A.J. Liebling, in the Sweet Science, his collection of boxing pieces from the early fifties, complained that the onset of tv had ruined boxing. In those distant days the camera, hungry for anything, filmed a plenitude of bouts. This had the odd effect of culling the sport, since tv viewers naturally wanted spectacles and stars. The old fashioned code of pugilism, the beerhall flavor of ambitious nobodies slugging it out on the circuit until some nobody made that magic transition into celebrity, was impossibly speeded up.

According to a story in Monday’s Independent, the same thing, improbably enough, is happening to Egyptology. The article is about the controversy surrounding the proposal of two French amateurs to sink a small hole in the floor of the great pyramid, send down a small camera, and look at a chamber under the floor that radar has revealed. The French guys claim that Cheops himself, in mummy attire, is stashed down there somewhere. The head of Egypt’s department of archaelogical matters, Zahi Hawass, has compared this to a proposal to drill a hole in the floor of the Chartres cathedral. Hawass claims that he wants to return Egyptology to the Egyptians. The French say that he is really in the back pocket of National Geographic. Indeed, he seems to have made some deal with NG for an exploration of the Cheops pyramid.

“Today, Egyptology is a worldwide science and there are almost 300 digs under way by archaeologists from 12 countries. These range from the hot- spots of Thebes and Giza - where scientists from half a dozen countries are at work - to Deir-el-Medina, where French archaeologists believe they have found an artisans' commune that, under Rameses III, staged the first-ever strike for better working conditions. "There is so much here that there is room for everyone," said Jean-Pierre Corteggiani of the French Institute for Oriental Studies, one of the academics supporting M. Dormion and M. Verd'hurt.

The French amateur team say Dr Hawass's hostility towards them is principally motivated by his links to National Geographic, which has funded several of his digs and to which they believe he may have offered filming rights to high-profile digs. "I don't care if he is funded by National Geographic or even by the Pope," said M. Verd'hurt. "He should not stop other people doing their work."
We like the finding of the first strikers – not something they are going to be publicizing on Fox, for sure. But the article’s author, Alex Duval Smith, has his hands on the television theme.

“Television has changed the face of Egyptology through its funding of digs and ability to raise the profile of individual scientists. Jean- Pierre Adam, an architect who specialises in Egypt at the French National Science Research Centre, says television has been bad for archaeology. "These days many researchers, even good ones, need to find a `scoop' and raise money for their work by signing contracts with television companies. The real graft of research - the anonymous hard work - has been bastardised."
Smith uses the example of Nefertiti – elevated to stardom in the States:

“One of the dreams of Egyptologists is to find Nefertiti's mummified remains. Last year Discovery Channel announced that Joanne Fletcher, a mummification expert from the University of York, had located Nefertiti among three female mummies found in 1898 by Victor Loret in Amenhotep II's tomb. Dr Hawass has rejected Fletcher's research as "pure fiction" and the work of "a new PhD recipient". Rivals suggest she rushed into the claim because Discovery Channel wanted a selling-point for its film.”

LI could, but will refuse, to draw parallels between this dispute and the conference over Iraq that Egypt just sponsored. Suffice it to say, the Bushies wanted a selling point for their own film.