Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


I CAN RECALL encountering Cleopatra’s Needle on London’s Victoria Embankment, just down Carting Lane from the Savoy Hotel. It was during one of my “early retirement” sojourns; I’d stay a couple days on my own after automotive press junkets.

The western face of Cleopatra’s Needle, Victoria Embankment, London. Image by Ethan Doyle White from Wikipedia. Lead image by DaringDonna from Wikipedia.

Imagine: According to Wikipedia, this 69-ft.-high obelisk dates from 1450 B.C.—and here it is standing beside the River Thames.

Other Egyptological encounters here at SimanaitisSays  include Philip Glass’s wondrous Akhnaten, Ankh’s Book of Two Ways, and Elizabeth Taylor’s outfits in Cleopatra, 1963, “My Mummy’s Curse—By Voice Mail Yet”, and “Connect the Dots: Lead, Balloons, Pencil, and Napoleon Bonaparte.”  

More recently, I’ve read two reviews of Toby Wilkinson’s A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology, one by Christina Riggs in the London Review of Books, October 22, 2020, and the other by Rosemary Mahoney in The New York Times Book Review, December 6, 2020. Here in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow are tidbits gleaned from each review, together with my usual Internet sleuthing.

A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology, by Toby Wilkinson, Picador, W.W. Norton, 2020.

Rosemary Mahoney writes in The New York Times Book Review that “The Golden Age of Egyptology Was Also a Time of Plunder.” She says, “… nobody in history succumbed more feverishly to the compulsion to take hold of ancient Egypt nor succeeded at it more thoroughly than the British and the French.” 

Christina Riggs is a bit more pointed in “We Know It Intimately”: She says, “The drama plays out against palm trees, pyramids and Nile boats, with top billing for white European men. A few Americans and Englishwomen take minor roles; Egyptians are somewhere in the wings.”

The Rosetta Stone. As noted by Mahoney, “Wilkinson’s ambitious focus is the hundred years of Egyptology between Jean-Francois Champollion’s groundbreaking deciphering of the Rosetta stone in 1822 and Howard Carter’s sensational discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922.”

It was Napoleonic officer Pierre-François who discovered the Rosetta stone in 1799 and another Frenchman Jean-François Champollion who deciphered its triple hieroglyphic/Demotic/Greek inscriptions in 1822. 

The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum. Image by Hans Hillewaert from Wikipedia.

Though destined for the Louvre, the Rosetta Stone didn’t end up there. The Brits won it fair and square, as described by Riggs: “Words were added to the sides of the slab when it reached London: ‘Captured in Egypt by the British Army in 1801’ and ‘Presented by King George III.’ ” 

Tomorrow in Part 2, don’t expect archaeology to evolve from dig-’n-run to a scientific discipline. There’ll be a few too many colorful scoundrels for that. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020 


  1. map
    December 17, 2020

    In your description of the languages on the Rosetta stone, you say “hieroglyphic/Demonic/Greek”. I think your spell correction made a blunder. If I’m not mistaken, it’s “Demotic” text.

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