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YESTERDAY, I BEGAN sharing tidbits from two entertaining book reviews, both discussing Toby Wilkinson’s A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology. Today’s Part 2 continues digging in Egyptian sands, not necessarily with Egyptian permission. 

Archaeology as a Discipline? Christina Riggs observes in “We Know It Intimately,” The London Review of Books, October 22, 2020, “Though ‘archaeology’ is often represented in books like Wilkinson’s as if it were a science that emerged fully formed in the Enlightenment, both the word and the concept only entered common use in the mid-19th century. To excavate was to dig around, rummaging for the remains of the ancient past. Shared methods and professional standards were decades away, and ethical standards further still.”

Rosemary Mahoney offers an example in “The Golden Age Was Also a Time of Plunder,” The New York Times, December 6, 2020: “…British Army officer Richard William Howard Vyse, who, with no previous training in archaeology, used gunpowder and dynamite to blast away at the Pyramids in search of an entrance, then bored a hole 27 feet deep into the back of the Sphinx hoping (in vain) to find a chamber within.”

The British Museum’s E.A. Wallis Budge. Riggs writes, “Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge went from Cambridge to the British Museum, where he rose to be keeper of Egyptian antiquities. Budge’s background was as murky as his methods for acquiring antiquities. Without a father who could be publicly identified, Budge used his mother’s surname. Wilkinson notes, as others have, the unusual interest that Gladstone took in his education.”

Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge, 1857–1934, English Egyptologist and Orientalist. He was knighted in 1920.

Gee, Wikipedia cites Budge’s knighthood, but fails to mention the Right Honorable William Ewart Gladstone, Liberal politician, Prime Minister, 1868–1874, 1880–1885, 1886,  and 1892–1894. 

Mahoney quotes Budge on his acquiring Egyptian artifacts for Britain: “The objects would have been smuggled out of Egypt all the same; the only difference would have been that instead of being in the British Museum they would be in some museum or private collection on the continent or in America.”

“In other words,” Mahoney observes, “they would have ended up someplace quite like his own, and how, pray, could anybody want that? It’s an amusing characteristic of all the players in these hundred years of excavation that every one of them claimed ample reason for removing antiquities from Egypt, legally or illegally, yet howled with outrage when anyone else did the same.”

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti, c. 1370 B.C.-c. 1330 B.C., Akhnaten’s wife. Discovered in Amarna, Egypt, in 1912 and promptly removed to Germany, this Nefertiti bust currently resides in the Neues Museum, Berlin. Image by Philip Pikart from Wikipedia.

King Tut’s Tomb, 1922. Riggs observes, “If Champollion’s deciphering of hieroglyphs in 1822 marked the beginning of Egyptology’s golden age, 1922 brought its end. That February, Britain broke off talks with Egyptian representatives trying to secure the country’s independence.”

Riggs continues, “The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter set up the final act. Carter and Lord Carnarvon assumed that a proportion of the treasure would be theirs, to share with colleagues at the British Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art. It had not occurred to them that Egyptians might think otherwise.”

My Attraction Along the Embankment. How, or more to the point, why did Cleo’s Needle end up gracing Victoria Embankment? Wikipedia says, “It was presented to the United Kingdom in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan Muhammad Ali in commemoration of the victories [against Napoleon] of Lord Nelson at the Battle of the Nile and Sir Ralph Abercromby at the Battle of Alexandra in 1801.”

Cleopatra’s Needle, Victoria Embankment, London. Image by man vyi from Wikipedia.

“Although the British government welcomed the gesture,” Wikipedia says, “it declined to fund the expense of transporting it to London.” 

Well, at least they didn’t filch it outright from the Egyptians, did they? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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