You want to know what an Egyptologist is? Understand the differences between the profession of archaeologist and the profession of Egyptologist? Or would you like to know who the great Egyptologists in the history of Egyptology were?
It's perfect: you've come to the right place! As Egypt enthusiasts, we have prepared a clear and entertaining article for you on the beautiful profession of Egyptologists.
Egyptologists are the scientists studying the history of ancient Egypt's past. They are therefore the ones who study the remains, monuments and objects found in Egypt today. Modern Egyptologists were born in 1922 with the discovery of hieroglyphics by Champollion, who gave this profession the first tools to better understand the ancient Egyptian world.
In this article, you will discover:
- What is an Egyptologist
- Who were the first Egyptologist
- Who were the 5 great Egyptologists who founded modern Egyptology
After this article, the science of studying the history of ancient Egypt, Egyptology, will no longer hold any secrets for you.
Let's start without further ado by defining who the Egyptologists are!
1) Who are the practitioners of Egyptology?
Egyptologists are the scientists who study the history of ancient Egypt in all its forms. They are therefore interested in monuments, religion, and everything that forms Egyptian civilization, which can be described as the ancient human activity that took place in Upper and Lower Egypt from 4500 to 641 AD.
In France, Egyptology is a branch of science distinct from archaeology (which is the "study of the history of the past" of the world, which includes all countries, unlike Egyptology).
This separation between these two scientific branches is explained by the progress that France has always had in this field since Napoleon Bonaparte's Egyptian campaign. These past advances can be explained through Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, which indeed provided France with a large number of ancient Egyptian monuments and artifacts.
However, it is important to know that the "Egyptologists" we hear about nowadays are only "modern Egyptologists". Before them, there were other Egyptian, Greco-Roman and medieval Egyptologists who, in their own way, studied the history of Egypt.
I) Period of the Egyptian explorers
Although it may seem surprising, the first Egyptologists were Egyptians. Since the civilization of the ancient Egyptians lasted for 5000 years, it is quite normal that the ancient Egyptians of -1000 BC studied the temples and writings of the first Egyptians of their civilization born in -3000 BC. (a gap of 2000 years).
For comparison, this situation corresponds to that of the 2020 Egyptologists conducting research on the Egyptian palaces of Cleopatra (built in 40 / 50 BC). This is also a difference of about 2000 years).
Among the great Egyptian Egyptologists is king Thutmes IV, who restored the great Sphinx of Giza in 1380 BC (although he undertook this work in 2532 BC after a dream that he thought had been sent to him by the gods).
The fourth son of Rameses II, Prince Khaemweset, was also one of the first great Egyptologists. In 1242 BC, he is also one of the first great Egyptologists. In 1222 BC, he was responsible for the costly reconstruction, maintenance, and identification of tombs and temples built a thousand years earlier.
II) Period of the Greco-Roman explorers
The Greek city-states and the Roman Empire were nations that frequently traded with Egypt. As a result, great trade routes were created.
It was these trade routes that enabled many Greek and Roman historians to visit Egypt and produce detailed accounts of their travels. Thus, the writings of ancient historians such as Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Strabo are today a great and reliable aid to modern Egyptologists.
III) Period of medieval explorers
After a slight downward trend in interest in the history of ancient Egypt after the fall of the Roman Empire, it is to the Bible of the Christians that we owe the revival of exploratory voyages from Europe.
Indeed, in the Bible, Joseph, Mary and their "son" Jesus fled to Egypt to hide from the eyes of the world. For this reason, Egypt became a place of pilgrimage and was studied in search of sacred Christian relics.
During this period, the Pyramids of Giza were explored and studied because they were suspected to be the holy place of the "granaries of Joseph" where Jesus' "father" stored food in anticipation of difficult years.
2) The 5 great founding Egyptologists of modern Egyptology
Modern Egyptology begins with the rediscovery of the meaning of the hieroglyphs lost for 1200 years after the year 600.
This rediscovery was greatly facilitated by the Egyptian campaign of Napoleon Bonaparte (then a general in the French army).
During this military campaign to damage the functionality of the British "route des Indes", Napoleon took many scholars and scientists with him so that they could bring back to France many ancient Egyptian treasures and artifacts.
Among these antique objects is the Rosetta Stone, which was used by Champollion to decipher hieroglyphics in 1922.
As a result of Champollion's work, the possibility of understanding once again what is hidden behind the hieroglyphs gave rise to spectacular discoveries in Egyptology from 1922 to the present day.
Thus, we propose you to discover the 5 Egyptologists who made Egyptology the great and beautiful science it is today.
I) Jean-François Champollion, the decipherer of hieroglyphics
To understand why Jean-François Champollion was the first to decipher the meaning of the hieroglyphs, one must be aware of his colossal capacity for work and accumulation of knowledge:
- At the age of only 16, Champollion had fully mastered the translation of six major ancient languages (in addition to Ancient Latin and Ancient Greek, which he had already mastered since the age of 14).
- At the age of only 19, the decipherer of hieroglyphics became a full professor in Grenoble as a professor of ancient history.
Despite this obvious lead, Champollion was soon attracted by the challenge of solving the hieroglyphic writing.
For this great project, Champollion relied on the Rosetta Stone, a stone bearing a declaration of the beginning of the reign of the Egyptian king Ptolemy V. Brought back by one of Napoleon's officers, this stone carried a specificity that immediately appealed to the young Champollion.
Indeed, this stone bore three times the inscription of the establishment of the power of Ptolemy V: once in hieroglyphics, once in demotic (kind of hieroglyphics less worked and therefore easier to write) and once in ancient Greek.
Champollion, who had a perfect command of Greek translation, was therefore able to understand the text in hieroglyphics completely.
He then took into consideration the hypothesis that it was possible that not all the hieroglyphs were letters of the alphabet.
Continuing on this path, Champollion discovered that there were several types of hieroglyphs. These types of hieroglyphs, 4 in number, were as follows:
- Those representing a letter of the alphabet (i.e. a consonant or a vowel).
- Those representing a combination of consonant and vowel (i.e. a sound).
- Those representing characters or objects (i.e. whole words).
- Those giving a shade of gender or a shade of number (hieroglyphics that therefore qualify whether another word written in hieroglyphics was "masculine or feminine" and "singular or plural").
Through this enlightened translation (or what some people nowadays call lucky!), Jean-François Champollion is today described as the "first of the Egyptologists" and as the "father of Egyptology". The following Egyptologists owe him a lot because with this deciphering, a whole section of civilization can be studied with much more ease.
II) Auguste Mariette, the founder of the Cairo museum
Auguste Mariette began his career as an Egyptologist as a curator at the Louvre Museum (still called the Museum of Charles X at that time).
An expert in language, because like Champollion, he mastered many languages (hieroglyphics, Latin, Greek, Coptic, Syriac and Armenian), Auguste Mariette was in charge of appraising and buying antique objects to be exhibited in the Louvre museum.
If Auguste Mariette was able to distinguish himself from the other Egyptologists of his time and to create later the museum of Cairo, it is thanks to the fame that the discovery of the Serapaeum gave him, of which here is the account:
In 1850, during a trip to Egypt for an initial acquisition of several Coptic manuscripts, Augustus will buy material for an excavation project in the ancient city of Saqqarah. Indeed, after the failure of the transaction of the Coptic manuscripts, the money intended for this operation of purchase will be used by Auguste Mariette to carry out excavations near the pyramid of Djéser, in Saqqarah, not far from the pyramids of Giza.
After the purchase of material intended for vast excavations, while going to the site of Saqqarah, Auguste Mariette will see a head of small sphinx protruding from the sand of the desert. He then remembers one of the accounts of the Greek historian and Egyptologist Strabon. Auguste Mariette remembers that two rows of sphinxes bordered Serapium.
By looking more closely at the sphinx, Auguste Mariette will understand that he indeed discovered "the Serapium", the great necropolis dedicated to the sacred bulls of the pharaohs (bulls incarnating the Egyptian god Apis, the bull, the Egyptian god representing fertility and male strength). This is a great discovery for Egyptology because knowledge of the location of Serapium had been lost after the fall of the Roman Empire.
From this vast underground necropolis, Auguste Mariette will take out 19 mummies of sacred bulls. This discovery will project him into the circle of the great scientists and historians of the time. By this fact, the career of Auguste Mariette will know a great leap forward. All the requests for financing to organize excavations that he will ask will be granted to him.
300 meters of galleries dug into the stone where the most sacred bulls were stored: this is what the Serapaeum of Saqqarah was.
In 1855, Auguste Mariette became second curator of the "ancient Egypt" section of the Louvre Museum.
In 1858, Auguste Mariette worked closely with the Egyptian government to found the Boulaq Museum in Cairo (the predecessor of today's Egyptian Museum in Cairo). The purpose of this museum is to curb the anarchic excavations in Egypt that are sometimes considered as looting of Egypt's treasures on their way to Europe. With this museum, most of the ancient objects excavated during excavations will be preserved in Egypt and not repatriated by default to Germany, the United Kingdom and France.
In 1872, Auguste Mariette supervised the desandering of the Temple of Edfu, the temple dedicated to the falcon god Horus in ancient Egypt. Mariette's meticulous direction of the temple's desandering work ensured that the temple was not damaged at all by the operation. As a result, today it is possible to see its walls covered with hieroglyphics in a state close to their original condition.
In 1878, Auguste Mariette was awarded the honorary title of pasha of Egypt in recognition of his role in preserving Egypt's heritage.
In 1881, Auguste Mariette dies of complications from his diabetes. After having excavated 15000 ancient objects during the 300 excavations in which he participated, Mariette is buried in Cairo at the age of 60.
III) Gaston Maspero, the discoverer of the "Texts of the Pyramids"
At the age of 26, Gaston Maspero joined Egyptology in Paris through his profession as a full professor of Egyptology at the Collège de France.
In 1880, learning of Auguste Mariette's deteriorating health caused by her diabetes, France sent Gaston Maspero to Egypt to help Mariette in the direction of the French excavations.
In 1881, after having learned much from Auguste Mariette, Gaston Maspero takes the direction of French Egyptology missions. It is thus he who discovered the "Texts of the pyramids", a grouping of texts describing the missions and attributes of the various gods of the Egyptian polytheistic religion.
In 1886, Gaston Maspero directed the restoration of the Karnak temples in Luxor. Maspero carried out a complete de-sanding of the site, which was extremely rich in hieroglyphic wall inscriptions and statues of gods.
IV) Flinders Petrie, the creator of "stratigraphy"
In the 18th and 19th centuries, excavations took place in a limited time because of the cost of mobilizing men and excavation equipment. The main goal of Egyptologists was to make each excavation profitable in terms of finds in order to obtain new grants from wealthy individuals.
Thus, it was not uncommon for ancient objects to be destroyed or damaged in the course of an excavation to find new ones.
In 1875, Flinders Petrie began to use and spread around "stratigraphy", a method of excavation more respectful of the past. Stratigraphy consists of exploring ancient soils gradually by digging layer by layer of soil.
This method of excavation has met with great success. It is first encouraged by the Egyptian government, which appreciates that the state of its national historic heritage is respected. It is then widely adopted by Egyptologists because it allows them to better estimate the Egyptian period to which the excavated ancient objects belonged.
V) Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamun's tomb
Howard Carter is the legendary discoverer of the lost tomb of Tutankhamen.
In 1917, after many years spent traveling to excavations in Egypt to reproduce unmovable hieroglyphic wall writings, Howard Carter met Lord Carnarvon. Lord Carnarvon was a wealthy Englishman who wished to acquire the services of a connoisseur of Egypt to search for the tomb of the mysterious pharaoh Tutankhamen.
Howard Carter seized the opportunity and set out to find the tomb of Thutankhamen in the necropolis of many pharaohs called the Valley of the Kings. Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon, and their team carried out intense research for five years. However, although they find vases and papyrus bearing the name of Thutankhamen, they find no trace of the pharaoh's tomb.
In 1922, when Lord Carnarvon returned to the United Kingdom on personal business, Howard Carter took some risks: Carter chose to prohibit tourists from entering the Valley of the Kings to conduct excavations there (an action that was widely criticized by the Egyptian government of the day).
Carter quickly realized that he had made the right decision. He and his team discover the remains of wooden shacks that once belonged to workers at the tomb of Rameses VI.
Carter is lucky: the entrance to the Valley of the Kings has never been excavated because of the unpopularity that the immobilization of an extremely tourist attraction like the Valley of the Kings would imply.
After a few days of excavation, on November 4, 1922, Carter's team discovered a first royal tomb step fled into the sand. Even after a few more days, the entrance to the tomb was completely clear.
In the tomb of Tutankhamen, Carter will discover one of the rarest treasures not looted in antiquity. After a 7 meter-long corridor, Howard Carter discovers the Pharaonic burial chamber, 8.5 meters long and 3.5 meters wide, filled with precious objects.
With the discovery of this tomb, Howard Carter would become a star egyptologist of his time. Carter was not affected by the "Curse of Tutankhamen," a chain of deaths that began with Lord Carnarvon's death and seems to have struck many people who were connected in some way with the discovery of the royal tomb of Tutankhamen.
Egyptology, the search for the secrets of ancient Egypt
At the end of this description of the profession of Egyptologist, you now know everything about Egyptology. Indeed, you now know:
- Description of the job of an Egyptologist
- The history of the first Egyptologists, precursors of modern Egyptology
- The stories of the lives of the fathers of modern Egyptology (those of Carter, Petrie, Maspero, Mariette and Champollion!).
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