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Expert Answers to Noob Questions: Dr Campbell Price - Were Ancient Egyptians Obsessed with Death?

We were very lucky to chat the other week with Dr Campbell Price. Campbell is the Curator of Egypt and Sudan at Manchester Museum, one of the UK’s largest collections of Egyptian antiquities. Campbell put together the recent, and completely brilliant, Golden Mummies of Egypt Exhibition which wowed crowds in the USA, China, and the UK. He has also written an impressively huge (and impressively heavy) book on the Golden Mummies of Egypt. It really is an exceptionally massive book, and I feel enormously intelligent when I pull a copy out in Starbucks to peruse the glossy pictures.

If all that wasn’t enough, Campbell teamed up with Public Historian Greg Jenner (host of the podcasts ‘You’re Dead to Me’ and ‘Homeschool History’), to write a children’s history book, Totally Chaotic History: Ancient Egypt Gets Unruly’. This tome covers everything and anything you might want to know about Ancient Egypt in a hugely entertaining way; from Pharaoh Narmer to Ramesses the Great, and Queen Cleopatra. Frankly, in our humble opinion, 'Totally Chaotic History: Ancient Egypt Gets Unruly is the best children’s history book since Horrible Histories and deserves to be read by teachers, pupils, and parents alike.

Anyhow, enough shameless plugging! We’ll be featuring Campbell in several upcoming blogs, as he answers some of the most intriguing questions about Ancient Egypt our puny brains could come up with!

First up:

Were Ancient Egyptians obsessed with death and dying? Was it all they thought about or was death and mummification make up just a tiny part of their thoughts for the day?

Dr Campbell Price Profile Picture
Dr Campbell Price - ready to answer a questions!

Dr Campbell Price: Ah, there's a good question. I suspect, absolutely honestly, that regular Egyptians would think about death and dying as little or as much as we do.

It is not that the ancient Egyptian elite (Pharaohs, Priests, you get the idea!) or the ancient Egyptians in general are obsessed with death. It is more that the evidence we have survived because it is made from durable materials. Whereas 95% of the rest of their stuff would be made of organic materials, like mud. People's houses were made of mud bricks, whereas tombs were made of stone, mostly.

So what survives on the desert edge? It's the stone stuff. So then suddenly you've lost the 95% because it's not survived because the Nile has moved its course gradually over the centuries. So, what survives is the 5%, is the stuff that was all concerned with death. So it's not that people in general were obsessed. It's what is left over from that civilization is concerned with death. Or subsequently has been associated with death and the afterlife.

It's this kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, if you like. You find something on an excavation site that came from a house, but you say, oh, it's probably a ritual object, probably something for the afterlife. Because the Greeks who were traveling to Egypt in the last centuries BC said the ancient Egyptians were the most religious people in the world. And maybe that's true. Maybe they just did things that were distinctive and different from what the Greeks did. But once you've decided someone is a very religious person, or a group of people are very religious, then that becomes an explanation for everything they do. So everything becomes death about the afterlife, which it probably wasn't originally.


Thanks to Campbell for his insight and big ‘ole brain!

If you are a teacher, a pupil, or a human being with a pulse, you should pick yourself up a copy of Totally Chaotic History: Ancient Egypt: Gets Unruly by clicking here!


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