Interview with Andrew Lawler, Author of "A Mystery Fit for a Pharaoh"- page 2 | History | Smithsonian

Interview with Andrew Lawler, Author of "A Mystery Fit for a Pharaoh"

Andrew Lawler discusses imperialism and the natural romance of studying ancient cultures.

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(Continued from page 1)

Were you drawn toward the underdog?

Well maybe a little of that. It's nice to travel on a path that's not so trodden upon, and Egypt is so flashy and so obvious. It's all about gold and mummies, things that are neat and cool but which feel overdone in our culture. There was actually a part of me that was sort of resistant to doing an article about this tomb. But then as I got into it and began to meet the characters, and that made the story come alive, and I dropped my attitude a little. And this isn't a story about gold or mummies, because there were no gold or mummies. The international press actually left when they found that out—they just vanished because it's not a flashy Egyptian tomb find. So for me it became a path that was a little less trodden.

How did you first become interested in Mesopotamia?

I was always fascinated with the ancient Sumerians, because in so many ways they were the first people like us—they lived in cities, they knew how to write, they had a pretty sophisticated culture and economy, and it's always fascinated me: why there? Who were these people? How did they come up with these tremendous and important concepts and put them into practice? And they were somewhat obscure compared to the flash of Egypt.

What was the most interesting dig you've been too?

In Southern Iraq, we were at a site called Umma, and the excavators had uncovered a very large wall that was very early, definitely Sumerian. It was the beginning of what was clearly going to be a fascinating find—and then, the war started. Now the site is largely destroyed, the site is gone. At the time I didn't realize that what I was seeing would vanish within a couple of years, which is one of the tragedies of Iraq, that the remains of what may be the most ancient civilization are being devastated.

About Amy Crawford
Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Boston-based freelance journalist writing about government, education and ideas. Her writing has appeared in Smithsonian, Slate, Boston Magazine and the Boston Globe.

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