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Egyptologist Comes to the Civic Center


Ancient Egypt has long been a fascination point of millions of people around the globe. So great is the interest, in fact, a word for this passion has even been created: Egyptomania.

Dr. Kara Cooney, a world-renowned Egyptologist and Professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture at UCLA, has delved deep into the burial chambers of legendary Egyptian pyramids, and has studied, up close and personal, many of the very things that draw the public’s attention like moths to a flame.

And now, as part of the National Geographic Live! Series, Cooney will bring her treasure chest of knowledge to the Des Moines Civic Center on Jan. 21, 2020, for an exciting, 90-minute presentation and Q&A on ancient Egypt titled “When Women Ruled the World.”

Although largely ignored in history books, a handful of Egyptian women possessed an immense amount of power and influence.

“Five of these women became nothing less than king, and I use the word ‘king’ instead of ‘queen’ because ancient Egyptians used that word,” Cooney said. “The first one to do that was Neferusobek. She ruled alone after her husband’s death for about four years and kept Egypt within the status quo, kept the warlords at bay and passed the reins of power onto another dynasty peacefully.”

Cooney, the author of two books and producer of an archaeology television series, “Out of Egypt,” which originally aired on the Discovery Channel, best sees the current world through the lens of the ancient one, she says. Historical relevancy is as important to her work as the physical discoveries.

“It’s interesting to me to see what ancient Egypt has to teach us,” Cooney said. “Why do we find women in power so problematic today, still? Why are we still so challenged by the idea of a female political power? So I talk about each of these women and ask, ‘What can they teach us?’ ”

From the outset, Cooney said, she makes it clear that while strides have been made in gender equality, it’s not yet a time for a collective pat on the societal back.

“The beginning of my talk pokes a balloon for anyone who thinks we’re doing a great job,” she said. “There’s pushback against female power in all forms. We often think of a woman as too soft or too emotional to be within the halls of power. That’s exactly what I’m trying to figure out. Why do we think that way, and what can the ancient world teach us that will help us move forward in giving 50 percent of the population 50 percent of the power?”

Cooney said she will also briefly touch on her current research — coffin reuse in the 19th and 21st Dynasties.

“That was a time period when trade routes were shut down, war was rampant, and things were so bad that people couldn’t get access to wood to build new coffins,” she said. “For the Egyptians, they would take an ancestor out of the coffin, place that ancestor within the family tomb off to the side with care and attention, then have the coffin updated, replastered and repainted to make it look like a coffin from their time period.”

There is one question, however, that Cooney will not have an answer for: where her affinity with Egypt began.

“I get asked that the most, but it’s a question with which there is no answer,” she admits. “There’s no way we, as Egyptologists, can tell other people why we are obsessed with antiquity, and why we sacrifice all kinds of things to study people who have been dead for 4,000 years. I don’t know why that is, but I do.”