Magna cum Murder

crime writing festival

October 28-30, 2011

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Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana

Magna cum Murder
Kathryn Kennison, Director

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Jama Kehoe Bigger
Austin Lugar
Nancy Lindley
Diane Watters
Ken Jones
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Bob Brier, aka Mr. Mummy


 Register today for Magna cum Murder, Oct. 28-30, to meet "Mr. Mummy," our banquet speaker, as well as many of your favorite crime writing authors! 


Professor Bob Brier (aka Mr. Mummy) is perhaps the most well-known and celebrated Egyptologist and mummy expert working today. A Senior Research Fellow at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, his work can be seen in a number of publications and television appearances.


After earning a bachelor's degree from Hunter College of the City University of New York, he joined the research staff of the Institute of Parapsychology in North Carolina. He received a PhD in philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and began teaching at Long Island University where he became chairman of the philosophy department.


Brier has researched in pyramids and tombs in 15 countries around the globe, investigating some the most famous mummies of the world, including King Tut, Vladimir Lenin, Ramses the Great, Eva Peron, Marquise Tai, and the Medici family. He is, however, possibly most well known for his ground-breaking work in 1996, when he became the first person in 2,000 years to mummify a human cadaver using the exact techniques that the ancient Egyptians used.


Ken Jones, Ball State telecommunications major and Magna intern, recently interviewed our festival banquet speaker.  


Just to make sure everyone has a basic background knowledge of the ancient Egyptian culture, could you briefly explain the thought process (the why) behind mummification and elaborate burial tombs?

The Egyptians mummified because they believed in resurrection of the body. For immortality, you needed your body preserved, thus mummification.

Bob Brier,  
Bob Brier, "Mummification: Resurrection of a Lost Art"

How did you go from a background in psychology and philosophy to Egyptology?

I played basketball in college, and even after my PhD in Philosophy I played in tournaments. In one game my knees were wrecked in a collision with a very large player. I was having knee operations and was in casts for months when a friend gave me a hieroglyph textbook to amuse myself. This wasn't so strange as it sounds. I liked languages, had done Greek, Latin, etc. So, for 8 hours a day I taught myself hieroglyphs to pass time. When the casts finally came off, I could translate. Soon I was teaching hieroglyphs at my university. Then one day the students said we should all go to Egypt! I took a group of students on a study tour and was hooked on Egypt.


What is the most significant discovery made about ancient Egypt in the last 10 years? How difficult is it to get permission to get into the Great Pyramid, and how difficult is it to get permission to do more extensive research inside/around it? Has it become easier the more well-known your work has become?

There are always important discoveries being made in Egypt. The most important just might be the internal ramp inside the Great Pyramid, though it isn't confirmed yet. (Read the book Secret of the Great Pyramid by Brier and Jean-Pierre Houdin for the background.) It's a great story. The book also answers how difficult it is to work there.


[Author's note]: The internal ramp theory was devised by French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin after his father, Henri, realized the current theories did not make sense. It is difficult to quickly summarize the theory, because it is encompasses many mysteries about the Great Pyramid. In short, it involves the use of a small external ramp, and then an undiscovered ramp running along the inside of the Pyramid.


The mystery is very intriguing, but tourists and even scientists who want a firsthand look have a difficult time. For tourists it costs only about twenty dollars to get an inside look at the Pyramid, but there are only one hundred tickets sold every day. This protects the pyramid from irregular humidity and the inevitable destruction that bodies cause. For researchers, there are two kinds of permissions to apply for. One is for excavation, which is difficult to get because it can be a damaging process if not done correctly. The other is for surveying a monument, where the applicant merely wants to map, diagram, and record the monument. However, it helps to have connections. Bob Brier wanted to investigate a notch in a corner of the Great Pyramid, but climbing the pyramid freely has not been allowed for some time. Since he was helping National Geographic film a documentary, they requested permission for him to climb the Pyramid. The same month he investigated the notch.


What common misconceptions about the pyramids/ancient Egypt in general do you have to deal with on a regular basis?

Many people think all the pharaohs were buried in pyramids. They weren't. Tutankhamen, for example, was buried in the Valley of the Kings. People also think slaves built the pyramids. Wrong. It was free labor.


What unique insights have you gained from mummifying a cadaver?

The mummification project has given us better knowledge of how mummification took place in ancient Egypt. We now know how they took the brain out through the nose, how much natron (dehydrating salts) they used, etc., etc.


What sort of impact has vandalism and looting had on the quest to learn about Egyptian culture?

I think the recent vandalism shows just how important it is to study the monuments of Egypt before they are gone. Take photos, do your drawings, record everything. We must make a permanent record for posterity.


What aspects of ancient Egyptian culture most excite you to learn and explore more?

I am known as a mummy specialist, but I view myself as a generalist. I will study any aspect of the culture that interests me, thus my involvement with the pyramid project. 


(Written by Ken Jones, a senior at Ball State majoring in Telecommunications.) 


One Festival, One Book

One Festival, One Book," brainchild of Jim Huang, has been a big hit with Magna cum Murderers right from the start! In the past years, we've read and discussed iconic classics And Then There Were None, Brat Farrar and The Postman Always Rings Twice, as well as contemporary bestsellers Except the Dying, and the noir thriller The Steam Pig.

 Death on Nile cvr

This year, in honor of our banquet speaker Bob Brier, aka Mr. Mummy, we're returning to Dame Agatha Christie with one of her most famous and enduring masterpieces of detective fiction, Death on the Nile. The plot is complicated, the characters memorable and the genius of Hercule Poirot are much in evidence in this page turning "whodunit."


Linnet Ridgeway and Simon Doyle are being stalked by Simon's furious ex, Jackie. So hell bent on taking revenge for the way she's been treated she follows them on their honeymoon to Egypt, aboard a steam cruiser traveling along the Nile. They are, however, not the only holidaymakers aboard the vessel, a certain Hercule Poirot attempts a relaxing cruise, only to be drawn into the threesome's feud when Linnet Ridgeway is found dead - shot while she was asleep.       


Isaac Anderson in The New York Times Book Review wrote, "Poirot is travelling for pleasure, but the moment you see his name on the passenger list you know there is going to be a murder or two or three and that the little grey cells of Poirot are going to solve the mystery."


Once again, we're asking everyone coming to Magna cum Murder this year to read (or re-read!) Death on the Nile, around which we'll build some of our programming, including panels, discussions and possibly a screening of one of the movie adaptations. Be prepared to participate in the rousing discussions and analyses. You won't be disappointed! 

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