The real problem with diagnosing ancient cultures is that so much of what is preserved in their absence is their grave goods. This leaves us with a far from complete model of common life. Such is one of the largest problems with any investigation of Egyptian artifacts. When Howard Carter first entered the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamen, he uncovered an unparalleled collection of royal grave goods. Until Carter’s discovery, grave robbers had plundered all known royal Egyptian tombs and most of the valuable artifacts had been removed. The tomb of Tutankhamen had been lucky and was well hidden from the greedy tools of the pillagers.
Once revealed, the treasures of the tomb gave us a window to the past and a view into the proceeding of the Egyptian funerary rights. Unfortunately it wasn’t until the latter half of the twentieth century that many archeologists began looking for artifacts that better represented the common daily life of the ancient Egyptian. The tombs, unlike common dwellings, were designed to withstand the test of time, and they have occupied investigative efforts in Egypt for centuries simply because of their impressive size and construction.
Because we have been presented with such an incomplete view of the Egyptian lifestyle, it has led to some embarrassing misrepresentations of Egyptian mythology. There are no living representatives of the ancient Egyptians, their language and culture has been lost to all save the sand, and consequently there is no one to complain about the misinformed Egyptian stereotypes and misuse of religious icons in our own modern culture.
There was a time, not too long ago, when it was hip for teens to display ankhs and the unblinking eye of Ra. Few, if any, of these people ever took the time or effort to educate themselves about the use and display of such symbols. It was the same type of cultural misappropriation that led to the ignorant but massively popular rise of Egyptology in the nineteenth century. The shape of the pyramid and the stolen imagery of the dead pharaohs was believed to have mystical powers that in reality served only to distract wealthy Europeans from the social and environmental problems of daily life in the large cities of Britain and France during the industrial revolution.
Las Vegas has entered into the fray anew with the construction of the Luxor hotel and casino, turning a revered symbol of the afterlife into a neon lit caricature and over-sized motor lodge with 24-hour gambling. Such travesties are akin to turning a Roman Catholic Cathedral into a nightclub, pounding with the beat of techno music and pulsing to the wailing siren of sacrilege. Although, I hear those are popular now too.