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Published: Saturday, 8/22/2009

Art prof helps Discovery hunt links between ancient, modern life

BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

PASADENA, Calif. - Discovery Channel lucked into a sellable concept with Out of Egypt, a new series hosted by Kara Cooney, a UCLA assistant professor of Egyptian art and architecture.

She's not quite Lara Croft - unless Croft makes near-constant hand motions that, from a distance, make her look as if she's dribbling a basketball - but her presence does make the ancient-history lesson more palatable.

Cooney takes viewers down narrow, claustrophobic tunnels beneath Egyptian pyramids - and also to structures that have been built around the world, from Aztec temples in Mexico to Cambodia's Angkor Wat.

"There aren't mystical or supernatural links, but there are common features," Cooney says, explaining why we see tall buildings in multiple cultures. "They wanted tall monuments that would last, but they were hampered by the limits of ancient engineering," which dictated a structure that's wide at the base and narrow on top.

She links these ancient buildings to skyscrapers in the modern world.

"We really wanted to ask global questions, big questions that bring all of these ancient and modern people together," she said at a press conference earlier this month. "It's a study of human behavior past and present, human behavior all over the world. Egypt is the anchor, but it's the entire globe."

Cooney was quick to add that Out of Egypt (9 and 10 p.m. Monday on Buckeye CableSystem Channel 23) doesn't posit direct connections but commonalities.

"A lot of people look at this and they say, 'Oh, so you think the Egyptians went to Mexico and that's why there are pyramids there.' No, no, no," Cooney said. "This is a show about humans coming to similar solutions to complex problems completely disconnected from one another. It's about human behaviors through time all over the globe that can be amazingly similar and sometimes surprisingly different."

Cooney said UCLA has been supportive of her work on the series.

"Education and entertainment are not mutually exclusive, and we as professors need to take this content into our own hands," she said. "If we don't, we have no one else to blame when we see something on television that represents the Aztecs or the Egyptians or somebody else in a light that we think is inauthentic or inaccurate or just plain wrong.

"I also know that when I go into a classroom of 200 students and I'm talking about Egypt and the ancient world, I know what they have seen on television. That's their entree into this. So I have to be able to meet that mind and connect with those students."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is the TV editor for the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at:

rowen@post-gazette.com



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