EXP. 7: DUNG BEETLE STALKING PREY – CHAPTER 8

[First post in this Novel: Dedication]
[Previous post in this Novel: Chapter 7]

Kharga, Present Day

Considering that Clorice was not a fashionista, her choice of research expertise – pharaonic era clothing, jewelry and make-up – bemused those around her. Nevertheless, Clorice’s choice was extremely politically savvy.

Ever since she first looked at the Time-Life book Ancient Egypt: Great Ages of Man in primary school, Clorice knew that her future lay in the deep past of that long lost civilization. As the years went on and Clorice discovered the fine nuances of the lion’s pit of academia, she realized that if she did not want to be torn apart by academic predators and special friends, she would have to be very strategic in choosing the minutiae that would make up her area of expertise. From the sidelines, Clorice had seen researchers’ careers and mental and physical health destroyed by alternative hypotheses and destructive innuendo peddled by “special friends” – and she wanted to stay clear of that very real and ugly possibility.

Clorice believed that academics may have cornered the market of self-aggrandizing bullying, albeit at a small scale. She hypothesized that this was probably due to the graduate-supervisor-funding team dynamics which glorified the individual academic gurus and their slithering scotch- or beer-drinking sycophant posses at the expense of other such bully-squads, who were viewed as evil competitors for the same limited financial and human resources. Additionally, university “management” was dominated by academics whose arms had been twisted with bribes of reduced teaching load or top-ups to their research grants to take up the gauntlet of being the supreme departmental bureaucratic paper pusher for a couple of years. Oh, the power. As a result, few university Chairs had a genuine passion or talent for management. Indeed most academics have a visceral disdain for managers whom they see as malevolent automatons bent on keeping them busy with pointless paperwork and away from doing their earth-shatteringly important research. Consequently, there were no real checks and balances for bad behaviour within the hallowed halls. The much vaunted and flaunted academic freedom of the university professor thus includes the freedom to be not just an incompetent manager, but a bully to boot.

To try to avoid this potential health hazard, Clorice decided to develop a new area of expertise in which she would be the future academic sub-sub-sub-disciplinary sovereign without competition. Controlling a niche market, she believed, increased her academic status, which in turn increased her funding and thus her access to archaeo-adventures. To this end, as a student and postdoctoral fellow, rather than focusing strictly on classical Egyptology, Clorice also cultivated academic minors in chemistry, geography, anthropology, and public policy. The former established her as one of the new breed of scientific anthropologists, and the latter helped her get grants and contracts – including with CSIS.

After having spent the better part of the past decade cultivating and contemplating the finer points of nuanced academic esoterica, Clorice carefully carved out a unique niche in the area of feminine beauty products and their socio-cultural implications through the ages. And now she was reaping the benefits. Given that so few people worked in this area, the number of Special Friends she had accumulated was, to her knowledge, nil.

Considering the various PRIKs’ research priorities, Clorice decided that the primary focus of her own research this field season would be the medicinal and spiritual esoterica of Egyptian eye make-up. She chose this subject for a number of reasons. First, because it was multidisciplinary and trendy and thus would result in a significant number of easily published peer-reviewed publications, which were the foundation for any academic’s reputation and research funding. Second, it has been hypothesized that ancient Egyptian eye make-up may have reduced the frequency and severity of various eye diseases, such as trachoma. If this panned out, then Clorice’s work might be useful in the development of inexpensive natural pharmaceutical cosmetics, based on ancient techniques, to reduce eye disease in areas of the world where few could afford conventional western medicines. And finally, her choice in research focus also had a more nefarious side: it gave her easy working access to all the different research teams. This was needed to meet her commitment to CSIS to ascertain, what, if any, connection there was between the PRIKs and the antiquities black market.

As anticipated, her cunning choice in research topic resulted in collegial buy-in from all the different team leads, who could see how her uniqueness could be added to theirs.

To begin with, luckily, the news of the library’s discovery would not be released to the world media for a few weeks, as it would take that long for the BBC-PBS production crew to complete and release the film. This much-appreciated delay in announcing the find would give Virginie and her team the time needed to do a quick-and-dirty photo survey of the inside of the chamber. They also now had some time to prepare the site for the anticipated onslaught of media and curious tourists and patrons approved by Dr. Hamama’s office. Clorice had volunteered to help Virginie with mapping, cataloguing and preparing the site on the premise that, for her, these tasks would be preliminary field work to ascertain what, if any, documents may exist in the library that might be related to her subject areas, and in addition, provide her with an opportunity to observe Virginie and team up close for her CSIS contract.

Next, Clorice asked Omar if she could do a little research on the epigraphy and architecture in the Hathor Temple related to eyes. She was convinced that, considering that Hathor’s amongst her multiple aspects she was as the goddess of make-up, there would be a wealth of information painted and carved in the walls of the temple. Omar gladly agreed.

Then, with Jesse’s persuasive mediation, even Poop and Scoop agreed to collaborate with Clorice, in return for co-authorship on any resulting academic paper. Clorice would be permitted to photograph the iconographic information on the sarcophagi and any paintings on the mummy wrappings. She would take eye area tissue samples and have them analyzed for various ocular conditions at a commercial lab in Cairo. She would also collect samples of the actual make-up around the eyes, that Archie would then analyze using the laboratory that Dr. Hamama had provided for this type of work, including scanning electron microscopy, IRTF spectrometry and powder x-ray diffraction equipment, all powered by a series of state of the art solar power generators. According to both Archie and Jesse, the story of how they ended up with this state-of-the-art equipment in the middle of nowhere was best told after a few neat scotches, the peatier the better. Alternatively, Clorice could watch the story when she got home, on her local Public Broadcasting Station, complete with pledge breaks. Once this work was done, Poop and Scoop and his students would be free to tear apart the mummies to get to the chunky desiccated intestinal gems that they lusted after.

Finally, Clorice asked Maxine and Archie if she could accompany them in the field, when Maxine and Archie went to investigate various pigment bearing landforms such as fossil spring mounds, ephemeral lakes or mineral outcrops that could have been used to develop the pigments used in eye make-up. They were both on board, and indicated that an extra hand was always welcome.

Her plan was set. By insinuating herself into each and every team, she would be able to both fulfill her CSIS contract, and at their expense, make a significant contribution to her own academic career. A win-win – for her on both counts.

[Continue reading: Chapter 9]

chiceleg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *