Electronic Egypt: The Shape of Archaeological Knowledge on the Net

Article excerpt

Unlike many regional archaeologies the study of Egypt has always had widespread appeal, from archaeologists to Afrocentrists, orientalists to occultists. According to one web-site, 'Egypt dominates the history of the world.' This ever-popular fascination has spilled over into the electronic media since the inception of the Internet. Thus, Egypt proves to be a telling case-study in net politics and potentialities. Simply typing the word 'Egypt' into a Web searcher elicits over i million sites, and the content of that material runs the gamut from scholarly resources closely matching those known in print to fringe sites and sci-fi web pages. This makes electronic Egypt an intellectual and ethical minefield for the uninitiated, especially as there proves often little to differentiate between this panoply of sites in terms of presentation and professionality. It palpably illustrates the homogenization of knowledge on the net and prompts us to consider the construction of archaeology and archaeological knowledges.

To begin with, there are some excellent academic resources available on the Net which offer up-to-date information from Egypt, bibliographic resources, current papers index, plus a full listing of Egyptological institutions and Egyptologists. Some highly successful, user-friendly sites are the ABZU project from the University of Chicago http://www.oi.uchicago.edu/OI/DEPT/ RA/ABZU/ABZU_DIRECTORY_INDEX.HTML the Annual Egyptological Bibliography from Leiden http://www.leidenuniv.nl/nino/aeb.html the Griffith Institute at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford http://www.ashmol.ox.ac.uk/ Griffith.html and Egyptology Resources in Cambridge http://www.newton.cam.ac.uk/ egypt/nomap.html Thanks to the tireless efforts of individuals like Charles Jones, Terry Wilfong and Nigel Strudwick, these sites provide an invaluable resource for all, though they are primarily university-oriented.

Other sites have a more fluid profile, straddling academic and alternative audiences. One pertinent example is the Centre for Computer-aided Egyptological Research (CCER) http:// www.konbib.nl/basisclas/Rl5/15.33-isbd/ ccer.isbd.html Its links range from the Egyptology sites specializing in virtual reconstruction of monuments to the Guardian's web page, and this has links to science fiction, UFO, and health-and-fitness pages. These have ever-more-extreme links to sites featuring crop circles, close encounters, Extra-Terrestrials. You can be examining Egyptian architecture at one moment, and at the next learn that aliens built the pyramids! These linkages from site to site to site facilitate the homogenisation of knowledge; they promote a sense that all knowledge is somehow equal. Though only 3315 people had visited the site at the time of writing to see an alien Egypt, some 47,474 had actually made it to the Guardian's main site (and it had won an award!) http://guardians.net Does this reflect the postmodern ethos - a pastiche of cyber-Egypts? Or is it a harmless - or an actively good - dissemination of different forms of knowledge? Self-publishing may be a liberating and democratic process, yet it also creates a murky melange of information of uneven value. Traditional publishing arenas, such as journals, provide specific hooks upon which we can hang our information. These locations each have an individual profile - whether it be Antiquity, KMT, or the Ley Hunter - from which we can make certain assessments about the nature and merits of the contributions within. With the net those hooks have been removed, for better or worse.

An Atlantic divide noticeably demarcates the character of institutional web sites featuring Egyptian material. Very generally, American university web sites tend to more links with private home-pages and fringe sites. That far larger number of direct links between academic and non-academic sites unfortunately cannot be controlled by the institutions themselves. The American courts are at present testing the current habit, that any site is free to make links to another site, without the need to have permission from the linked-to. …