A WORLD BENEATH THE SANDS
THE GOLDEN AGE OF EGYPTOLOGY
A history of the relatively short period during which Egyptology "emerged from its antiquarian origins to emerge as a proper scientific discipline."
More compressed than Jason Thompson's recent multivolume history on the subject, Wilkinson's latest spotlights the great French, English, and German scientists and adventurers who managed to crack many of the mysteries of ancient Egypt—notably, Jean-François Champollion's "decipherment" of hieroglyphics in 1822. His achievement, writes the author, "allowed ancient Egyptian culture to emerge out of the fog of Classical myth and esoteric legend into the spotlight of serious scientific enquiry." After Napoleon's campaign in Egypt (1798-1801) and the ensuing era of Muhammad Ali's brutal modernization of the country (until 1848), an "orgy of destruction" followed, as treasure seekers and some archaeologists were driven by "a desire to record and preserve Egypt's ancient patrimony before it was lost forever." In the 1830s, Prussian archaeologist Karl Richard Lepsius "took Egyptian philology to the next level, enabling, for the first time, the translation of running hieroglyphic texts as opposed to mere names and epithets." In 1850, French scholar Auguste Mariette discovered the Serapeum monument under the sands of Saqqara, the most celebrated discovery since the Rosetta Stone; in 1858, Mariette was appointed director of the newly formed Egyptian Department of Antiquities. The momentous early 1880s, writes Wilkinson, saw the convergence of European discovery of Egypt and "Egypt's discovery of itself." Earlier, in 1874, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York "acquired its first Egyptian objects." When Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon started their excavation of the Valley of the Kings, ancient Egypt had assumed the status of "a complex and vibrant civilization." Refreshingly, Wilkinson dedicates a chapter to two women: Lucie Duff Gordon and Amelia Edwards, whose A Thousand Miles Up the Nile (1877) was published to great acclaim. The author also includes images, maps, and a timeline.A lively survey by an eminence in the field.
Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020
Page Count: 528
Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020
A World Beneath the Sands by Toby Wilkinson, review — pillaging of the pyramids
The early Egyptologists were as likely to steal or destroy relics as to save them
The period between Jean- François Champollion's first decipherment of hieroglyphics, in 1822, and Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, 100 years later, is known as the "Golden Age" of Egyptology. Yet as this highly colourful book makes clear, it could also be regarded as a very dark age indeed. More Egyptian antiquities were plundered, hacked, stolen, ground down, smuggled and even blasted in that time than before or since — both in spite of and because of western interest.
Toby Wilkinson is a leading academic Egyptologist and a high-profile author of popular histories. This book focuses on the great men of that Golden Age. As such it is an old-fashioned approach — but then those men were very great. And often very odd.
-- Sent from my Linux system.