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King Scorpion . . .
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The Real Scorpion King
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The Real Scorpion King

Scorpion Mace head detail, courtesy M.Malfiet
He rules the box office.

The muscle-bound Scorpion King--played by WWF wrestler Dwayne 'the Rock' Johnson--slashed his way onto the screen in last year's The Mummy Returns. Now, he's back. And is the star of his own special effects adventure, The Scorpion King. But the wildly exaggerated character, the Scorpion King, isn't just another celluloid fantasy, he is based on a profoundly significant historical figure--King Scorpion. And, now the History Channel premieres The Real Scorpion King a 2-hour documentary, that covers the somewhat sketchy historical documentation and recent archaeological discoveries that affirm the existence of King Scorpion.

The film, produced and directed by Gary Glassman and narrated by actor Edward Hermann, begins: "Egypt: birthplace of civilization--land of mummies, pyramids, animal-headed gods. Scholars thought they knew how it all began, but they are wrong. "

What follows is an intelligent exploration of the ancient monuments, current excavation sites and archaeological artifacts, mixed with commentary, observations and theories of well-known Egyptologists that draws a likely picture of the real King Scorpion and his historical significance in predynastic Egypt.

The Real Scorpion King far superior to the many documentaries on ancient Egypt that depend so heavily on cinematic views of the usual suspects--pyramids, mummies and temples. The film examines the historical record and actively engages working Egyptologists to develop a new, intriguing look at an historical figure, whose name has only recently entered into popular culture by way of the movies.

The documentary tends to be pretty serious, as a parade of archaeologists proffer opinions about a stone tableau that reveals the first use of the falcon-god symbol of kingship, an image of the god Horus with carved image of a scorpion--The name King Scorpion. The tableau celebrates a historic battle between King Scorpion and the next strongest king of the region King Naqada--The unification of the kingdom of Upper Egypt.

Bone and ivory tags suggest the first pictographic writing system (that predates Mesopotamian writing by 200 years) that was used to catalogue King Scorpion's riches, organize his administration, etc.

King Scorpion's burial site is made up of a model of his palace, contains burial goods that include game boards, vases of precious oils and other items--some of the goods come from as far away as ancient Palestine and Afghanistan--that would be elaborated upon in the burial goods of all later kings. The site was covered over with sand forming a mound that represented the primordial mound from which life was believed to have sprung. This burial mound was copied and expanded upon by a 4th dynasty vizier, Imhotep, who created the Step Pyramid, the precursor to the Great pyramid. King Scorpion may have inspired the pyramid age.

Building upon the powerful model of conquest, literacy and organization, King Narmer, who followed King Scorpion, was the king who consolidated the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt to create one of the magnificent and long-enduring civilization of Egypt.

Lest anyone believe that younger viewers might be bored by the program, there are a few hundred elements that will doubtless appeal to adventurous souls of all ages. What would that be? Scorpions.

Scorpions crawl throughout the documentary. The arachnids are examined for their significance as the chosen symbol of this powerful king. There is even a sidebar journey stateside to the laboratory of an American Army major and entomologist that specializes in the study of venomous animals. The major 'wrangles' various varieties of the animal and points out the key attributes of the Egyptian Scorpion that would have appealed to an ancient king--the ability to survive in the harsh desert environment, its speed, silence and deadly venom.

Egyptologists may resent the History Channel's use of 'the Rock' to provide a brief introduction to the program, but despite the presence of "The Rock," this is no dumbed-down fluff created to cash in on The Scorpion King hype. The program reflects an impressive amount of research and effort to seek out the truth behind the new movie-myth and decades of archaeological research and speculation.

Photos of the Scorpion Mace courtesy the Ashmolean Museum, "The Scorpion King" courtesy Universal Pictures, Dr. Zahi Hawass courtesy National Geographic Explorer, screen capture from Providence Pictures' "The Real Scorpion King".
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