Brad's Reviews > Ten Years' Digging in Egypt

Ten Years' Digging in Egypt by William Matthew Flinders Pe...
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's review
Jan 29, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: archaeology, autobiography, memoir
Read from January 29 to February 19, 2011 , read count: 1

This is essential reading for anyone interested in Egyptology or the history of archaeology. Ten Years Digging in Egypt is Flinders-Petrie’s eclectic memoir of what he saw, found and studied during his decade in Egypt.

Sometimes he’s busy offering critiques of the pyramid builders –- marvelling at the genius of some (specifically in the perfection of their measurements), the laziness of others (the imperfection of their measurements) –- sometimes he’s delighting in the technology used to cut and drill stone for the pyramids, sometimes he’s growing bored with his most recent discovery and moving on, sometimes he’s doing the dirty work of a dig, sometimes he’s belittling the Fellah he hires to do the backbreaking labour, but he is always trying to uncover meaning in the antiquities he discovers (at least the ones he is interested in).

Many consider Flinders-Petrie the father of archaeology because he was the first to take seriously the need for systematic methodology at digs, and there is no denying his contribution in this area of archaeology. But the surprisingly positive opinions of Flinders-Petrie must be tempered with his numerous faults.

He was a man whose primary concern was finding artefacts and antiquities of “monetary” importance. Of course, in a time when that was everyone else’s sole concern, Flinders-Petrie appears to be a visionary in his field. He did, after all, recognize some value in other finds:
”It need hardly be said that every subject should be attended to; the excavator’s business is not to study his own specialty only, but to collect as much material as possible for the use of other students. To neglect the subjests that interest him less is ...[to] waste ... such archaeological material as may never be equalled again. (164)
But this is also the man who completely ignored areas of Naukratis because they were inhabited by commoners. This is the man who would only maintain fragments of some pottery or artefact until a more complete example appeared, and then the original find would be discarded like so much garbage.

And then there was his racism. His patronizing superiority, when it came to the Fellah (peasant workers) he worked with and lived near, took a very ugly turn in his vision of the Dynastic Rise of Egypt. He believed -- and passed on the belief to his devoted followers -- that the Pharaoh’s were a conquering Caucasian race who brought civilization to an inferior North African race of barbarians. While this opinion may simply have been a product of his time and upbringing, it was also tied to his belief in Eugenics, and these opinions tainted his analyses of many Egyptian sites.

Yet the man’s faults are an important part of Ten Years Digging in Egypt and take nothing away from its value as a memoir about the birth of archaeology. One doesn’t have to like the man to respect his contributions to his craft, and his importance as an archaeologist isn’t often overstated, even if I get the sense that he is "liked" a little too much.

Archaeology geek that I am, Ten Years Digging in Egypt was a perfect escape into a romantic past of dirt, discovery and dirty discovery. Sadly the closest I will probably come to Egypt is watching Karl Pilkington in "An Idiot Abroad." What a bummer.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Eball (new)

Eball Since I always wanted to be an archeologist, I just might have to take a gander at this book! Maybe someday, I can get on a dig. Aunt Elaine

Brad I had no idea you wanted to be an archaelogist. How cool is that? You would enjoy this book, for sure.

Brad There is something else that is strangely appealing about Ten Years Digging in Egypt and that's the final chapter on "The Active Tripper in Egypt." It is so of its time. The advice for gear and prices and the little tricks about how to find yourself the right translator, the ships to take, the best bargains, what to avoid, it's a brilliant travel guide for the end of the nineteenth century. The whole book is worth it just for that chapter alone.

message 4: by Amber (new)

Amber Tucker How do you know you'll probably never get to Egypt at all? It would be a fine vacation spot - well, someday soon and forever after, hopefully. Hmmm.

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