

The lecture will begin at 11am in the Gill Auditorium and is open to the public and free with paid admission to the Museum.  The lecture is free to SDMoM members.

The Modern Day Mummy Lecture Series brings curiosities of mummification front and center and addresses the many faces of mummy science.

Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? It absolutely was.

We arrived about an hour early, to be sure of seats. The man who took our pass asked Rowan if he was interested in Egyptian heiroglyphics. “Yes!” he replied. “Well, ” asks the docent, “What about the heiroglyphics behind me?” Rowan replied, with some amusement “You know those are Mayan, not Egyptian.” The man grinned hugely. “And what else do Mayans have in common with Egyptians?” “Easy,” Rowan said, “Pyramids.” The man positively glowed. “That’s right! I hope you really enjoy yourself at the museum and the lecture!” We walked on. While delighted by the exchange, in a maternal-pride kind of way, I was also horrified at how adults seem to think that quizzing kids is acceptable.

As we wandered around the museum, we talked about “lecture manners.” Rowan was surprised to learn he had to hold his questions to the end, and was grateful to learn that before, not after. We talked about listening quietly, and about focusing on the lecturer. We made our way to the auditorium, where we found ourselves in a sea of adults. Rowan was far and away the youngest person there, other than the row of seven teenagers behind us. The mother of one of them had brought them, quite unwillingly. Before the lecture even started, the kid behind me put both feet on the legs of my chair, and began bouncing. I turned around, looked at him, at his legs, and up at him again. He stopped bouncing, I smiled, said “thank you!” and turned back around, only to get a bunch of sotto voce complaining. Nice…

Meanwhile, next to Rowan is an older woman. She smiles at him, and says “So do you like archaeology?” fully expecting that I had drug Rowan there against his will. He smiled brightly, and popped off with “Actually, I’m far more interested in paleontology, but I do like mummies.” She was flabbergasted, and tried again. “Oh, so do you watch shows about dinosaurs? Like National Geographic and Discovery Channel?” Rowan, more facile at reading people than I thought, flashed her the blinding smile again and said “Oh, no, we don’t watch television, Mama rents me movies at the library.” The woman positively plotzed. Only Rowan and I knew that the most recent dinosaur film we’d rented was Scooby-Doo and the Legend of the Phantosaur. She fluttered off, just dazzled by Rowan’s academia. She started to ask about school, and Rowan said something I didn’t catch (due to the teen with the bouncy legs) about “enrichment.” I have no idea where he dredged that up, but now, the lady was eating out of his hand. It was totally amusing to watch. And she was, apparently, not easy to impress. About midway through the lecture, when the teenagers had had enough and were talking incessantly, she turned around and barked “Pay attention, shut up, or go home!” The mother had the good grace to cringe, at least. The teens sneered.

The lecture began, and Dr. Smith talked about all of the solid archaeology represented by the film and the show Stargate, and the films The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, and The Scorpion King. Rowan was excited, pointing at the screen, “I’ve seen those!” “Yes you have, my dear. We were working on your ancient languages, apparently. Who knew?”

I wandered off, in my mind. Rowan had just charmed a stranger into thinking he was a highly-achieved traditionally academic child. I knew this was creative fact-delivery. And yet… here was an anthropologist, letting us know that in fact, by goofing off with “The Mummy” we were being exposed to authentic ancient Egyptian culture.

Listening to Dr. Smith, it’s clear he was geeking out about the fabulousness of it all. He’s leading a dig in the Valley of the Kings, he’s delivering authentic ancient Egyptian dialog to adventure films, he’s talking to a roomful of people, about the excitement and wonder and sheer geekery of all things archaeological, and classic mummy films. The enthusiasm just bubbled off him.

It was as clear an example as there possibly could have been about how fuzzy the lines between “entertainment” and “passion” really are. It’s a conundrum, isn’t it? If Phantosaur intrigues Rowan into further discovery, who is to say it’s not valuable? If going to a Saturday morning academic lecture inspires my son to come home and watch mummy movies and work on his ancient Egyptian, who can say which activity is academic, and which is entertainment?

As we were leaving, Rowan said to the docent, “I had a really good time, thank you very much!” The docent beamed. “No one ever thanks me. Thank you!” “Good museum manners, Rowan” I muttered under my breath. He smiled. My work here is done.

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