Stop killing my sacred cow!

No, not mine. This guy’s.

I literally can’t even with this.

Here’s Jonathan Jones’s basic argument: okay, King Tut was not a looker. But we shouldn’t really bring that fact up in computer reconstructions because it just ruins everything romantic I’ve constructed in my head about the past. The final paragraph:

The bodies of the dead, intentionally mummified or accidentally preserved in bogs and ice, are invaluable to archaeology and to anyone who wants to imagine the human story. Seamus Heaney’s poem Strange Fruit about a sacrificial victim preserved in peat bog reveals the lyrical power of such remains. To reduce all that to simulacra that look like characters in a video game is a betrayal of everything archaeology should be about.

Okay, got all that? There’s lyrical power in the remains, but if we develop a technique to help put virtual flesh on actual bones, well, don’t do that if I won’t like the results, because I’m the self-appointed arbiter of “everything archaeology should be about.”

No, Mr. Jones, the pretty gold mask isn’t what Tutankhamen looked like. Yet Tutankhamen in his humanity is more instructive in some ways than the mask. What was life like for a noble? It may have been not much better in some respects than the life of an ordinary person. Tutankhamen died young and had numerous physical deformities.

And the contrast of the mask and the actual person is also instructive. It’s difficult to appreciate the various values a civilization ascribes to its artistic production without knowing how the art differs from the lives of the people.

But, Mr. Jones insists, “The individuality of Tutankhamun does not matter that much.”

Of course it matters–and it matters greatly. It mattered tremendously to Tutankhamen, at the very least, but it matters to a sober assessment of history, too. That very individuality is why archaeology done right shouldn’t hold back on understanding as much as it can. One editorial writer’s notion of the romance of a boy king does not the foundation of archaeology make.

And on a lighter and completely archaeologically misrepresentative note, I leave you with this: