So Much More to Archaeology Than Sifting through Ancient Soil

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), May 10, 2009 | Go to article overview

So Much More to Archaeology Than Sifting through Ancient Soil


Byline: FILM FESTIVAL By Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

If you're undecided about taking in a film or two - or even all 18 - at this year's sixth annual International Film and Video Festival, brought to you by the Eugene-based Archaeological Legacy Institute and its online presence, the Archaeology Channel, consider what founder Rick Pettigrew has to say to debunk the stereotype of the dirty-kneed archaeologist fixated on rocks and bones.

"One common misconception is that the films we feature are dry, academic documentaries about archaeologists painstakingly scraping the dirt with trowels," says Pettigrew, himself a trained archaeologist. "However, to the contrary, our films come to us from outstanding producers around the world who know how to grab an audience ... (and) the cinematography and storytelling are wonderful."

Not only that, he says, but this year's keynote speaker is none other than Zahi Hawass, well known to viewers of the Discovery Channel and readers of National Geographic for his work unraveling the mysteries of the Egyptian pyramids, including his role in identifying what is believed to be the mummy of the ancient Queen Hatsepshut. (One of the world's first feminists, she shunned her destiny as regent and, despite her gender, donned the royal headdress and a fake beard and ruled Egypt for 15 years in the royal line that later produced Akhenaton and Tutankhamun.)

Three years ago, Time magazine named Hawass among "The Time 100: The People Who Shape Our World."

Hawass will give his address on Friday at 8:32 p.m. in the Soreng Theater at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, where the films will be shown throughout the week. The festival culminates Saturday evening with an awards reception at DIVA on the downtown Eugene mall.

This year's film offerings, chosen from nearly 90 submissions, range in length from 14 minutes to just under two hours and will be screened during a five-day span that begins May 19. Their topics range widely, from the triumph - after 200 years of trying - of successfully decoding the Mayan hieroglyphics to a documentary about the first 10 years of building a new Gothic castle in the Forest of Saint Sauveur in France, using 13th century techniques that allow only stones, earth, sand, wood and water and exclude all modern machinery and electricity.

Also on the list is the story of discovering and recovering Guge, a lost kingdom on Tibet's high plateau comparable to the importance of Pompei in Italy, and a "detective thriller" about determining the identity of a mysterious mummy discovered in Siberia, a woman clothed in a garment made of pearls with the sleeves sewn closed at the ends.

Other offerings explore the discovery and replication of an ancient "calculating machine" used by the Greeks to predict eclipses and set the timing of the Olympic Games; the adaptation of indigenous peoples to modern society in Peru and Paraguay; and the pyramids of Bosnia.

Although this year's filmmakers come from 10 countries, most of the narration is in English, or has English subtitles. Pettigrew says the nonprofit Eugene event is the "only juried film competition (about archaeology) in the Americas," although France, Germany and Italy all host archaeology festivals.

"I feel confident that our event is equivalent or superior to theirs in terms of the overall program content and quality of the venue," he says. "(And) those festivals are largely supported by government funds, while we rely mostly on grants and sponsors."

The Archaeology Channel (www.archaeologychannel.org) offers short clips from each of the films included in this year's festival. Three films will be screened Tuesday through Friday of the festival week, beginning at 6:30 p.m., with the remaining six during the day on Saturday, starting at 11 a.m.

Other activities during the International Film and Video Festival include a guided trek to the Cascadia Cave; a workshop on reading and writing Mayan hieroglyphs open to those who preregister after viewing "Breaking the Maya Code;" Native American Storytelling; and a "Symposium on Heritage Film. …

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