Mina Megalla is an Egyptian archaeologist with over 15 years of experience in the field. Having worked on projects in various regions all around the globe, he now lives and works in Bulgaria.
To share his story, Mina has spoken to Sip of Culture, shedding light on what it means to be an archaeologist and how Bulgaria’s history and culture overlap with those of his native country, Egypt.
Having worked as an archaeologist for over 15 years, what would you say you love most about your job?
Well, it all started in Luxor, Egypt, where I am from. I was immersed in archaeology from childhood as that was my father’s profession and he was a renowned figure in the Egyptian archaeology field.
I loved working at the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Luxor for years but then I always wanted to travel and do archaeology in other places. The best part about being an archaeologist is that it took me to so many different destinations all around the world and I am grateful for that. I would have never thought I could do all that through archaeology. Moreover, archaeology has this romance with the past that makes one so passionate and inspired by all the facts and the tales of those who were there before us.
Working in Egypt and studying its rich ancient history sounds like the dream for many archaeologists. Yet, you have moved away from home to live and work in Bulgaria. Why have you chosen to work here instead of in Egypt?
It wasn’t planned at all, in fact, the first time I grew interested in Bulgaria was through conversations with colleagues in NYC while I was there in 2009. I was totally fascinated with the Thracian archaeology as well as the Early Medieval period of Bulgaria.
Bulgaria has a rich history that spans thousands of years and it is hard not to impress any archaeologist, even those who were spoiled with rich history and culture since childhood. I wouldn’t say I chose Bulgaria over Egypt, but rather I chose to do something unusual and challenge my abilities by exploring new territories and fields of study.
Expanding on the previous question, you currently work at the Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What does your job entail and what, in your opinion, makes this Church-Museum so special?
I work as the museum guide and educator at the Boyana Church Museum. I really enjoy introducing our visitors to several different episodes of the Bulgarian history through their visit to the Boyana Church and it is very rewarding to see them leaving the Church impressed and in awe.
Although the Church is small in size, it has spectacular frescoes and murals that date to different periods and are a testament to the remarkable and skilful local painters. It is, without exaggeration, a hidden gem located on the outskirts of Sofia and it is the reason why it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979 at the third session of UNESCO in Luxor, Egypt.
You have worked in numerous countries alongside prestigious institutions such as the University of Oxford and the German Archaeological Institute. What would you say has been your greatest find or your favourite project to work on?
My greatest find wasn’t an object but rather all the human stories and similarities between today’s world and the past. Nonetheless, finding objects always brings such a satisfying and exciting feeling to archaeologists, of course.
I unearthed a lot of findings, from pottery to gold works and everything in between. But, I think I loved finding tools that were used in the past more than anything else. My favourite projects were those in the Balkans, Caucasus and the Mediterranean. It is the intertwinement of the stunning scenery and the rich history that makes one feel grateful to be included in such projects.
Finally, have you found any similarities between the Bulgarian and Egyptian cultures while living here? If so, what are they?
There are a lot of similarities between Bulgaria and Egypt. I always saw Bulgaria as a part of the Mediterranean Culture as it was in ancient times. In fact, both countries and regions were parts of the same empires at least 4 times (Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman).
One can find similarities in cuisine and everyday words, as well as in some traditions. Being a Copt, I found several connections between the early Christian communities in both countries and I emphasised those connections in several academic articles and the PhD thesis that I am currently working on.
Those connections lasted all the way from antiquity to today’s world. One clear example is my own name, Mina, after the Egyptian saint from Alexandria who is highly revered here in Bulgaria and regarded as the patron saint and protector of the family, orphans and widows. I enjoy it when my Bulgarian friends congratulate me on my name day every year on November 11 (St. Mina’s Day).
Sip of Culture interviewed Mina Megalla as part of Multi Kulti Collective’s media campaign, Migrants Got Talent.
Read more about this campaign here.