الأربعاء، 7 أكتوبر 2009

The History of Egyptology

The History of Egyptology

Napoleon I and Vivant Denon paved the way in the discovery of Egypt in archeology. On July 2, 1798 Napoleon stepped onto Egyptian soil after leaving France. He was on his way to seize British lands in India but came upon resistence from British Naval forces.

After spending nineteen days in the desert of Egypt, Napoleon and his men, came across the Nile and the city of Cairo. On the horizon in silhouettes were shadowy figures that were later to be known as the Pyramids of Giza. These symbols were of a lost society, formed and prospering before the birth of Islam. Napoleon's response was of ecstatic proportions, "Soldiers, forty centuries are looking down upon you!"

The discovery of Egypt awoke a political and scientific interest. While Napoleon was busy running Egypt, Denon, an artist, was busy and enthralled with capturing the essence and archeological importance of Egypt through the use of his paper and crayons. He was giving the world a visual record of Egypt while scholars and scientists were examining and cataloging all that they could find. During his findings a key to the Egyptian myteries was discovered. This piece was a black basalt stele known as the Rosetta Stoneconsisting of three bands of writing.

In September of 1801 the French were forced to turn over the collection of Pharaonic antiquities to England aftrer they captured Alexandria. The pieces were then transported and housed in the British Museum by order of George III. Despite loses of the original findings; France had its resources. As pieces were unveiled a copy was produced thus allowing French scholars to continue their studies. The first to make use of these findings was Denon who published, "Voyage dans la Haute et la Basse Egypte". Between the years of 1809 and 1813 the works of Jomard were published. These works, "Description de l'Egypte," were a unique step in archaeological history.

Although Caroline, Napoleon's sister, was excavating Pompeii there was still a problem. The scholars were learning rudiments of archaeology and were trying to decode the hieroglyphics. Even though they had the Description filled with drawings, descriptions and copies, they could not decipher their meaning successfully. It was found to be "scientifically unsolvable" by De Sacy. It wasn't until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone by a French soldier under Napoleon that gave some hope of unlocking the mystery of the writings. The only problem was that there was no one to decode the stone at the time. It wasn't until the findings of the Rosetta Stone were published in an Egyptian newspaper that a boy found and twenty years later deciphered.

This man of unknown genius was Jean-Francois Champollion. He was especially interested in foreign languages and studied Arabic and Coptic, among others. In 1808, on August 30, he sent his findings to his brother. The findings contained evidence that he was able to find the correct value of individual characters on one line. Later in 1822 he published "Letter to M. Dacier in regard to Alphabet of the Phonetic Hieroglyphs," in which he proved his ability to unlock the mysteries of the Rosetta Stone.

Although excavation success was never apart of his resume', Champollion did lead an expedition through Egypt from July 1828 to December 1829. During this time he proved his hypothesis to be true. He also corrected past errors of classifying architecture in the ruins of Memphis and errors in the dating of artifacts. Despite his genius in unlocking the Rosetta Stone, he would not receive true recognition until 1896; Sir Peter le Page Renouf gave an address to the Royal Society of London on Champollion's theories. It was this act that caused them to pay homage to Champollion sixty-five years after his death and opened the long process of excavating Egypt.

The formal introduction of Egyptological thought starts with Mariette, a French archaeologist, who discovered the tomb of the Apis Bull. Mariette arrived in Egypt in 1854 in order to translate hieroglyphic texts, but on a hunch began the search for the temple of Serapis. Mariette’s hunch that the temple lay within the saqqara of Memphis, proved to be correct. After finding the tomb of the Apis Bull, Mariette was appointed as Conservator of Monuments in Egypt in 1858, and became the director of the Antiquities Service. The aim of the Service of Antiquities was to create a museum in Cairo where Egyptian monuments and treasures could be exhibited, this was achieved with the founding of the Boulaq Museum.

Maspero, was to continue Mariette’s work. Maspero was Director General of the Antiquities Service from 1881 until 1914. Maspero founded the French Mission, a permanent establishment which was to be a base for the publication of papers and monuments, and for the education of students of Egyptology. The Antiquities Service allocated excavation permits and gave many Egyptology students firsthand knowledge of ancient Egypt. Previously, the education had been limited to exhibits in foreign museums. In addition, the early Antiquities Service allowed archaeologists to keep a percentage of their findings. It has not been until recent times that the Antiquities Service itself, no longer operated under a foreign administration, has stopped the practice of giving archaeologists a percentage of their finds. This ended the ancient days of grave robbing which the study of Egypt was founded upon.

The nineteenth century brought with it many explorations of ancient Egypt. These explorations included the pyramids of Giza, as well as the other minor pyramids, such as the pyramid of Meidum, the Saqqara pyramid, and the Mastabas. A new door of scholarship had dawned upon the egyptological scheme. With it came a multitude of translated texts, as well as many amazing discoveries of the pyramids and its kingdoms. Many of these discoveries have yielded a broad range of knowledge from a variety of scholars. Margaret Murray, William Flinders Petrie, and others all aided in the establishment of Egyptology as a science, applying scientific techniques to the study of Egypt. Such techniques stemmed from scientific interest in the subject rather than an interest in grave robbing and collecting artifacts.

Flinders Petrie spent from 1880 - 1883 studying and excavating the Great Pyramid of Giza. Because of his care and meticulous field methods, Petrie became known as one of the great innovators of the scientific methods in archaeological excavation. In 1884, Petrie discovered fragments of the collassal statue of Ramses II during his excavations of the Temple of Tanis.

The twentieth century brough another flourish of interest in Egyptology. In October of 1891 at the age of 17, Howard Carter set sail for Alexandria, Egypt, which was his first journey outside of Britain. His first project was at Bani Hassan, the gravesite of the Sovereign Princes of Middle Egypt during 2000 B.C. Carter’s task was to record and copy the scenes from the walls of the tomb. At this early age, Howard Carter was a diligent worker with much enthusiasm. He would work the day through and then sleep with the bats in the tomb.

Later, he was privileged to work for Flinders Petrie, a strong field director and one of the most credible archaeologists of his time. Petrie believed Carter would never become a good excavator, but Carter proved him wrong when he unearthed several important finds at the site of el Amarna, the Capital of Egypt during the sovereignty of Akhenaten. Under Petrie’s demanding tutorage, Carter became an archaeologist, while keeping up with his artistic skills. He sketched many of the unusual artifacts found at el Amarna.

Carter was later appointed Principle Artist to the Egyptian Exploration Fund for the excavations of Deir el Babri, the burial place of Queen Hatshepsut. At the age of 25, Carter was offered the job of Inspector General of Monuments for Upper Egypt by the Director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, Gaston Maspero, in 1899. Carter’s responsibilities included supervising and controlling archaeology along the Nile Valley.

Carter’s employment at the Egyptian Antiquities Service came to an end in an unfortunate incident between the Egyptian site guards and a number of drunken French tourists. The incident gave Carter a black mark and caused him to be posted to the Nile Delta town of Tanta, a place with very little archaeological involvement. This forced Carter to resign from the Antiquities Service in 1905. Carter sustained a hard existence after resigning from the Antiquities Service. He had to make a living by working as a commercial watercolorist or sometimes a guide for tourists. This lifestyle continued until around 1908 when Carter was introduced to the Fifth Lord Carnarvon by Gaston Maspero. The partnership proceeded happily, as each partner’s personality seemed to compliment the others.

Carter became the Supervisor of the Excavations funded by Carnarvon in Thebes and by 1914 Carnarvon owned one of the most valuable collections of Egyptian artifacts held in private hands. However, Howard Carter had still more ambitious aspirations. He had his eye on finding the tomb of a fairly unknown pharaoh at the time, King Tutankhamun, after various clues to its existence had been found, Carter tore up the Valley of the Kings looking for Tutankhamun’s burial place, but season after season produced little more than a few artifacts. Carnarvon was becoming dissatisfied with the lack of return from his investment and, in 1922, he gave Carter one more season of funding to find the tomb.

Howasrd Carter's work on King Tutankhamun's tomb began on November 1, 1922. It took only three days before the top of a staircase was unearthed. Almost three weeks later the staircase was entirely excavated and the full side of the plaster block was visible. By November 26, the first plaster block was removed, the chip filling the corridor was emptied, and the second plaster was ready to be taken apart. At about 4 P.M. that day, Carter broke through the second plaster block and made one of the discoveries of the century, the tomb of King Tutankhamun.

The tomb’s artifacts took a decade to catalogue. During this time, Lord Carvarvon died in Cairo of pneumonia. After the media got wind of the treasures of King Tutankhamun and the death of Lord Carnarvon, the hype about a mummy’s curse set the media on fire. Much to Carter’s displeasure, letters poured in from spiritualist from around the world, selling advice and warnings from "beyond the grave."

Finally, the artifacts were sent to the Cairo Museum and the corpse of the young king was studied and laid back to rest. After his work was done with King Tutankhamun, Carter no longer worked in the field. He retired from the archaeology business. He took up the pursuit of collecting Egyptian antiquities and, indeed, became a very successful collector. Often, toward the end of his life, he could be found at the Winter Palace Hotel at Luxor, sitting by himself in willful isolation. He returned to England and in 1939, at the age of 65, Howard Carter died.

Kent Weeks has an ongoing project that has produced a wealth of archaeological information and helped to generate interest in the general field of Egyptology among the public. One of the largest finds of the project has been the rediscovery of Valley of the Kings number five (KV5). KV5 revealed the tombs of the sons of Rameses II.(4) The discovery of KV5 has helped Weeks and his team uncover mummies, jewelry, and other artifacts that have helped advance Egyptology into the twenty first century. Weeks wrote a book entitled The Lost Tomb, published in 1998, that details many of the findings of KV5.

Within the present time, Egyptology has utilized many new technologies and techniques in excavations. There has also been many new discussions and theories concerning Ancient Egypt. These discussions, have been on topics such as: the age and construction of the Sphinx, the interpretation of papyrus, the lay out of the pyramids of Giza (their relation to astronomical phenomena), the lineage and ancient histories of Egypt, the role of women in ancient Egypt, the study of Egyptian religion, and in a wider sense have emphasized the culture of ancient Egypt. In addition, Egyptology is no longer predominated by foreign interests as it was by the French, and English in the beginning of the discipline. As the modern age has progressed, Egypt has taken back much of it’s own history. In doing so Egypt has established itself as the center for the serious study of Ancient Egypt and Egyptology.

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