tomb raiders


As the world-weary preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us, “Of making many books there is no end”, and there are times when this rings true. Books on ancient Egypt are no exception to this rule, and a new title seems to appear every month. But there are some titles that give the lie to the old cynic of the Bible. In each of these three new books Egyptology is in good hands, and so is the reader. The subject has great popular appeal, and because of this professionals in other branches of archaeology sometimes distrust it. Here are three reasons for them to feel that this is something worth studying. Anyone with an interest in ancient Egypt will know that the subject began with Napoleon’s invasion of the country in 1798. This led to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in the following year. A major figure in the story is Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832), the restless Frenchman who deciphered the Rosetta’s hieroglyphs and went on to be the first professor of Egyptology. This may be all that most people know about him but his true history is more complex – and more fascinating – than this. The standard biography of Champollion, by Hermine Hartleben, first published in 1906, borders on hagiography. Here is the standard picture of the penniless scholar who, by genius and inspiration, took on the French establishment and overcame the darkness which had veiled the hieroglyphs for the better part of two millennia.

more from John Ray at the FT here.