Humanizing Technology through Design — Christian Greco
Thanks to you, thanks to everyone! It seems almost an oxymoron that the Egyptian Museum is called to talk about technology, but we have just heard how the man with his needs with his goals can return to the center of a dialogue, at the center of a rethinking discourse of what is our role, what is the role of museums as a place of memory and a place of memory that puts us in relation with people because very often we do not think about it, but museums have those fragments with objects that by chance came to us from earlier generations and are a bridge that allows us to dialogue with those who came before us. The Egyptian museum, you all know, is hosted in one of the most important baroque palaces in the city, it has a history that begins in the seventeenth century, the Egyptian museum as such was founded in 1824, we are approaching the bicentennial, but the Egyptian museum looks also and above all to the future and looks to the future trying to make these objects speak and how does it do it? Well go dig in the archives and archives like this look that is the moment we are at the entrance of the Valley of the Queens, when Schiapparelli began to do his excavations with those three conical tents and went from north to south because he realized that the research was the keystone, it was what would allow the museum to become what it is today, because it also realized and wrote that if an object bought on the antiques market can be appreciated for its value, it does not have a history, a biography to tell us and it was the context that made the difference. And think about it, we have 14,000 photographic plates that have finally been completely digitized and from September it will be possible to take a journey on our website, a journey into the past we have heard about new words that can be coined one was coined at the end of 2020 which speaks of the "necrography of objects" not only their biography but the detachment, as they were taken away from the place of origin. And reconnecting with the territory
means going back to digging, it means going back to understanding how the landscape is schedule in which the anthropic element has always operated and how and here technology can help us with a force of civic education to teach us that object that we put in a showcase is not something separated and detached from the landscape, it is that fragment of memory that takes on value if reinserted within the object and can also make us understand how archeology is really perhaps the most destructive discipline that man has developed, archeology does not build, archeology destroys we could say deconstructs it removes levels and by removing them tries to remake a narrative it is therefore the task of a museum to try to give this awareness and also try to understand that we have collections on loan from future generations and our task is to return them as complete as possible and to make them understand that if we do not document, if we do not make our work meticulously, if we do not register level by level we destroy the memory of the past and in doing so we destroy ourselves. We have all learned this when unfortunately we have people close to us who have degenerative diseases and lose their memory, lose their orientation and no longer know how to function in society how can a society then function without museums, without culture, without the memory of organism as a society that museums forge because museums are the place of collective memory. And how do we make everyone understand that when you find an object in your garden and perform an illegal act, you do an illegal digging you are not enriching yourself with an object but you are depriving yourself and society of memory, of knowledge you are depriving yourself of society of the ability to understand what our role is in it. And sometimes the technologies also force us to make a very adequate analysis to what I like to call "the humility of the researcher" I give you an example to make you understand: at the Egyptian museum we have this box inside it contains 7 containers in alabaster that contain the sacred oils, the most sacred there was in ancient Egypt, the sacred oils that were used for mummification were at the same time used for the ritual of opening the mouth, the deceased before going to the burial chamber his mouth had to breathe again and his nostrils had to be opened again so that he could breathe in the afterlife and live again. Well, these vessels arrived sealed we do not know what the content of the sacred oils of ancient Egypt is, by analyzing the carbon bonds on their decay we will be able to understand what the lipid content is and perhaps we would immediately end up in Nature. But who am I to break a seal? Who am
I to go and ruin a context that has remained intact? Now technology enables me to analyze it. We went to Oxfordshire, thanks to the neutron activation we were able to penetrate inside these alabaster containers we saw the morphology we looked inside and for the first time we were able to understand that this container is really full, which really contains residues from 1350 BC still contains inside the oil that has been preserved, the oil that was used to mummify the mummies of Kha and Merit, and then it was sealed and it was closed a cloth was put on it was also put a seal with the name of the pharaoh. Well this is the moment in which the researcher must stop when he must say that our generation that has come up to now there will be future generations that can go on and this lesson is given to us by previous generations and when Schiapparelli arrived at the Egyptian museum in 1894 and started from 1903 the great excavation season understood that there were moments in which it was necessary to stop, he understood that the researcher can reach a certain level but a researcher is a piece in human history and his task is to preserve this material encyclopedia of the past for future generations and having made the discovery of the century, he found an intact tomb inside which there were still two mummies to the 467 artifacts preserved in it is the only intact context of the New Kingdom that is preserved outside Egypt. Well he managed to bring everything to Turin to make this city truly the capital of international Egyptology but what you are seeing now he never did, he did not understand that this mummy inside had an incredible kit that had been the subject of pietas that these amulets had been arranged according to chapter 156 of the book of the dead, which had and is the only attestation we have in the world this gold collar the collar of Shebius which was the gift that the pharaoh gave to his highest officials and look at the act of humility of the researcher, we have heard that technology must be a means it must not be the ultimate goal it is necessary to set out very clearly what the aims are to understand where we can go and understand in any case that we cannot destroy what we must preserve it for future generations. In a museum very rich in objects, but very poor in jewels, he never saw what you are seeing, he never saw perhaps that the most important object was the Shebiu's collar or that magnificent heart scarab. And now technology pushes us to move forward we know that with the scarab it is probably written with chapter 30a or 30b of the book of the dead and we would like to try to read it but conservation at the same time requires us if we make an industrial attack we risk damaging the fabrics of the mummy well then maybe it's time to stop, maybe we get this far, future generations will know how to go on.
So I very often like to talk about "digital humanism" and in talking about digital humanism first of all I like to bring back to the center a concept that is very important to me, which is the biography of objects, objects like us have a biography, objects have their scars which, like us, remind us of what happened in the past and manage to direct our path towards the future. Objects then have this incredible thing my colleague Malafuris says we have this sense of omnipotence, because we create objects but in reality, while we are mortal and finite, the objects survive us we have here or objects in this case human relics of 3500 years ago and look at what we still see the brain, the lungs, the bronchi, the spleen. Well when we published this data, from all over the world they asked us if they could take a piece of the brain to do the DNA analysis and of course my answer was NO, my answer was science must progress, technologies must progress we must get to do a virtual endoscopy without damaging the mummy at that point I will say yes and if we can do it also improves our life as people because we too could have virtual endoscopies and not suffer the effects that we generally undergo doing a actual physical endoscopy. Then I'd like to try
to summarize what I've been trying to tell you with the presentation I'm showing you right now. Perhaps what is associated most of all with ancient Egypt are the sarcophagi and perhaps the most static one would not relate the sarcophagus with technology, thanks to a collaboration with the Polytechnic of Milan we have scanned this sarcophagus and we have made a 3D model, the 3D model, however, must not be the end, the 3D model must be done if it gives us more information in this case first of all a study information the information can pass to scholars without the sarcophagus having to move therefore it may have damage but I wanted this model to collect in itself all the biography of the object and therefore not only micro mapping, but also the CT scan also the radiography and in analyzing the radiography we discovered this, that the sarcophagus is composed of thirty different parts of previous sarcophagi. And then this started asking us questions. We have analyzed with diagnostic imaging we have seen a different opacity and we have understood that its owner, I haven't told you his name yet is called Butehamun, lives in the time of Ramses XI and is given by Amenpanefer the task of securing the sarcophagi because they were plundered. Then we saw that under his chin he had a hole that then no longer exists, we saw that he had two hands outstretched that were sawed off and became two fists, gender change because two hands are typical of a woman, two fists is typical of a man and we have seen that in four points of the sarcophagus there are parts underneath the decoration, as you can see here, which are black and this black is bitumen and we see it on the side and we also see it on the back of the sarcophagus and this bitumen sign of a 600 year old sarcophagus and then we see that there are some dowels that have been inserted to hold the pieces together and if we go to see the base we see that the base was too small to serve as the base of this sarcophagus and a wooden frame was put around. So by putting all the data together in trying to reconstruct the biography of the object, we acquired, thanks to technology and research, a series of information is wood, but it is not painted wood, above the wood there is clay, above the clay there is the embossing, that is, the fabric that holds everything together, then the clay and on the clay the unctite and calcite were put, the artist then made the sinopia and then began to decorate in ocher in black then in blue and in Egyptian green and finally with this orpiment color. But this object that can be paradigmatic now
poses a series of questions in front of me, first of all it shows me how technology cannot be the end but the means, technology is the way to penetrate inside the object and now that they are there penetrated inside I have a series of questions that I did not have before, technology and made visible what was invisible but I still do not know these men, I do not know the socio-economic structure of Egypt, I do not know why it was possible reusing a Ramses XI sarcophagus, Amenpanefer gives Butheamon the task of securing the sarcophagi that were looted and while he does so he takes pieces of other sarcophagi to build his own. We went ahead with the analysis and we saw that 70% of the sarcophagi we have in the museum from this period use pieces of previous sarcophagi and this completely changed our theological and religious vision and the funerary cult, why was this allowed? Do you think that there is a sarcophagus kept in the Vatican Museums, the sarcophagus of Hiji that was used by the grandmother, mother and granddaughter was all allowed and why was all this allowed? How was that possible? Wasn't that blasphemous? And then to complicate everything there is this last text that I want to read in which we read "noble sarcophagus of the singer Diamonique Thai who rests in you, listen to me so that you can convey my message because you are close to her tell her How are you? How are things going?" This is Butheamon who writes not to his dead wife, but to the sarcophagus of his dead wife, he misses his wife who is no longer there and turns to the sarcophagus. Think of the complexity, he has to secure the sarcophagi that are looted at the same time he reuses them to create his sarcophagus and when he misses his wife he writes to his wife's sarcophagus. This shows us the complexity of understanding ancient history and the need to create what I call "digital humanism." Technologies
have entered museums and entered to give us an added value. The pandemic has taught us that the technology or the remote visit of the museum cannot be a substitute for the physical visit, but it gives us the possibility to explore worlds that were unthinkable until recently, it gives us the possibility to enter inside the objects to discover in the biography and that is not a point of arrival but it is a starting point because these data of ours require us to return to the sources, to read again we need philology, historians, archaeologists to understand the texts on the basis of new data but above all in a complex world, and the pandemic has taught us this, we cannot find simple answers to complex systems and studying the ancient world becomes fundamental because time and diachrony allow us to analyze how the man has responded to the challenges he has always had in a very long time perspective and to face this complexity that technologies now allow us to penetrate more deep down we need philosophers, historians, historians of thought, sociologists. Very often when we talk about the digital transformation of a museum we think of computer scientists, who are fundamental, but if we do not have a goal if we do not have questions to answer, if we do not study society I often hear very often I read very often saying "museums must have new technologies to attract new audiences" but what data do we have about society on the transformation of society, how do we now think that children born now can benefit from teaching between 10 and 15 years and here I hope that Humanizing Technology means a moment of research, a moment of analysis, to bring research back to the center, to understand that in order to give man an answer to society with all his needs and with all its declinations to preserve those fragments of memory that by chance the previous generations they left us and that we must give to future generations because without memory they will not be able to guide their step in the present and to plan a future. Well, to do all this, perhaps more than ever before, we need humanists who work side
by side with experts in technologies, with hard sciences experts to try to give fundamental answers starting from the one, about which we ask very little, that is on the cultural ownership of those who belong to the past and, I don't know if you have ever thought about it, but if the past exists or if there is a present really that modifies the past in an sometimes ideological way, sometimes or perhaps always, because the moment in which I choose to put this object in a shop window without even putting a label on it I already do an operation it is an interpretative superimposition. Well maybe now we need to take a step back, give space to research and understand how new technologies, based on research, allow us to better understand the past and therefore better ourselves. Thank you!