Edit: Thanks so much for your questions! I had a lot of fun answering them, but I’ve gotta run now…

Hi, I’m Ann Williams. I’m an archaeologist, and a journalist specializing in the discovery of clues to our long-distant past. My latest book—a National Geographic publication called Treasures of Egypt—covers spectacular discoveries that represent 3,000 years of history. If you’ve ever wished you could ask Indiana Jones something about tombs, treasures, mummies, and pharaohs, get your questions ready now. You can ask me anything!

PROOF: https://i.redd.it/x7wpce4rrut91.jpg

Comments: 806 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

BlueHatBrit829 karma

If you could drop a pin anywhere in the world and have a fully funded excavation / investigation with all the approval you could imagine, where would it be and why? I assume it might be somewhere specific in Egypt, but it doesn't have to be if you have interest in other areas as well!

nationalgeographic1131 karma

Hmmm. There are loads of sites in places that are hard to get to, and challenging to work in, but so potentially interesting. For instance, there are intriguing traces of communities all along the trade network that we call the Silk Road that connected Asia with Europe. Archaeologists have barely touched those places.

AndroChromie490 karma

Do you use protective gear (gloves, breathing devices etc.) to avoid ancient bacteria, microorganisms or toxins/viruses when handling anything in a tomb?

nationalgeographic669 karma

That's what archaeologists should do. Every breath we exhale contains bacteria, which could affect artifacts uncovered in a tomb.

tirnanog22470 karma

Are any archaeologists searching for Anthony & cleopatras tomb ?

nationalgeographic732 karma

I believe Kathleen Martinez is still searching. She has done a lot of work at Taposiris Magna, where she has uncovered artifacts from that era.

NatNat1988206 karma

Someone claimed to find Cleopatra's tomb recently. But due to it being badly water damaged it will take time to prove apparently.

There is a lady who has dedicated her life to finding Anthony's tomb.

nationalgeographic321 karma

Kathleen Martinez. Her work is ongoing, as far as I know.

ScottGolden100 karma

How far back does the worship of cats go, and what started it?

nationalgeographic300 karma

I don't know that cats were worshipped. There were deities such as Bastet that took the form of a cat, those go way back in ancient Egyptian history.

The remains of a cat found in a predynastic tomb at Mostagedda indicate that ancient Egyptians were keeping cats as pets as early as the 4th millennium BCE.

erineestevenson372 karma

How can archeologists strike the right balance between exploring sacred places for educational gain and respecting the rights of cultures to keep those places sacred?

Also do you like snakes?

nationalgeographic841 karma

I don't mind snakes at all.

That's an interesting question about respecting other cultures and their sacred spaces while serving the interests of science and learning about all the variations of human thought and belief through the ages.

For me, and answer lies in what the culture says about how it wants to be viewed. Ancient Egyptians asked us not to forget them, to call their names into eternity, so in studying them and telling modern people about them, I think I'm carrying out their wishes.

GDJT319 karma

What's your least favorite common question you're asked when people find out what you do?

nationalgeographic570 karma

The one about treasure. My answer is always that information is the real treasure—though of course we're dazzled by artifacts like the ones that were found in King Tut's tomb.

sleepyiguana303 karma

What's the worst curse you have suffered for tombraiding?

nationalgeographic368 karma

I have not raided any tombs or encountered curses while visiting them.

elbartooriginal272 karma

How good are you with the whip?

Do you face a lot of corruption with the egyptian authorities?

nationalgeographic516 karma

No whipping.

Egyptian authorities are taking on more and more of the responsibility for making discoveries in their own country, and preserving what has been found. They're also training new generations of Egyptian archaeologists. And they're opening a number of state-of-the-art museums all around the country to display artifacts in an attractive and informative way.

streamofobnoxious263 karma

Did ancient priests and funeral workers regularly take shortcuts or pocket items when burying nobility? For example, an archaeologist anticipating riches buried with a pharaoh, like an enameled scarab, instead finds objects of lower than expected value like a wax scarab.

In the 21st century funeral homes get caught failing to take proper care of bodies, sometimes even failing to cremate or bury them at all. I can imagine a priestly associate or masonry worker looking at a dead mummy surrounded by enormous amounts of gold and priceless treasures about to be sealed in a tomb forever, tempted to replace or steal the goods.

nationalgeographic412 karma

Human nature is what it is. We know for sure that in the Late Period priests sometimes sold votive mummies that were supposed to be a certain animal but were not. For instance, there would be a feather inside the mummy bundle instead of an ibis. Or a lump of clay instead of a cat. The priests presumably charged the full fee but didn't provide a complete mummy for a pilgrim to offer.

Jizzapherina239 karma

What are some modern processes used to allow tombs to be open for viewing, but to also protect them? I've done a few virtual tomb tours that were great, but had me thinking about this.

nationalgeographic312 karma

Wow, that's a good question. Virtual tours are great. In fact, in addition to helping to preserve the ancient spaces, they allow the viewer to linger over details, which you often can't do when you're visiting in person. For personal visits, I don't know of any modern processes—just limiting the number of visitors, rotating the tombs that can be visited, making sure the spaces are climate controlled.

sprucay215 karma

How are the torches kept lit inside the tombs?

Serious question though, how much do we know about Egypt interacting with other countries/ Empires etc.?

nationalgeographic255 karma

We know quite a bit—most especially because of the collection of records known as the Amarna tables, but there caches of records have been uncovered as well.

sprucay109 karma

So ancient Egypt interacted a lot? It's probably a stupid question, but I always think of them as the only civilisation around at the time!

nationalgeographic362 karma

Ancient peoples were a lot more interconnected than we often give them credit for, and the Egyptians were no exceptions. Just think about those big royal boats from the 4th dynasty that were uncovered at Giza. Where did that lumber come from? The cedar trees of Lebanon. The Egyptians were trading with neighbors in all directions.

JustRelaxYo183 karma

Why do we not go inside the Sphinx in modern times? Last I heard, the nazi's found an underground entrance, those ones died, and no one has gone inside again... which I can't say is true. But really, why don't we explore the inside? Egyptian government issues?

nationalgeographic285 karma

There are multiple cavities associated with the Sphinx. Drs. Hawass and Lehner have investigated some in recent years (follow the url I'm providing, below). There's nothing for tourists to see, so these areas are not open to the public. As far as further research is concerned, an expert would have to be interested, get funding, get a permit. It's a complex process.


Lotuswalker92176 karma

Thank you for your AMA ! I always wondered: How were we able to decipher the hieroglyphs, without knowing anything about the languages words and grammar, etc ?

nationalgeographic431 karma

Well, that's an interesting question, especially in 2022, which is the bicentenntial of Jean-Francois Champollion's announcement that he had deciphered the hieroglyphic code. That was that culmination of many years of effort by many scholars. The key was the Rosetta Stone, which allowed linguists to compare the ancient Greek text to the hieroglyphs spelling out an identical text.

Qubertcue161 karma

Do the tombs of the pharaohs have booby traps to prevent thieves? And are there a lot of treasures inside the tombs?

nationalgeographic267 karma

No booby traps that I'm aware of. Treasures? Every tomb holds a treasure of information about someone who has lived at some time in the past.

Jizzapherina136 karma

One more question :) In your opinion, what is the most important and under-rated archeological find in Egypt - one that we (gen pop) probably don't know much about but is worth learning more about?

nationalgeographic283 karma

The royal burial complex from about 1000 BCE that was found at Tanis on the brink of WWII. King Psusennes of the 21st dynasty was buried there, along with other royals. Artifacts included a sold silver casket, and gold funerary masks and vases. But the world was so gripped by the war that this discovery got very little attention. There's a PBS program about it—https://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/the-silver-pharaoh-about-this-episode/669/

DudFlabby108 karma

How was the preservation/mummification process developed, and where did the word “mummy” come from?

nationalgeographic198 karma

The science of mummification was developed over many centuries. By the New Kingdom, embalmers knew how preserve human remains astonishingly well. The mummies of Yuya and Tuyu, the in-laws of Amenhotep III, are great examples. I believe the word "mummy" is derived from the Persian/Arabic word mummiya, meaning a tar-like (embalming) substance.

Schemen123100 karma

Does the X truly never mark the spot?

nationalgeographic220 karma

Archaeology is a science dedicated to the slow, careful, accumulation of facts. X never marks the spot.

DrJawn75 karma

What are some things the Egyptians got right that we're getting wrong in our current culture?

nationalgeographic252 karma

Their circumstances are very different from ours, so it's difficult to compare. But one of the things that we might infer from the glorious tomb decorations we see is that the ancient Egyptians really enjoyed their lives. Their tomb walls celebrate activities such as singing, dancing, fishing, boating, and time with their family. Carpe diem.

johnnychase72 karma

Is archeology the single most difficult profession to get into? What career path would you suggest a student with an interest in archeology enter?

I ask because It seems the only real way to work in archeology is through tenured university positions (unless you are just a dude swinging an axe/shovel). I know of entire PhD archeology cohorts who went through a top-of-the-nation program and none could get work in academia after.

Is this just the worst job market ever? Where do people get funding for digs outside of academia?

nationalgeographic115 karma

This is a very good question, and the answer is long and complex. I set out to become an archaeologist and ended up going into journalism after facing the very same challenges you outline. I would say at this point that combining these interests has worked out well for me. It's a strategy I'd suggest for others with an interest in past cultures. Try to figure out how to combine that with a corporate need. Otherwise, yes, there's academia, which is very difficult to get into but not impossible. Or there's raising your own funding. That's what Mark Lehner has done with AERA—https://www.aeraweb.org/about/ Of course, he's super smart, and he works in Egypt, so those things help...

Enternal-62 karma

Are there sections of the pyramids or sphinx that we know exist yet don't know how to access?

nationalgeographic48 karma

No that I'm aware of.

PopeBasilisk54 karma

I recently learned that later pharaohs would sometimes take from older tombs for their own regalia. Do we have any estimate of how much of the treasures lost were taken by other pharaohs compared to random tomb raiders?

nationalgeographic99 karma

That kind of recycling would be impossible to calculate. It was done, of course, with buildings all the time. at the site of Karnak, for instance, you see a palimpsest of royal building and rebuilding and reuse.

Jessman8S53 karma

What is your opinion on the potential Sun Temple found this past summer?

nationalgeographic108 karma

You mean Jackie Williamson's work at Amarna? I think she's brilliant.

Sigmar_Heldenhammer44 karma

What do you say to people who think aliens built the pyramids and all that crazy stuff? Harmless conspiracy theories have a way of always leading to more dangerous ones, so I’m curious how do you nip it in the bud?

nationalgeographic123 karma

I always say that as a scientist I try to keep an open mind. But the odds of aliens having built the pyramids are mighty slim. I think it's more productive to focus time, thought, and energy on events and processes that were infinitely more likely. Let's talk about those. (This response usually works...)

Xvash239 karma

On a scale of 1-10, how ridiculous or not at all ridiculous was Moon Knight with respect to Ancient Egyptian lore/religion/artifacts?

nationalgeographic75 karma

The Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt offered an online lecture recently about this. Too bad you missed it—https://sites.google.com/site/arcedc01/events-lectures/2022-8-6-moon-knight-stsmith

NatNat198836 karma

Do you think we will ever find Antonys tomb?

nationalgeographic67 karma

You never know what will turn up in archaeology. That's what makes it so interesting. I think it's not likely that we'll find his tomb, but it's not outside the realm of possibility.

BeastlyDecks15 karma

I hear the ancient Egyptians kept very precise records of the water levels of the Nile each year. How reliable/corroborated are those numbers? Because it's an interesting window into the climate of ancient times.

nationalgeographic47 karma

Ancient Egyptians used structures called Nilometers to measure the height of the Nile flooding every year. That was very important, because it offered a preview of what the coming agricultural year was going to be like. If the water level was good—not too low, not too high—then crops would be naturally fertilized as the receding flood waters dropped their rich silt, and water would fill containment areas for the season's irrigation. There are surviving Nilometers at places suvch as Kom Ombo and Edfu. I don't know how many of the records have come down to us, though.

Krazeyivan12 karma

I watched a program in the 90s on British television with David Rohl and in it he laid out interesting discrepancies which contradicts mainstream Egyptology. He proposed a major revision of the established Egyptian chronology. Has there been further research on this? Or will there never be change even if proven?

nationalgeographic44 karma

There are various ideas about chronologies in Egyptology. For my current book Trerasures of Egypt, and other publications, I've used the dates worked out by John Baines and Jaromir Malek in their Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt. Those were for many years the standard used also by National Geographic magazine. But other people use other chronologies. Dates are being refined all the time, though, as we uncover more and more evidence from the past. So chronologies can and will be revisited. That's part of the science of archaeology,

ConstableGrey11 karma

Is it true when Indiana Jones says "seventy percent of all archeology is done in the library"?

nationalgeographic43 karma

Excavating is exciting. But all the discoveries have to be catalogued, conserved, studied, published. There's a LOT of back-end work that has to be done after a dig to present artifacts in a way that they can be studied by the experts.

i_hmm_some7 karma

How plausible is Wilbur Smith’s novel River God?

nationalgeographic9 karma

I haven't read it, so I can't comment.

lostan6 karma

Hi Indiana,

Any idea why you were literally the worst archaeologist imaginable?

nationalgeographic44 karma

Hollywood. Sigh. But here's the thing—Do you know of Sarah Parcak? She's a very famous mid-career Egyptologist/expert in space imagery. She got inspired to take up archaeology as a profession by watching those Indiana Jones films as a child. So the impact wasn't all bad ;-)

TakeOff_YouHoser5 karma

Are the heiroglyphs exclusive to the ancient Egyptians, or have we seen variations of it predating or succeeding their society?

nationalgeographic12 karma

The ancient Egyptians had their own writing system, expressed in hieroglyphs. Of course, it developed over time. We see early symbols at places like Abydos. check this out—https://archive.archaeology.org/9903/newsbriefs/egypt.html#:~:text=Bone%20and%20ivory%20tags%2C%20pottery,known%20examples%20of%20Egyptian%20writing.

pentuppenguin2 karma

What can Ancient Egypt teach us about the patriarchy of today?

nationalgeographic4 karma

Kara Cooney has a lot of say about that. Check out her book The Good Kings (which I edited).