Nacho Ares (León, 1970), defines himself as ‘egiptoloco” (wordplay of madman and egyptologist), that is, a lover of Ancient Egyptian culture. His passion has led him to specialize in its study, to become a popularizer and to direct the program ‘SER Historia’, of Cadena Ser, and the podcast and Youtube channel ‘Dentro de la pirámide’ (Inside the pyramid).
On November 10, this expert will be in Zaragoza, in the V International Meeting of Oculture that hosts the city from that day until November 13. In his lecture, Ares will address the greatest discovery in the history of archaeology, the tomb of Tutankhamun, which this year will be a century old.
You define yourself as ‘egiptoloco’ (crazy eyptolog, where does this passion for Ancient Egypt come from?
When I was 13-14 years old, I got my hands on a book that is a classic in the history of archaeology, which is ‘Gods, Tombs and Sages’, by C. W. Ceram. And, from that moment on, I was captivated by the part about Egypt, I loved it. Since then, I got hooked on Egyptology. Then I studied Ancient History at the University of Valladolid and, later, Egyptology at the University of Manchester, in the United Kingdom. And the truth is that I have always worked in the media, I have been linked to the dissemination, I have also done research and I have collaborated with archaeological missions.
That’s 25 years dedicated to this universe…
More than 25, almost 40. I have traveled a lot to Egypt. Luckily, my passion has become my life and my way of working.
Is Egyptology really inexhaustible?
Yes. We are about to celebrate 100 years since the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and we still know the same about him as we did 100 years ago, that is, nothing. It’s as if we had a broth to which we have been adding bits and pieces of things and there are ingredients, but we still don’t know what it tastes like. We don’t have a concrete idea of the figure of Tutankhamun because he lived in a very convulsive moment in the history of Egypt. We know very little about him and that’s what makes him so exciting. If we really knew everything about Egypt, not just Tutankhamun, Egypt would not be funny at all. It is precisely the gaps and mysteries that make it such an exciting civilization.
In fact, if I tell you a reference, the tomb KV62 (Tutankhamun’s tomb), what comes to your mind?
It is, for me, the greatest discovery in the history of archaeology. There are no parallels, no comparison. We talk about the warriors of Siam, the Lord of Sipan… there are no parallels. Not only in the amount of materials and their importance, but in the history that surrounds the discovery. Reality is like a movie. And the story of Howard Carter – its discoverer – and Lord Carnarvon behind the tomb of Tutankhamun is exciting, it seems like a novel. The KV62 is a reference. From an aesthetic, typological and architectural point of view, it is perhaps not the most beautiful tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but the story behind it far surpasses the much more beautiful tombs there.
It is also 200 years since the discovery of the Rosetta stone. You could say that 2022 is an important year for Egyptology…
Yes, on September 27 we celebrated the second centenary of the decipherment of the Rosetta stone and that implied the birth of Egyptology as a science. From then on, the texts could be read. Until that year, 1822, the only references there were to know things about Ancient Egypt were the Old Testament and classical authors such as Herodotus, Pliny, Diodorus, Strabo … that give good information, but nothing to do with the own story told in the first person of the ancient Egyptians.
It is often said that the West is marked by Roman law, Judeo-Christian religion and Greek culture. However, what is the weight of Egypt?
Much more than we think. Right now I am curator of an exhibition in Madrid called ‘Daughters of the Nile’ and we have a part dedicated to the goddess Isis. The archetypal reference from the religious point of view of the goddess Isis, not only from the concept of the thought of what this mother goddess implies, but also from the aesthetic point of view, is the same that we have today with the Virgin Mary. It is the same representation. The Egyptians represented her seated with the child Horus, her son, on her lap; the Virgin Mary is with the child Jesus on her lap. Horus is the representative of the future king of the cosmos, and so is Jesus, the king of kings. These are exactly the same ideas that have come down to us.
There is an infinity of things. For example, the 365-day calendar is Egyptian, beer is an Egyptian invention, there are board games like the goose that have their origin in Ancient Egypt… there are many things that today we have them so diluted in our daily life that they go unnoticed; we do not ask ourselves where they come from and they come from the ancient Egyptians. The fact of leaving flowers on the tomb, which today we do it as a gesture of beauty, in Ancient Egypt they did it first with a magical meaning. ‘Bouquet of flowers’, in the language of the ancient Egyptians, was said ‘Anj’, which means life. They were leaving an offering of life to the deceased so that he could live in the afterlife.
Returning to Tutankhamun, you have already addressed his figure in two works, ‘The Lost Tomb’ and ‘The Last Son of the Sun’, what fascinates you most about this king?
I just released a month ago an updated version of ‘The Last Son of the Sun’ called ‘Wonderful Things. 100 years of the discovery of Tutankhamun’. It is published by DeBolsillo. In fact, it has nothing to do with the book I published 20 years ago, it is completely rewritten. With Tutankhamun I have always had a very strong connection, I discovered him with the book ‘Gods, Tombs and Sages’ and perhaps it is a bit ‘naive’ to say that one’s favorite pharaoh is Tutankhamun, but in my case there are compelling reasons to justify it.
Above all, the figure of Howard Carter, who has been my archaeological father from beyond the grave, so to speak. I have always followed in his footsteps, I know the houses where he lived in London and in Egypt, whenever I go to London every year, I go to Putney Vale cemetery, where his tomb is. There is a very close bond because of Howard Carter.
He is a boy who arrives when he is 17 years old (in Egypt). He was born in London in 1874 and in 1891 he was already working as a watercolorist, he was an extraordinary draughtsman, in Egypt, accompanying an archaeological mission to Beni Hassam. His boss, Percy Newberry, was 8 years older than him, he was 25 years old. It was a very young team. And he was very taken with Egypt and its culture. He was a very withdrawn person, with few friends and some people said he was a bit surly, he had a very special character. But then you see videos of him from the 1920s, after the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, and you realize that he was very joking, he comes out making jokes in front of the camera, laughing, fooling around with other colleagues, playing jokes… he must have been a very particular character.
Do you hope that someday all these mysteries can be unveiled?
I think they will gradually appear little by little, but I hope it will be a long process and I am convinced that, as the mysteries are solved, others will appear. The day we know everything about Egypt, it will lose its grace, its charm.
As a popularizer, what do you think makes Ancient Egypt so fascinating to the public?
I have been asked that question many times, why it is so attractive. And it’s true, in the general public there is a demand for Egyptian themes. Those of us who have worked in the print media know that a Tutankhamun cover sells ten times more than one of an amphora or a Roman statue. Perhaps in our unconscious something calls us back to our origins. We have many elements of Pharaonic culture in our days that go unnoticed and we do not know what they are, but we feel that call of attention from everything Egyptian. Perhaps that is one of the reasons, beyond the aesthetic and the mystery that surrounds absolutely everything, I think it is also very important the aspect that we are heirs of an Egyptian culture. Many times we forget that Rome and Greece drank from Egypt. The primitive Greek art, for example, is Egyptian art, it is the same position of the left leg forward, the same hieratism… it is absolutely Egyptian. And with Rome it is the same thing.