Egypt, of course, has been the focus of antiquarian interest for millennia, as revealed by the ancient Greek traveler and historian Herodotis. But it also played a central role in the development of what would become the discipline of archaeology, as Giovanni Belzoni and others explored the land and collected antiquities on behalf of Great Britain, France, and other countries with colonial interests there.
How thoroughly elements of Egyptian architecture, symbols, and lore permeate Western society is difficult to gauge but it is everywhere, ranging from the pyramid on the U.S. dollar bill to music videos.
This summer I had the opportunity to visit Egypt for the first time. As an archaeologist, I was enthralled by the Sphinx, the pyramid, the Cairo Museum (where the Tutankhamun artifacts are displayed), and other places and artifacts that I had read about since I was a child. But I was also fascinated by the role these places, items, and images had for Egyptian society itself, especially in terms of the economic contributions tourism has today. The marketing of artifact replicas is everywhere, with tourists the obvious target.
Given this context, what I find of great interest is that the Egyptian government is currently developing copyright legislation that would that would make it illegal to produces copies or images of antiquities and archaeological sites, including the pyramids. This is response to the widespread marketing, in Egypt and elsewhere, of what is considered Egyptian intellectual property.
How this plays out is obviously something that we want to watch closely. I am planning to get in touch with Dr. Zahi Hawass, star of numerous television documentaries and also secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. It should prove very interesting.
* Photographs: G. Nicholas, used with permission.
Some of the broader issues are explored in these recent publications:
Nicholas, G., and Alison Wylie. 2012. “Do Not Do Unto Others...”: Cultural Misrecognition and the Harms of Appropriation in an Open-Source World. In Appropriating the Past: Philosophical Perspectives on Archaeological Practice, edited by Robin Coningham and Geoffrey Scarre, pp. 195-221. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York.
Nicholas, G., and A. Wylie (2009) Archaeological Finds: Legacies of Appropriation, Modes of Response. In The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation, edited by C. Brunk and J. O. Young. Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, MA, pp. 11–54.
Kansa, Eric. 2007. Egypt Goes Copyright Nuts. Digging Digitally Blog.