3rd part of our exclusive interview with Delphine Meynieux, former archeologist and egyptologist
Does philanthropy help on that? Even in France?
It would be false to think that in France, because the State is God Almighty, there would be no philanthropists in the culture field. I can’t detail everything that exists and I am nowhere near being a specialist in that, but I could give your readers a quick summary of the current situation of archeology.
In 2011 was created Pierre Mercier’s Archeology Foundation, linked to the Vaucluse (South of France) site of the Baratin, where should this be noted I worked in the beginning of the years 2000. This foundation developed various budgets to support research and is appealing to private donations from companies and private philanthropists.
Outside of this virtuous private initiative, the INRAP (Pre-emptive archeological research National Institute) remains the fore soldier of the State in terms of archeological sites protection. They are the fearless knights of culture. Its role is to detect the sites put to light by urbanism and improvement works being done, study them accordingly and ensure their future public awareness (making sure the new-found knowledge/sites are communicated to the general public).
Without substantial private philanthropy, many INRAP projects wouldn’t have seen the day of light, putting to rest countless swathes of field work before they fall into total oblivion. Also come into play companies who act as funder to enhance their public awareness.
As soon as we take a closer look at the activity field and the economical aims of those companies, we can’t be but stroke by the schizophrenia on the topic: accepting financial help from groups which primary function is to destroy, via their core activities, the same thing we will ty to preserve: Mankind’s memories. Just look at the companies funding in France: Bouygues Travaux Public (Public Works), Aéroports de Paris or CRT Gaz. Speaks volume, doesn’t it?
Are there countries where we find a more pragmatic approach to scientific research?
As long as cash is king, there won’t be any ideal situations in archeology, whether in France or anywhere else in the world. Look at the USA for example, where philanthropy is alive and well, coming from a protestant capitalistic culture not so present in France, we can see that research is sometimes controlled by religious lobbying groups. It is therefore sometimes hard to separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak.
Many religious fundamentalists would like to rewrite History to their advantage and force their take on the rest of the world, outside of any factual studies, to deepen their political domination. I’m afraid the pragmatic approach you mentioned will not soon be on any country’s agenda. 21st century man, at least the one who has financial and political power, seems to only focus on the personal financial benefits he can gain out of archeology rather than the cultural benefit brought to mankind. Therefore, he sets his targets to the desired-end result that will be more profitable for him. He who controls the past, controls the present; and he who controls the present, controls the future.
I’m sometimes wondering if we shouldn’t just let the dead rest in peace forever, as it seems the only way to really discover their History, we first have to sell our souls to the devil. But the devil will always make you checkout at some point in life. Is it all worth it?
Let’s go back to your start in archeology/Egyptology. What were the main field researches you took part in?
Believe it or not, but in France, when you study Egyptology, you will only get to go to Egypt when you will be writing…your thesis! Before that, you can only look at the work of your older peers, dreaming that one day you might also bring your own tools in the coveted sand. You will not learn anything regarding excavations in the desert, but you damn sure will learn to be patient; a great weapon to face the reality of field research in Egypt!
Of course, in the meantime, you are waiting for your saving grace where you would become the One and work under the tutelage of an older peer. As you are waiting, you are still learning the language and the writing. You are not idle. You painstakingly interpret hieroglyphs and try to remember the list of all the pharaohs and they respective reign dates. You take countless pictures in museums. You sponge the essence of the religious philosophy oozing out of an immensely spiritual civilization, and you dream about going to Egypt almost every night.
Until you can excavate in Egypt, you will be involved in excavations taking place in France, although you are barely using more than a shovel and a bucket. Actually you get trained on techniques you won’t be able to use in the Land of the Pharaohs as the local legislation imposes to hire local workers. But at least, you can add a bit of practice on top of the theory you’ve been fed.
What were the French sites on which you have worked?
I worked on 3 French sites. I worked on my first site when I turned 18, the legal age to be a part of excavations. This site was dating from the end of the Neolithic, called “Camp Allaric” and is located on the edge of a mountain looking down on a river. Besides the serenity you could feel there, the site itself was nothing spectacular. The absence of roads around Camp Allaric added to the timeless feeling you would feel there. This is where I learned to use a trowel and a brush.
The second one was called the Andone Castrum, occupied from the Iron Age til the Medieval Times. The third was the Baratin in the south of France.
Which one did you like the most?
Without a doubt, the Baratin! It was a Neolithic village, today located in the middle of the famous wine yards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I remember working on a small square where another young man used to do his excavation. For weeks, he hadn’t found anything. Two days after he left, I dug out a marvelous flint blade, so thin it was almost transparent. Excavations are kind of like slot machines, when you’re about to give up, you win the big one!
During those exacavations, we have been shot for a documentary called “Archeology of trash cans”. You might smile at the sound of it, but it true that the best clues are always found in the trash cans of the past. My flint blade made it to the final version of the documentary. I was so proud!
But one day, you wake up and you realize that you’ve been put in one specific box, way to narrow for you, and if you don’t run away the rest of your professional life will be nothing more than classifying objects in the “cultural” section of your archives as you will never be able to comprehend what these people did and who they were; because nobody teaches you how. After 4 years of Egyptology studies I quit and ventured off to other projects, convinced that research can only be done through academic ways and that I will never be able to make a living out of my passion.
However, independent research does exist and feeds itself off of the ones who dare trying it. All independent researchers, like you guys, need to gather their findings with fellow free minds to confront facts and debunk official theories. We can only dream and hope that one day, independent researchers will be acknowledged for their competence and that their audience will grow to invade mainstream blogs and research centers alike!