How did the idea for Out of Egypt start?
I’m an Egyptologist and I teach at UCLA. My husband and I came up with this idea that we pitch to the Discovery Channel because we really wanted to do something different. [firstpara] A lot of the content that you see is geared towards mysteries, or it’s geared towards particular people like Ramses II, or it’s geared towards a particular location.
We wanted to gear it towards big ideas that really looked at the commonalities that all people seemed to share, some of the amazing similarities, and sometimes some of the surprising differences, and so that’s how Out of Egypt was born.
We’ve seen a lot of mummies shown on the channel, what do you bring to the table that hasn’t been said before?
Yes, there have been a lot of mummy shows lately, and most of them have been about how can we identify which mummy this is or where can we find the mummy of Hatshepsu. People are very interested in putting a story, an identity to certain dead bodies, and I think that’s where that interest comes from. But for Out of Egypt, I’m more interested in solving the ways that we as human beings approach death.
For one of the episodes that’s about the disposal of the dead, I talked with people all over the world. How do you get rid of your dead? You can’t necessarily keep them around. They get smelly and nasty, and you can’t keep the body of your loved one in your home. You have to dispose of it. And there are so many different ways of dealing with the dead.
In Europe, they usually bury the body. Sometimes they burn the body. In Egypt, they actually mummify the body and embalm the body. In parts of China, they actually know how to embalm the body. In Peru, they knew how to naturally embalm the body, and then in other parts of the world like in Vietnam, they bury the body and then they dig the body up and take the bones to a special location so that they can have their dead close to them.
And so this isn’t about the details of identifying a famous person from the past or solving that kind of mystery.It’s more curiosity and puzzlement about the weird things that people do [with the dead] and how they may seem so strange in Vietnam, so strange in Peru, so bizarre in Egypt that they would mummify the body, and so weird that in the United States we actually embalm bodies in the same way. We’re doing the same thing with plastic that they did in ancient Egypt. We have the same desire to preserve the body for eternity.
Out of Egypt is about solving mysteries on a macro level. It’s about asking big questions, and so for me, that’s the most mysterious question of all. Why do human beings deal with the dead in one place in a completely different way than in another place? At the core of it, the interest is the same.
INTERVIEW BY: GELO GONZALES