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In contrast to France, with its foundation of Champollion’s chair at the Collège de France, and that of Rosellini’s even earlier chair in Tuscany, Egyptology in Britain had been in the doldrums since the second half of the 1820s, with absolutely no government interest to be seen. As the British traveller Orlando Felix* (1790–1860) remarked to the Egyptological artist Joseph Bonomi in 1832, ‘Hieroglyphs are at a discount’, and talking about Egypt could result in ‘being blackballed in the clubs’. As noted in the Introduction, a number of Britons had been working in the field for some years, but their attempts at publishing their material in the UK had met with little success.
The last half-century has seen a great deal of change in Egyptology worldwide, and not just in the way that scientific and methodological tools have become incorporated into research methods as a matter of course. In Egypt itself there is a marked increase in the number of excavations taking place by countries not traditionally represented in the field, with teams from Mexico, Argentina and China now initiating projects, for example. There are also more co-directed projects (on the basis of both nation and institution), as well as more formal research (rather than rescue or conservation) excavations carried out by exclusively Egyptian teams, not just from the Ministry of Antiquities, but with a renaissance of those that are university based.
The first to take an interest in ancient Egypt were, of course, the ancient Egyptians themselves. Prince Khaemwaset, fourth son of Rameses II and high priest of Ptah at Memphis, is often held to have been the first ‘Egyptologist’. He certainly carried out what now might be called ‘heritage’ activities in the Memphite necropolis, (allegedly) restoring monuments and carving large texts identifying their owners on the exteriors of certain examples, including the pyramids of Unas, Userkaf, Menkaure, Djoser, Sahure, Isesi and Senwosret III, as well as the mastaba of Shepseskaf and the sun temple of Niuserre. The prince also dedicated an ancient statue of the Fourth Dynasty prince Kawab in the temple at Memphis. On the other hand, while Khaemwaset was seemingly conserving the memory and importance of these structures, other monuments (including those ancillary to the pyramids in question) were being exploited as stone quarries for his father’s projects. Indeed the ‘labelling’ may well have been a direct result of the demolitions and resulting loss of any external means of identification of the pyramids’ owners. The salvage of material from ancient monuments was of course a phenomenon stretching back into the earliest times, and would continue into the nineteenth century ad.
A History of World Egyptology is a ground-breaking reference work that traces the study of ancient Egypt over the past 150 years. Global in purview, it enlarges our understanding of how and why people have looked, and continue to look, into humankind's distant past through the lens of the enduring allure of ancient Egypt. Written by an international team of scholars, the volume investigates how territories around the world have engaged with, and have been inspired by, ancient Egypt and its study, and how that engagement has evolved over time. Chapters present a specific territory from different perspectives, including institutional and national, while examining a range of transnational links as well. The volume thus touches on multiple strands of scholarship, embracing not only Egyptology, but also social history, the history of science and reception studies. It will appeal to amateurs and professionals with an interest in the histories of Egypt, archaeology and science.
Although the civilisation of the ancient Egyptians may have died thousands of years ago, modern cultures around the world continue to connect with it, from collections of antiquities, pyramids on US dollar bills and Egyptianising buildings, to Egypt-inspired motifs in clothing and the visual and plastic arts. Indeed, the Great Pyramid, Tutankhamun’s gold burial mask, hieroglyphs and even mummies are instantly recognisable as Egyptian by people from countries across the world. The familiarity that modern audiences have with the remnants of ancient Egyptian material culture and the Egyptian aesthetic are due to a well-established (and apparently endless) stream of books, articles, documentaries and touring museum exhibitions. Periods of what we call ‘Egyptomania’, when ancient Egypt has influenced popular, and even high, culture, have also contributed considerably to people’s interest and familiarity.
Under King Sesostris III (Twelfth Dynasty) two sarcophagi of the Third Dynasty seem to have been removed from tombs below the Step Pyramid and buried within the king's pyramid enclosure, probably as a kind offoundation deposit to complement the complex's imitation of Third Dynasty forms. Their extraction is perhaps our earliest evidence for subterranean exploration based on effectively antiquarian motives.
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