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Typical Day

Bobby Brainsthroughthenose works at one of a handful of universities with an Egyptology department; most don't have one at all, and some simply lump it in with ancient history or classics. If you aren't an Egyptian archaeologist, you are unlikely to dig at all. (Also, because of the heat, the dig season is generally in the fall and winter, rather than the summer, so the archaeologists are not usually at the university during the school year—another reason for the competition and isolation between academic and archaeologist types. The archaeologists think the academics are boring/stupid to stay at home and write papers while the weather is good in Egypt, and the academics feel like the archaeologists took off and left them with all the crummy work to do while they get a vacation on the university's dime. Both sides think the other's work is inferior to theirs—academics think archaeologists don't really work very hard, archaeologists think academics wouldn't have anything to study if it wasn't for them…it's a vicious circle).

Most of the non-archaeology Egyptologists teach, write papers, and give lectures, and that's all they do. Occasionally you get one that is interested in doing things like giving presentations to (gasp!) the general public at a local museum, or being quoted about some important find in a newspaper, or appearing in a History Channel documentary, but some academics consider that to be as frivolous as archaeology. Very occasionally you get one who is interested in digging and teaching, and they have the roughest time of all, since neither "side" in this totally unnecessary dichotomy will ever really trust them. Most of those people are self-starters and mavericks, though, and don't care.

Anyway, back to our hero. Naturally, Bobby has tenure; there are so few Egyptology professors that all of them have jobs until they die or get headhunted by another school, more or less. He's earned this position, with more than a decade of study, most of that as the star student under a professor famed for his published works on Egyptology. Like many other Egyptologists, he got his job when his advisor retired; most of his classmates weren't so lucky, and are either teaching part-time, writing and presenting articles for academic journals, consulting with museums, or finding other careers.

Bobby's specialty is Egyptian philology, or the study of hieroglyphic language. Today, he will spend the morning polishing an article for next week's symposium on subject-verb agreement in Late Egyptian accounting dockets. Around noon, he'll drop in to the research library to pick up a copy of the latest journal, so he can laugh at Tim's latest report about some inscriptions he’s restoring in the tomb of Bubba-hotep, and maybe write a scathing review demonstrating why an archaeologist shouldn't be let anywhere near hieroglyphic texts. Many archaeologists have taken less linguistic classes than their academic peers, so there will be long arguments about translations of texts on site. The archaeologists will often be accused of "doing it wrong" more or less, and once the site is catalogued, the academics will put out a "better" translation of the site with all kinds of footnotes.

After lunch, it's time for Middle Egyptian class with his graduate students, where Bobby will assign an entire book for them to read by tomorrow, and chuckle to himself as they leave the classroom with varying expressions of doom, depending on how many other courses also assigned more than a hundred pages of homework tonight. The rest of Bobby's day is filled with university paperwork, planning the next faculty mixer, and more editing on that symposium article, after grading last night's papers and a short meeting with two dissertation candidates.

Meanwhile, Tim Gus Sacrophie, an Egyptian archaeologist, is watching his students, who are kneeling in a shallow trench. This trench is located a few feet away from the doorway of Bubba-hotep’s tomb, a small excavation at the edge of a desert valley in Upper Egypt.

How do we know the giraffes didn't do this?

Even though the excavation season is timed for the cooler part of the year, they've started work well before 6am, because by the time noon rolls around, it will be more than 120 degrees in the trench. By noon, even the Egyptian workers won’t have any interest in standing in a dusty hole, hefting rubber buckets up and out to be carried by hand down the hill and sifted through giant screens, one at a time.

Tim is Mr. Crankypants, because last night was spent mostly on the phone to his Egyptian counterparts, arguing about concession permits and whether or not the university will continue to fund the dig if the Egyptian government demands any more control over it. Occasionally, Tim picks his way carefully down the escarpment, and watches two other dusty and overheated students and the official dig conservator pawing through sifted dirt for fragments of anything at all. Today, like many days, they've managed to discover nothing but an endless stream of sand and rocks, one bucket at a time. Tim starts to wonder what he's going to write about in his next article. Even though he knows his academic colleagues (like that lazy jerk Bobby) are going to trash it, if he doesn't publish enough material about the tomb, the chances of funding next winter's excavation are slim.