Today we publish the first part of an exclusive interview with Delphine Meynieux, former archeologist. On the menu : backstage revelations on research and Egyptology thanks to the pragmatic vision of a free mind constantly bumping itself against intellectual stiffness and an aging decrepit organization.
Hello Delphine, could you please first introduce yourself?
I always wanted to live adventures. When I was about 10 years old, I was already playing the little explorer in the forest right next to our house. I was dreaming about the remnants of a lost civilization, buried in our garden.
When I became a teenager my passion for History, archeology and the mysteries around ancient cultures got stronger. I was lucky enough to have parents who never forbid me from doing anything. They even enrolled me into an Egypt Tour when I was only 16. This turned out to be one of the most important moments of my life. As I was tasting freedom for the first time, my dream came true as I could contemplate those old rocks that kept me thinking for so long.
The first feeling I got when I landed in Luxor was that I finally made it back home. The smell of sand and dust, the heat wrapping you, the sun burning your retina…This was a daydream. The Giza and Saqqarah pyramids, the tombs of the Valley of the Kings, the Karnak and Luxor Temples, cruise down the Nile; what a blast when you’re only 16 travelling without your parents!
And what happened after your teenage years?
After a degree in archeology and art history, as life is always full of surprises, I deviated from my initial goal (without forgetting about it). A few years later I had the opportunity to enroll into and Egyptology curriculum in the Sorbonne University in Paris. It made it to THE place.
Yet, I was not finding what I was seeking. I bumped into more careerists that passionate people, more politics than burning fire, and more conservatism than adventure. I didn’t belong there and after a few years, I quit the place.
Was it your Egyptology approach that was a problem?
I may have a romantic vision on archeology, but that’s the way I want to live it. Not through this cold and dry vision that was forced upon me. Not through this scientism ruling all research fields today. What I find inspiring in studying ancient civilizations is to go off track, where no one dared to go before. Diving into our past is like going into Terra Incognita. We don’t know what we will find, but we will never lose our own selves.
Could you give a few examples of this dichotomy between what you wanted to bring to the table and what the archeology world actually wanted you to bring?
One of the biggest flaws of our time, and more specifically our western civilization, is creating boxes for thoughts. A box for everything, even in the scientific research field. Every year, Universities prepare and shape overspecialized people, “experts” lefts and rights, who turn out to be unable to widen their thought process. Many researchers are very hard-headed. If you ask them to go off the beaten path, they become lost as soon as they realize they don’t have a map for what is ahead of them.
In archeology, as well as any other scientific field, you can’t just be a “standard” person. The biggest discoveries always came from people who dared venturing where no one was before. Those are the explorers. The others are just the civil servants of research.
But aren’t beaten paths an easy way to a nice career? People don’t like risks…
Exactly! There such careerism in Egyptology that it is frowned upon to walk on your neighbor front steps. Students are even forced to selfishly keep their results; which is totally counter-productive for the global progression of knowledge. Just like in ecology, we would need a “Think global, act local”. But the dogmas are so strongly established by scientific technocrats, heads of Universities, that it is unfathomable for an Egyptologist who sees curious stone cutting patterns to ask “Do we find that outside of Egypt as well?” It has been decided once and for all that there can’t be any link between ancient civilizations.
And what about France more specifically?
One of the biggest archeology issues in France is that it is directly linked to the slim grants allocated by the State. Just look at how tiny the Egyptology Library of the College de France is. Or how decrepit the Sorbonne Egyptology Research Center is. Those are testimonials that the priorities of our government are not directed towards research and discovering out past to better forecast our future. Therefore philanthropy fundings are more than welcome but they raise ethical issues. “Tell me who funds you, I’ll tell you what you must find” …
Keep your eyes open for the next part of the interview