17 May

Educator Spotlight: Vintage Egyptologist

By Thomas Jang

Dr. Colleen Darnell, Egyptologist and vintage fashion aficionado, resembles a painting that has come to life. Coupling her expertise in ancient Egypt with vintage fashion, she possesses a commanding online and physically ethereal presence as Vintage Egyptologist, sharing her research and knowledge gathered through her life’s work in Egyptology while draped in colorful articles of clothing dating back to the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s. Through Instagram reels and Zoom classes on the fashion, writing and religion of ancient Egypt, she works to make knowledge more accessible and understandable to fellow educators, fashion lovers, and students of a variety of backgrounds and ages from around the world. 

From a young age, Darnell has been fascinated by ancient Egypt for its wealth of surviving written records, textiles, and archaeological materials, and was always keen in pursuing studies in the subject. After receiving her B.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University, her unwavering love and admiration for such a renowned civilization has allowed her to discover new perspectives and engage in different approaches to the field. Importantly, she has made groundbreaking contributions, decrypting hieroglyphic inscriptions on sarcophagi and copies of texts from the Valley of the Kings located in Luxor, Egypt. 

Vintage Fashion as Works of Art and Everyday Attire

As an educator and historian, Darnell admits vintage clothing is an avenue to experiencing and wearing history. “I have always loved vintage fashion. Together with my husband, Dr. John Darnell, I started collecting it seriously and wearing it seriously,” she expresses jovially. She has been able to accumulate these works of art from local vintage stores in Connecticut, major vintage shows around Manhattan and Massachusetts, and European vintage dealers. Obtaining vintage clothing is not easy, however by connecting with experts and collectors, Darnell expresses, “You get to know the dealers more and they do the hard work of finding the pieces.” 

As much of modern day clothing is made from synthetic materials, Darnell recognizes the importance of having clothing that is more environmentally-friendly, a motto she also applies to antique furniture. Darnell emphasizes vintage clothing and antique furniture do not “use any new resources at all,” as one engages in recycling and environmentally-friendly shopping. 

Likewise, vintage clothing helps immerse Darnell into the different topics she discusses. Through her Zoom classes, she has been able to immerse curious individuals in the fun topics she finds popular, so far leading classes focused on fashion and beauty, tattoos, religion, and magic. 

Her Process: Integrating Technology

Beyond vintage clothing, Darnell recognizes the importance of using cutting edge technology in her work. With husband and Egyptology professor at Yale University, Dr. John Darnell, she helped make the discovery of the earliest monumental hieroglyphic inscription, becoming one of the top ten discoveries highlighted in Archaeology Magazine in 2017! 

Structure-from-motion (SFM) software is one technology Darnell uses in her work. With this software, Darnell assembles regular, two-dimensional photographs taken from different angles into a three-dimensional model. She begins by importing a flat orthoimage onto an iPad, on which she uses a vector drawing software to create the illustration. Darnell then assists the team, directed by Prof. John Darnell in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities, to engage in a hearty process of analyzing the inscriptions at sites of desert roads. 

Darnell also recognizes the utmost importance of maps. In particular, she advises historians, archaeologists, and students alike to use modern satellite imagery such as Google Earth, alongside historical and topographical maps. “Old maps, particularly topographical maps, sometimes can tell you more about the landscape where an ancient road might go,” she emphasizes. With new technology and a wealth of earlier maps, specific sites can be mapped more accurately and be toured virtually, yet more immersively.

Making Egyptology More Accessible 

Parallel to her work in decrypting and documenting hieroglyphic inscriptions to understand the philosophy and society of the ancient Egyptians, Darnell has simultaneously worked to make the subject more accessible to others. In creating her most recent work, co-authored with John Coleman Darnell, in 2022, Egypt’s Golden Couple: When Akhenaten and Nefertiti Were Gods on Earth, Darnell devoted time to read inscriptions and translate papyri.

Through her Zoom classes, she has been able to provide an opportunity for people “outside of college or university to gain a detailed level of study.” Fortunately, these classes prove that Egyptology has captured both the imagination and curiosity of people of a variety of ages and allow for a “more in-depth, smaller audience.” 

Darnell states there is a huge age range, from people as young as ten years old to those in their 70s and 80s. She shares, “Most of the people who enroll in my Zoom classes are fascinated by ancient Egypt and haven’t had the opportunity to study it in detail.” Besides older individuals and students, Darnell relishes teaching young people from 2nd to 7th grade as part of a series of free lectures in the Star Course series of the educational company Varsity Tutors. 

Darnell’s expansion into social media to showcase her work has also made amazing connections to other educators, artists, and creators devoted to their work. Alongside connecting with creators, with whom she dissected the exaggerated image of ancient Egypt in The Mummy, Darnell has built long-lasting relationships with people in Egypt as well. As a scholar of ancient Egyptian artifacts and writing, Darnell has made sure to connect with the people in the country she regards as a second home, connecting with modern artists in Cairo and specialists in Islamic architecture to also focus on the continuity of things and others that are not often on tourist itineraries. 

Message to young people

Colleen Darnell has formed an amazing and storied career in the field of Egyptology and social media. None of her groundbreaking contributions and insights would have been possible without books. Reading is consequential. They spark curiosity and passions within everyone, no matter their age or background. In addition, reading opens up the world and creates an endless amount of life-changing opportunities. Books as well as learning new languages are powerful, essential tools to navigating the world. Just like the Nile River and its currents were cornerstones of ancient Egyptian civilization, reading and knowledge of languages can steer individuals to new places and opportunities. “Reading is key! Read whatever you can get your hands on!” 


Check out Dr. Colleen Darnell’s work below!

Website: https://www.colleendarnell.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vintage_egyptologist/ 

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/@VintageEgyptologist