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Image Archive: Egypt and Nubia

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Athena Review   Journal of Archaeology, History, and Exploration

Research Pages on Ancient Egypt and Nubia

An Outline of Early Egyptology (ca. 1798-1925)

 Description de l'Egypte (1802-1809)
  • French scientists and artists recorded Egypt's natural history and archaeology during the brief Napoleonic occupation of  Egypt (1798-1800).
  • Pyramids, temples, sculptures, and other monuments were carefully recorded by artists including Vivant Denon, Duterette, Cecille, Jollias, and Devilliers; and mapped by French army surveyors. (Coincidentally, the Rosetta stone was found at the mouth of the Nile in 1799.)
  • These were the first accurate site renderings of Lower and Upper Egypt,  from the Nile Delta (Alexandria, Giza) upriver to Philae near the 1st Nile cataract at Aswan. Their publication in Description de l'Egypte (1802-1809) provided the baseline documents for Egyptology.

John Lewis Burckhardt
  • A Swiss explorer, fluent in Arabic, who travelled to Egypt and Ethiopia in 1811-1813, Burckhardt was the first to describe various archaeological sites in Lower and Upper  Nubia (today's Sudan). 
  • His account, Travels in Nubia, provided basic site and temple plans, and recorded Greek and Coptic inscriptions at several Nubian sites, including Derr and Kalabsha.
  • He also recorded abundant ethnographic data during his travels, including accounts of active slaving of upper Nile tribal villages by the Egyptian army. 
  • Burckhardt died prematurely in 1818; Travels in Nubia was published posthumously (1819).

Francois Champollion  (1790-1832)
  • A gifted French linguist who, contemporary with England's Thomas Young, deciphered the Rosetta stone (1822), a Ptolemaic decree from 196 BC which had parallel texts in hieroglyphs, demotic script, and Greek. Decipherment was aided by similar royal name cartouches of Ptolemy and Cleopatra on an obelisk brought to England in 1818. 
  • Champollion established viable methods of heiroglyphic script translation, based on a syllabary of consonants correlating the Ptolemaic demotic script with the related Coptic language spoken during the Roman period in Egypt. This opened the way for the historic study of ancient Egypt, which had hieroglyphic texts dating back to ca.3000 BC.
  • Numerous inscriptions were recorded by Champollion in Egypt and Lower Nubia in an 1828-1829 expedition with the Italian scholar Ippolito Rossolini and the artist Nestor L'Hote. These were first published in Monuments de l'Egypte et de la Nubie, vols. 1 and 2  (1832).
  • The premature death of Jean Francois Champollion in 1832 was followed by posthumous publication of his Grammaire égyptienne (1836). Further publication of the Monuments was edited by his elder brother, Jacques-Joseph Champollion Figeac, and Rossolini (1844).

Richard Lepsius (1810-1884)
  • A brilliant scholar who received his doctorate in Classical archaeology, then studied in the 1830s with Champollion's associates Jean Letronne and Ippolito Rosellini. After analyzing Champollion's Grammaire égyptienne, Lepsius was the first to determine that Egyptian hieroglyphic writing did not use vowels. He would then significantly advance the work begun by Champollion of deciphering and organizing Egyptian texts into an historic framework.
  • Lepsius led a well-equipped German survey expedition of Egypt and Nubia from Alexandria to Khartoum 1842-5;  this set standards for recording sites and incriptions.
  • Lepsius published the landmark series,  Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopia (Monuments of Egypt and Ethiopia) in 6 volumes starting in 1849 (the last volume completed by Naville in 1913). The Denkmäler, with thousands of accurately rendered inscriptions, site plans, and site views, has remained a basic reference for Egyptology.
  • Lepsius became director of Berlin's Ägyptisches Museum in 1865. The following year, he returned to Egypt, where he discovered the Decree of Canopus at Tanis in the Nile delta. This Ptolemaic decree from 239 BC was similar to the Rosetta stone in that it  had Egyptian text written in both hieroglyphic and demotic scripts, as well as a Greek translation.
  • Lepsius also published in 1880 an important study of ancient Nubian, Nubische Grammatik (Nubian Grammar). Nubian was an African, non-Semitic language spoken in Nubia (today's Sudan) throughout the Dynastic era, and later linked to the (still mainly undeciphered ) Meroitic script, used in the ancient Meroitic empire (ca. 200 BC-AD 700), contemporary with the Graeco-Roman era.

Auguste Mariette (1811-1881)
  • A prodigious excavator who dominated archaeology in Egypt during the mid 19th century. His  interest in Egyptology began when he saw the drawings of  Nestor L'Hote, a family friend who had travelled with Champollion to Egypt and drawn many of the hieroglyphic inscriptions in resulting publications. Mariette, originally a school teacher in Boulougne-sur-Mere, taught himself Egyptian hieroglyphs and Coptic, and in 1849 was hired by the Louvre Museum in Paris to buy ancient manuscripts in Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic. 
  • In 1850 Mariette first went to Egypt and, while visiting Saqqara in 1851, discovered the then buried Avenue of the Sphinxes, and the subterranean catacombs with Apis bull sarcophagi . Among many finds of sculptures and inscriptions was the nearly intact tomb of the son of Rameses II, Khaemweset.
  • With support from the Louvre, Mariette spent the next four years excavating sites along the Nile. Under arrangement with the Egyptian government, the Louvre kept half the artifacts removed from the sites. Mariette returned with 230 crates of artifacts and was appointed Assistant Curator at the Louvre, but by  1858  he had returned to Egypt with a job as as head conservator for Egyptian monuments.
  •  Thus began an extensive series of excavations throughout Egypt, aided by the fact that no other archaeologists had permnission to dig in Egypt. Major finds included the buried temple at the base of the Sphinx in Giza;.the pyramids of Memphis (revealing  the decorated tomb of Khafra); the tombs of Saqqara; the necropoli of Meidatum,  Abydos, and Thebes; and temples at Dendera, Edfu,  Karnak,  Medinet-Habu, and Deir el-Bahri.
  • In 1863 Mariette established the Bulak Museum for antiquities in Cairo, a predecessor of today's Egyptian National Museum.
  • .Mariette became celebrated in France for his contributions to archaeology. Among his other accomplishments, he wrote the plot of Verdi's opera Aida. Mariette appointed the linguist Gaston Maspero to succeed him as director of French archaeology in Egypt.

Amelia Edwards (1831-1895)  
  • A Victorian novelist whose highly readable travel book, 1000 Miles up the Nile (1878), contributed to making Edwards a well-known sponsor of Egyptian research. 
  • With the partial  backing of the British Museum, Edwards founded the Egypt Exploration Society in 1882, whose Egypt Exploration Fund sponsored excavations by Edouard Naville, W. M. Flinders Petrie, Francis Griffith, and many others.
  • Her bequest founded the Edwards Library at University College, London, where Petrie taught for many years; today a center of Egyptian research.

W. M. Flinders Petrie (1853-1941)
  • A pioneering British archaeologist whose initial projects in lower Egypt  were carefully-recorded surveys and excavations at Giza (1883),  Tanis (1884), Naukratis (1885) and Bubastis (1889) in the Nile Delta,  and Arsinoe and Hawara (1889) in the Fayum lake region. Most of these excavations and publications were funded by the Egypt Exploration Fund. 
  • Petrie led numerous excavations between 1887-1925 as part of the British School in Egypt, mainly in upper Egypt, at major Old Kingdom and pre-dynastic sites including Medum (1892), Coptos (1893), Naqada (1896), Thebes (1897), Hierakonpolis (1898), Diospolis Parva (1901), Abydos (1901, 1902, 1903), Rifeh (1907), and Memphis (1908-1913). From these sites, Petrie established a  comprehensive pottery sequence in order to date sites lacking inscriptions, and led efforts to identify the early iconography and hieroglyphic script related to the Scorpion King, Narmer, and other early rulers of Egypt.
  • Overall, Petrie is noted for his excellent field methods and prompt publications,  and is considered "the father of British Egyptology" (Hobson 1987).
  • Petrie's students and assistants included Egyptologists who became prominent from ca.1890-1940 such as Percy Newberry, Edward Quibell, John Garstang, Margaret Murray, Eric Peet, Alan Gardiner, and Howard Carter. Frequent co-authors also included the noted epigraphers Francis Griffith (Egyptian and Meroitic hieroglyphs), and W. E. Crum (Coptic).

Francis L. Griffith  (1862-1934)

  • Griffith directed the Archaeological Survey of  Egyptian sites (1891-1910) for the Egypt Exploration Fund. The Survey's goal, in the midst of active site looting, was to document as many sites as possible with photographs, plans, and drawings. 
  • He worked with Percy Newberry and Norman de Garis Davies to record paintings and inscriptions at major tomb sites including Saqqara, Beni Hassan, and Abydos.
  • Griffith made significant advances in the study of the Meroitic script, from inscriptions recovered at Lower Nubian sites prior to their flooding by the Aswan Dam (Qasr Ibrim, Karanog, Areika, Buhen). These were excavated by McIver and Wooley (1909-1911) for the University Museum, Univ.of Pennsylvania.
  • Founded Griffith Institute at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University

Margaret  Murray (1865-1965)
  • A student of Flinders Petrie in the late 1890s, Murray participated in numerous Dynastic temple and tomb excavations, recording their wall paintings and inscriptions, and becoming skilled in reading hieroglyphic texts. 
  • Murray worked at the Abydos Oseireon (1902), and at tombs at Saqqara (1904, 1905), and Gurog (1905), sponsored by the British School in Egypt. Murray subsequently worked at the Manchester Museum.
  • Other publications on Egypt include reports on the mastabas (Old Kingdom tombs) at Saqqara (1908;1935); Elementary Egyptian Grammar (1905); Elementary Coptic Grammar (1911); an index of names of the Old Kingdom (1908); a translation of  the manuscript from the Tomb of Two Brothers at Rifeh (1910), published by the Manchester Museum; Egyptian Sculpture (1930); and Egyptian Temples (1931).    
  • Murray became Assistant Professor of Egyptology at the University College of London in 1924, until her retirement in 1935. In 1926, she became a fellow of Britain's Royal Anthropological Institute.

Selected Archives on Egypt and Nubia:

  • The Pharoahs (Exhibit)





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