May 26, 2021
Prompt 33: How is current knowledge shaped by its historical development?
Object 1: The Mummy of Hornedjitef
The prompt I have selected is, “How is current knowledge shaped by its historical development?” This exhibition explores this prompt by analysing religious, linguistic, anthropological and technological knowledge. This encourages reflection on the extent to which our current knowledge has been shaped throughout history.
Hornedjitef was a priest in Egypt 2,250 years ago. Like all Egyptians, he believed that if his body was preserved, he would live beyond death. It was said that before reaching the afterlife, one’s soul would have to undergo a perilous journey; his sarcophagus was designed for this purpose. This gives us insight into Ancient Egypt’s religion, which was a system of polytheistic beliefs and rituals that formed an integral part of their culture. Nonetheless, their religion has changed through time. 2Currently, the main religious group in Egypt is Islam with 85% identifying as Muslim.
A map of the heavens was featured in his coffin as an aid of navigation. The meticulous preparation of his sarcophagus has allowed us to understand Ancient Egyptian life and beliefs. Within his coffin, the hieroglyphic inscriptions tell us who he was, and offer some insight into his religious background, his place in society, and what they believed about the afterlife. Most of the writing on the coffin was incomprehensible in the 1820s, but with our current grasp of hieroglyphic script, deciphering it has become possible. Hieroglyphics were the foundation for the Latin alphabet, as the majority of letters are derived from them. Thus, our current understanding of linguistics has been shaped by the historical development of hieroglyphics.
This object further contributes to this exhibition as it allows us to understand the nature of religious knowledge in Ancient Egypt. The mummy reflects the advancement in religious knowledge, which developed from polytheism into monotheism. This reinforces the fact that, in the history of religion, a general shift from one religion to another tends to happen. This was the case in Egypt, and this object serves as evidence of their polytheistic practices. Hence, this sarcophagus demonstrates how historical development has shaped the religious knowledge of our time.
Object 2: Olduvai Stone Chopping Tool
This African chopping tool is around 2 million years old. The stone was carved into butchering tools to strip meat and break into the bones of the animals on the Savannah. Its invention was a significant event in human history, as our current knowledge on the cutting of bone evolved from using stone tools, to more sophisticated utensils that are more suited to the task.
This object enriches this exhibition as it shows how our current knowledge has been shaped by historical development. This tool acts as a link between our generation and that of archaic humans, as we can understand how they led their daily lives. Further, it allows us to appreciate humans’ adaptation to their environments, as this object was developed to facilitate their survival. It is an excellent addition to the exhibition as it contrasts Hornedjitef’s sarcophagus by presenting a different type of knowledge—practical knowledge—which is embedded in this tool. As this object was one of the first tools developed, it played an essential role in shaping our practical knowledge which has improved throughout history.
This stone tool further enhances this exhibition as it reflects our current knowledge on evolution and the differences between humans and other species. We can understand that people who created this tool were not hunters but opportunists, and took advantage of the prey that was killed by others using their cutting tool. This object also contributed to our current knowledge on apes, as apes also create tools, but they do so when they need it while humans make them beforehand for future use. As such, this object conveys our human nature, as creating objects is an essential element of our humanity. Our current knowledge on humans’ evolution throughout history is shaped by our understanding of this chopping tool, as we can recognise the actions archaic humans took to survive.
Object 3: Credit Card
This credit card was issued in 2009 from the United Arab Emirates. These were seen as a new way of handling money in contrast to using physical notes and coins. Technological advancements have made using and spending money easier, as all transactions are carried out through a plastic card, inevitably changing our view on monetary value.
Our current technological knowledge has allowed us to develop a contactless card that can transfer money via our phones. These advancements have made spending money easier than ever before; the model we use now stemmed from the first credit cards, quite like the one being exhibited. They differ from traditional spending and is a continually growing global phenomenon that has become a modern element in today’s society. Unlike physical money, they do not have a ruler or nation stamped on them; this illustrates how it has become a part of the global financial system, rather than a national one. However, the pattern on this card resembles ones found in mosques and is a general cultural symbol for the people of the Middle East, where Islam is the main religion worshipped there.
This credit card enriches the exhibition as it shows how our current technological knowledge has developed through time, as it was a steppingstone for the credit cards of today. It could even be argued that it has changed our understanding of the value of money for the better, as it shows us how intrinsic value has developed from rare earth metals, such as gold coins, to plastic cards like this credit card. There is no longer any intrinsic value in this card, however, it carries more value due to economic inflation, and with a single plastic card one can pay in thousands compared to notes and coins.