Today's cuppa: decaf Mystic Monk coffee
Kara Cooney is a striking, six-foot-tall Irish/Italian-American brunette with a
quick wit and an odd fascination with things that would bore the pants off of
many young women.
“I love anything old and dead,” she says. “I have always loved anything old and dead
just had this special quality. I’ve been doing this since 1994, when I started
graduate school, and I have not been disappointed yet.
“It’s an incredibly
powerful culture and an incredibly innovative culture. I’m still waiting to be
disappointed. There are still moments where I go, ‘Oh, my God.’
“I’m not bored.”
Dr. Cooney is an archaeologist based at UCLA, this all worked out in her favor.
Monday, Aug. 24, Cooney begins a quest to make us understand why we should all
be just as jazzed about
as she is, in her new Discovery Channel series “Out of Egypt.“
In each of the six episodes, Cooney begins in
where she asks a question that then takes her on a globe-spanning quest to find
connections among disparate cultures.
“Everything starts in
right?” she says. “You bring up a question. It starts
in Egypt, but the idea was to make as many connections between people,
humanity, as you possibly could, and to show how, once you build up a similar
system — i.e. a complex society based on kingship or the inequality of people
and rich and poor and exploitation and taxation and bureaucracy — once you do
that, then the solutions people come up with, even though they’re completely
unconnected, are very, very similar.
“So that was super-fun for me, to be able to go into a Hindu
temple and see the connections to Ancient Egyptian polytheism. That was insane. It was
And because she’s out of her comfort zone, Cooney doesn’t just
have to answer questions, she can also ask them.
“The thing is,” she says, “by leaving
I’m able to ask stupid questions that I would not be able to ask in any other
"So, in Egypt, I can be the expert — 'This is this, and that is that, and this is how it works' — but when I go to Sri Lanka, I can say to my expert, 'OK, what the hell is going on here? Will you please explain it to me?'
“And it’s still cool.”
With so many things in modern society
referring back the Classical antiquity of Greece and
Rome — from using names of their gods to using Greek and Latin in such areas
as science and faith — what is it about more ancient, more alien Egypt that
appeals to the modern mind?
that's all influenced by
"This is what I think about
why it is that
sparks something in people right off the bat. OK, take it from the other end.
If you look at something Mayan, and you look at the artwork, you go, 'OK,
where's the jaguar? OK, now, wait…and the king. OK, I see it.'
"It takes a while
to understand what it is, because it's so stylized, it's so schematic.
"Egyptian art is very
intuitive. The iconography and the hieroglyphic-ness of it is so mysterious to
somebody who doesn't understand it, it draws you in and makes you want to know
"It's intuitive in that you
understand the scene right off the bat. Everything's recognizable; everything's
very clear. Yet, all of the little details — 'What's he holding? What's that
here? Why is she wearing that? What does that headdress mean that's different
from all the other headdresses?' Then people want to decode it.
"And it doesn't hurt that a
lot of it's made of gold."
Then there's the whole mummy thing.
"Automatically," Cooney says, "we, as
Americans, inherently value what the Ancient Egyptians valued — power, money.
And we're attracted to the death aspect, because we completely ignore death and
hide it away.
"So, how many times in a
museum do you see the kids smooshing their face up against the glass to look at
the dead body and get as close to it as they possibly could?"