Galileo Goes to Brown University!

On Tuesday, November 30th, The Galileo School had the pleasure of traveling to Brown University to meet with Professor Laurel Bestock, Egyptologist.  The Galileo school has devoted the last four weeks to studying 3,000 years of Egyptian history.  It was difficult to squeeze such a huge amount of information into such a small amount of time but with the help of  great books, field trips and an endless supply of enthusiasm we managed to fit it all in. But, as we found out while talking with Professor Bestock, one can spend a lifetime learning about Egypt and never declare themselves “finished”.

The children came prepared with ten questions each for the Professor.  She was able to elaborate on basic facts we had collected, correct some misconceptions we had and help us understand more clearly some of the more difficult dilemmas one encounters when studying Egypt.  For instance, as Prof. Bestock pointed out, the time between the emergence of Egyptian civilization and when it was conquered by Alexander the Great is a longer period of time than the time between Alexander the Great and present day.  Language, customs and writing changed so much during that time that An Egyptian from the Ptolemaic Period would not have been able to speak the language of an Egyptian of the earlier Old Kingdom Period.  This helped us understand  many things including the different representations of the Egyptian gods and goddesses; their purpose and prominence waxed and waned and evolved greatly over those three thousand years.  It helped us realize that one cannot take an accurate snapshot of “ancient Egypt”.  It really needs to be more of a slideshow.

The discussion then turned to written and spoken language.  Professor Bestock was able to clarify for us that Hieratic was the written language that would have been used for written transactions and correspondence on papyrus while Hieroglyphs were reserved for decoration of walls and objects made of stone.  We also learned that even though Egypt had a wealth of gold, their currency was grain.  Throughout it’s long history one thing that was consistent was Egypt’s reliance on the yearly inundation of the Nile for survival.  Grain was sustenance and success, especially among the non-elite.

Throughout our discussions on Egypt I found it very interesting that the Greeks kept popping up.  The kids are taking a class on Herodotus and seem to enjoy imagining the relationship between Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece.  Professor Bestock noted that the way we credit ancient Greece for our present day Political framework, arts and culture, architecture and philosophical ideas, the ancient Greeks would have looked at Egypt in much the same way.  This was a perfect transition from for our month-long study of Egypt to January  when we tackle ancient Greece.
We learned so much from our afternoon with Professor Bestock and want to thank her for carving time out of her very busy schedule. She is due to return to Egypt in two weeks to return to her dig site where they are unearthing buildings belonging to King Aha circa 3,100BC.

I have to say that when she spoke of her work in Egypt, Professor Bestock was a 12 year old again, giddy with excitement to be living out her dream.  We should all be that fortunate to find something we love in life and be able to summon the drive and perseverance to achieve it.

Professor Bestock is our inspiration, and I am so happy to call her a friend of The Galileo School. We enjoyed touring around the beautiful campus of Brown University; the juxtaposition of so many different architectural styles from all periods of history was fascinating to see.  A  truly beautiful way to spend a day.

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