‘Egyptological Colloquium could have been Better’

Book of The Dead

This year’s Egyptological Colloquium was roundly regarded as a success, as eighteen top Egyptological minds converged on London’s British Museum for two intense days of lectures, opinions and debate on the Book of the Dead. One of the most stunning pieces of Egyptian liturgy, yet a much maligned forum for study, the Colloquium promised some fascinating and truly groundbreaking discoveries on a visually engaging subject. Heritage Key took some time out at the end of the event to speak to a few audience members, and found a somewhat mixed response. Some were keen to stress their enjoyment of the colloquium, while others weren’t so sure it held up to some of its more recent forebears.

Barbara Pentlow is an accountant who loves the ancient world, and Egypt in particular. She says she’s never really been interested in the Book of the Dead before, but was ‘pleasantly surprised’ with what she learnt at the colloquium. “You suddenly find, ‘Wow, it’s a lot more interesting than I thought.’ I’ve gone to virtually all of the colloquiums, which they have here nearly every year. So the subject matter is very much the luck of the draw.” Rod Burridge and Jim Smith are both retired businessmen who have been visiting the colloquium for about six years now. “I enjoyed two others better than this,” Jim says. “There was one concerning the wars between the Egyptians and the Hittites after the New Kingdom; another about the ancient roads in the desert that was very good.” Was the colloquium rather inaccessible at times? “I have to say that I haven’t got quite as much out of it as I have from some of the other topics they discussed,” Rod adds. “It is a very limited and complex area, some of the presentations were very specific indeed. As far as I’m glad scholars are engaging with the subject, what difference does it make to the pattern of world history?”

Egyptological Colloquium 2009 - Reception

While some experts have praised the youthfulness of the colloquium’s speakers, Barbara Pentlow thought it could have been slightly more dynamic: “It was relatively staid in the sense that you didn’t have too many people asking questions and provoking the equivalent of a punch-up.” This is echoed in John Gee’s surprise that his paper on the Book of the Dead as canon didn’t receive a more hostile reception; something he found rather annoying. “It was disappointing that there wasn’t more discussion,” Jim Smith agreed. “It opened your eyes to another field of study, but I didn’t find this as interesting as others I’ve been to before – sorry!”

So it seems that while the audience were stimulated by the colloquium, there were more than a couple of dissenting voices, not least on the lack of debate and discussion. The fact that some found the material slightly impervious to the outside observer raises the question of how much events like this should be open to all levels of knowledge. Should academic papers be scaled down somewhat to suit the general public, or should the emphasis be placed upon the benefits for the academic world and its scholars?

Images by Monkey River Town and Ann Wuyts.