Dinner with Cleopatra
Dinner with Cleopatra
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter focuses on the author's assignment to oversee Austrian archaeologist Karl Kromer's spring campaign on the Gebel Qibli, the south hill of the Giza plateau. Roughly 3 kilometers south of the Great Pyramid, his mission from the University of Innsbruck was to search for traces of early, predynastic settlement. The author then describes her dealings with foreign colleagues and considers the modern divide between Egyptian and European scholars. The chapter also looks at Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in the year 1922. In the same year, Egypt achieved its independence and a new era began for Egyptians in terms of politics.
A few weeks after the cleaning incident at the Khafre Pyramid, I was introduced to the Austrian archaeologist Karl Kromer in Chief Inspector Nassef Hassan’s office. I was assigned to oversee Kromer’s spring campaign on the Gebel Qibli, the south hill of the Giza plateau. Roughly three kilometers south of the Great Pyramid, his mission from the University of Innsbruck was searching for traces of early, predynastic settlement.
We drove out to the site in Kromer’s Jeep. It had rained the previous evening, and the air was clear and fresh. The sun rose above the eastern horizon, gentle and benign, bathing the west side of the Nile in wonderful light. I love days like that. Earlier I had looked down from the balcony of our apartment into the garden of the Abdeen Palace, and the green of the trees appeared newly washed. Then I saw the Giza pyramids, and knew that it was going to be a delightful January day. From Giza that morning it was possible to make out the pyramids of Abusir and Saqqara, and even the two pyramids of Snefru at Dahshur, a rare occasion. At that time the plateau was not yet surrounded by a fence; the area was open on all sides. And after rain the sand was much firmer underfoot, and walking less difficult.
(p.74) There were already two tents set up at the south hill excavation site—one for the Egyptian laborers, one for the Austrian scholars. Kromer gave me a brief explanation of the excavation’s goal, the manner in which it was proceeding, and the number of coworkers and their respective responsibilities. Some of them were students my age who were here receiving practical training. “We start work quite early,” Kromer said. “At seven o’clock. But that doesn’t concern you. It will be quite enough if you look in on us every few days.”
Kromer was being friendly, but I felt a surge of anger. “It is my job to accompany the progress of the work here on-site, to keep a record of your finds every step of the way,” I explained. “Moreover, it has been agreed that in doing so I will also get practical experience and instruction. I have no intention of only popping in as an occasional observer.” I felt annoyed, and asked myself why foreign archaeologists so readily assume that their Egyptian colleagues are less curious and ambitious than they themselves. In a huffy tone I explained to the startled professor that I would be there promptly at seven the next morning to get to work with the other archaeologists, that I did not intend to miss an hour of project, just as my assignment as inspector required.
Kromer was nonplussed. That was something new, he assured me. “I’m only sorry that with these miserable road conditions you’ll have to come out here to the south hill.” It would indeed be a long trek every day, alone and on foot. “You should ride a horse,” he suggested, and reached for his wallet. He wanted to give me money for the horse rental. But that annoyed me even more. I was almost ready to surrender the job to a colleague, but once again I felt that my honor as an Egyptologist had been impugned.
“I receive a salary from the government. It is difficult for me not to see this as an attempt at bribery.” But no, a mere misunderstanding, Kromer replied, and emphatically apologized. I needed to understand that in past years they had become accustomed to providing inspectors with financial assistance for transportation. By no means had he meant to offend me, and certainly not to bribe me. I accepted his apology, but our parting was awkward.
Why did foreign scholars look down on us so? Why did they give us the feeling that they alone were Egyptologists to be taken seriously? Depressed, I trudged the long way back to the inspectors’ building. In my dealings with foreign colleagues I had often felt that we Egyptians counted for little in our (p.75) very own discipline; people thought of us as dilettantes. I looked across at the towering tips of the pyramids, at which, long ago, Napoleon and his scholarly mission led by Dominique Vivant Denon had gazed in awe. It is true, we are greatly indebted to European scholars. To the Frenchman Jean-François Champollion and the German Karl Richard Lepsius, who laid the foundations of our profession in the nineteenth century. Europeans recognized the importance of Egypt’s advanced culture early on, studied our monuments, revealed them to the world, and salvaged a great deal—also for their museums.
I thought of the many tourists who gaze up at the light-colored limestone panels on the red façade of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and see all those European names: Lepsius, Brugsch, Dümichen, Rosellini. … With the exception of Ahmed Kamal Pasha, at the time of the opening of the Egyptian Museum in 1902 there were still no Egyptian Egyptologists whose names might have been immortalized on the museum façade. Few visitors make their way to the court of honor at the grave of Auguste Mariette next to the left wing of the museum, and few know the names of the men whose busts are ranged around Mariette: Ahmed Kamal; Selim Hassan; Mohamed Zakaria Goniem, the discoverer of the Sekhemkhet Pyramid at Saqqara; Labib Habachi, noted for his study of Egyptian obelisks. But what about all the others worthy of inclusion in this small Egyptian gallery of notables? Ahmed Fakhry, who studied Egyptian oases. Abdel Aziz Saleh, discoverer of the workers’ cemetery near the Menkaure Pyramid. Or Abdel Moneim Abu Bakr, who carried out important excavations in Giza. And there have been plenty of other worthy Egyptian Egyptologists.
I would follow narrow, more or less established tracks through the soft dunes of the plateau, past the waste dumps of former excavations. The plateau is strewn with ‘mole hills,’ behind which archaeologists from all over the world have uncovered tomb sites. Foreign scholars had done incalculable service for Egypt, and continue to do so to this day. We have them to thank for the decipherment of hieroglyphics, the first dictionaries and grammars, the methodology of our scholarly discipline, sophisticated excavation techniques, and conservation and restoration methods. But for all too long they had attempted to keep all that for themselves, as knowledge that we wouldn’t understand. To be sure, Frenchmen like Champollion and Mariette had also pressed for the first antiquities law passed in 1835, the establishment of the (p.76) Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte on February 29 of that year, and for the museum in Bulaq in 1858. Yet the Europeans also saw to it that they did not have to share the fame of discovery with Egyptians. The French considered the directorship of the antiquities service as their exclusive right, in exchange for leaving the business of government to the British. After the bankruptcy of the khedival government in 1876, the Egyptians were above all their debtors. With the antiquities laws passed under the khedives and the protectorate (1914–22), the Europeans reimbursed themselves for their cultural commitment. Anyone who now visits the Louvre, the British Museum, or Berlin’s Museum Island has to admit that in this respect Egypt owes them nothing.
What truly saddened me on my way home was the modern divide between us and European scholars. Unfortunately, it has a long tradition. Frenchmen like Gaston Maspero, from 1881 to 1888 and again from 1899 to 1914 the Director General of the Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte, resisted the demand of “Egyptology for Egyptians” voiced by such Egyptian scholars as Ahmed Kamal. Maspero prevented them from being trained, fearing for his own authority and that of other Frenchmen. The British-controlled school system excluded ancient Egypt from its curriculum. German, British, and French Egyptologists were by no means congenial. They all spoke dismissively of the others’ approaches. But they agreed in their belief that Egyptians were fundamentally unsuited for archaeology. This meant that it was only after its independence in 1922 that Egypt could begin to train a first generation of Egyptologists of its own—one hundred years after Champollion had deciphered hieroglyphics.
The British Consul-General Lord Cromer—a man who in Egypt continues to stand for the arrogance and brutality of the British Empire to this day—flatly declared that Egyptians were not “civilized enough” to deal with their antiquities. To be sure, in many Egyptian villages the remains of mudbrick walls of ancient settlements were being used to fertilize the fields, temples were treated as stone quarries, and tomb treasures turned into money. But the wealthy European collectors, dealers, and museums who shook their heads over the ignorance of the poor and backward Egyptians deliberately exploited that ignorance. In many places they were the unscrupulous sponsors of tomb plundering and the illegal trade in antiquities, of the bribery of authorities, and of the bending of any rules that had not been framed in (p.77) their favor. It was simply not in the foreigners’ interest that Egyptians recognize and protect their cultural heritage as early as possible—that would have meant that the so-called civilized foreign countries had to dig deeper into their pockets for that cultural heritage. It is true that there were Egyptians at that time whose excavations were primarily commercial in nature. But European scholars also had to keep their sponsors happy with finds as prestigious as possible. There was an obvious commercial interest that museums in Paris, London, New York, Turin, and Berlin continue to profit from to this day in marketing ‘their’ treasures.
The next morning I set out very early. I naturally wanted to be at Kromer’s dig on time, not to show up late the very first day and thereby confirm his preconceptions. The bus took an hour to get from Abdeen Square to the pyramid plateau. It was then a three-kilometer trek on foot through the sand. It was winter and still dark at that hour. Near the village of Nazlet el-Simman, which lies below the pyramid plateau, I had to cross through the cemetery. I was utterly alone, and suddenly a black figure sprang toward me. I froze, and thought of my grandfather’s ghaffirs in Kafr al-Arab and their stories about the goblins and evil spirits that lurk in cemeteries. A man stood before me, swathed in a filthy old sack with holes for his head and arms. I looked about, hoping to find help somewhere, but there was no one to call to. My heart was pounding. But the man kept standing there as though rooted to the spot, and finally almost tearfully begged me for a piaster: “I haven’t eaten for days.” I was trembling so much that I could barely open my bag and finally hand him ten piasters. Then I told him that from then on I would be coming through the cemetery every day at this time, and would bring with me something for him to eat. He took the ten piasters and accompanied me across the cemetery, gratefully praying the entire time, until he vanished as suddenly as he had appeared. I too thanked my guardian angel.
At the entrance to the dig I met one of our guards who was responsible for the south hill. He was somewhat surprised. An inspector at this hour, a young woman, and on foot? “Such a thing has never happened before.” I told him about the man in the cemetery, and he laughed, “Ah, that’s only a homeless man, a harmless old geezer who never hurts anybody.” But the ghaffir advised me never to cross the cemetery alone again. Allah had protected me this once. From then on the ghaffir would wait for me every morning down at (p.78) the street. “There are stray dogs here, even wolves that live in the hills. When they get hungry they come down as far as the cemetery.” Again I had to think of the scary stories from Kafr al-Arab. As it happened, Saad al-Abbadi did wait for me next to the cemetery every morning, wrapped in his gallabiya and a thick black cloak, armed with his big stick and a pistol. Still today I often think of the dark-skinned Saad from the tribe of the al-Ababda from the southeastern desert. He lived with his wife and four children in a small mud hut at the foot of the south hill. Saad saved my life, but I wasn’t able to save his. But that can wait.
Professor Kromer greeted me with a friendly smile and invited me into the tent for tea. We talked about the status and progress of the dig. The finds of potsherds and stone tools had confirmed his theory that this area had been occupied before the age of the pyramids, or in predynastic times. I was given a glimpse of the excavation reports and spent hours studying plans and drawings of ceramics—but I was not invited to engage in any practical work myself. It was obvious that Professor Kromer found my presence disruptive. Once again I fought down a rising resentment about the way foreign missions automatically thought of excavations as exclusively ‘theirs.’ I thought of the hundreds of foreign missions living in their excavation houses as quasi-extraterritorial fiefdoms. That too was a legacy of the so-called imperial archaeology of the nineteenth century, the competition between European countries for historic buried treasure in the Near and Far East.
First there were the treasure hunters, self-made excavators and collectors like Giovanni Belzoni, Henry Salt, and Heinrich Schliemann, who searched for art treasures at their own expense. But then archaeology became a national affair. Employing almost military strategy, archaeological expeditions from the European countries planted their banners on ancient deserted settlements. With their shovels they competed for the legacies of Greece, Babylon, and Egypt. An ‘excavation license’ was comparable to a prospector’s claim in the California goldfields. The lucky ones came to own a tell, a hill formed from the remains of an ancient town, from which they extracted an ample booty of art that enhanced both the fame of the excavator and (p.79) the prestige of the discovering country. The Louvre, the British Museum, the Turin Museum, and the Berlin museums were in avid competition for the most spectacular showpieces. None of them wanted to lag behind the others. For a long time they treated their finds as their own property. When the British scholar William Flinders Petrie was about to return home with his providential booty after his first Egyptian sojourn in 1880, his French colleague Gaston Maspero, though at that time director of the Egyptian antiquities adminstration, simply advised him not to declare his finds at customs, but to quietly smuggle them out of the country. In general, the Europeans who shared the responsible positions in the antiquities service tended to be extremely liberal among themselves, or, as Maspero put it, to maintain an “openness of spirit,” especially in the division of finds or in the “broadminded interpretation” of Egyptian laws and regulations. European customs inspectors waved through antiquities exported to Europe—often enough, Egyptian interests played only a secondary role. That would change only with Howard Carter.
The year 1922 was a memorable one. Egypt achieved its independence, and Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. A new era was beginning for us Egyptians in terms of politics, only Howard Carter was obviously unaware of it. He continued to treat the Egyptian antiquities service, the Egyptian government, and the Egyptian public in the same colonial manner. His first telegram after his discovery was not to Pierre Lacau, the head of the antiquities service, but to his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon. It wasn’t Lacau, but Carnarvon, who set the date for the official opening of the tomb; and it wasn’t Lacau who selected the guests for the official opening, but Carter. The Englishman did not delay the opening for Lacau—in fact there was not a single representative of the antiquities service in attendance, since Carter was unwilling to change the date to accommodate them. His exclusive contract with the Times newspaper shut out the press of his host country. February 12, 1924, the day on which the lid of the sarcophagus was to be raised, was the last straw. Even before the arrival of the official governmental delegation, the wives of the excavation’s coworkers were allowed into the tomb—despite warning protests from Cairo. Carter was a self-centered, obstinant character; his British arrogance could only provoke the Egyptians’ pride. Imagine what would have happened had a foreign (p.80) archaeologist discovered an untouched royal grave in England in 1922, admitted only his own reporters, made up his own guest list, and offered his sponsor half of all the gold treasures before sharing any with the British monuments protection authorities.
But in Egypt another wind was blowing in 1922. The forces striving for national independence under Saad Zaghloul were becoming stronger and stronger, their organized protests more and more violent. The British found themselves forced to upgrade the protectorate they had proclaimed in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War into an independent constitutional monarchy. During the protectorate, the son of the former Ottoman viceroy had been promoted to sultan by the grace of the British, and now they installed him in the kingship. But King Fuad I found himself torn in different directions: he had to shut the Wafd nationalists under Zaghloul out of the government to please the British, and he had to keep the British in check so the nationalists wouldn’t put him under even greater pressure. It was in this situation that Howard Carter, with his imperious behavior, presented the nationalists with the ideal target. Their mouthpiece, the newspaper al-Ahram, blasted him: “They’re not your treasures!” Now that Egypt was a nation for the first time, Tutankhamun was declared national cultural property. Demands that Egyptians themselves should finally take charge of their antiquities adminstration became more and more insistent.
Director Pierre Lacau had to fear for his own and by extension France’s leading position in the antiquities administration. He had Tutankhamun’s tomb sealed, forbade Carter access to the Valley of the Kings, and introduced more stringent antiquities legislation. In January 1924 Zaghloul finally became prime minister. In 1925 Cairo University became the first national university, and Egyptology was introduced as one of its disciplines. The Tutankhamun tomb treasure became national property, and Lord Carnarvon was reimbursed. Moreover, it was at just this time that the Nefertiti bust was publicly displayed for the first time in Berlin—more than ten years after its discovery. When a photograph of it appeared in Egyptian newspapers, Lacau had no choice but to demand the return of the bust from Germany as a national treasure. He knew that pressure on him would become still greater were the Egyptian public to find out that the French were responsible for its leaving Egypt in 1913.
(p.81) With all this in mind, I sat near Kromer’s dig on the south hill watching his students at work. For a week. Then I couldn’t take it anymore. I explained to Kromer that the situation was unbearable. “I have to work! I want to learn something!” I told him that I had already done practical work with British colleagues in Benghazi and had gained some experience.
Kromer was surprised. He was sorry if he had once again upset me by his behavior. “But never before has an inspector asked to take part!”
From then on our relationship was transformed. I became a part of the team, and Kromer, the members of the mission, and I came to enjoy an easy companionship. In the weeks we worked together removing sand and rubble with our shovels, trowels, and brushes, other thoughts went through my head: The disrespect by foreign colleagues was hardly surprising. Our inspectors were supposed to protect the archaeological sites, to see that there was no plundering or illegal construction in the precinct, and that farmers didn’t extend their fields onto archaeological territory. I looked down on the valley of the Nile and saw that the monument protection authorities had not prevented illegal settlements from proliferating right up to the plateau. The laws could not prevent the fact that intensive agriculture was raising the groundwater level and drowning tombs in the Delta; they hadn’t prevented influential families from constructing their villas.
I saw how diligently the students worked. In the afternoon we would discuss the day’s results, draw and catalog ceramic finds. Their concentration and enthusiasm were infectious, and I learned more every day: about pre- and early history, about which little was taught at our universities. Moreover, I learned a little German. Only bits of course. I liked the sound and rhythm of the language, and determined to learn German, especially since it had always annoyed me that I was unable to read important scholarly essays and books. I enrolled in evening courses at the Goethe Institute, which was fortunately not far from our apartment.
When I compared my knowledge with that of the other students, I had to ask myself what they must really think of Egyptian inspectors who spent their days drinking tea and reading newspapers, showing little interest or ambition in their own field. I would hear the students exchanging opinions about the (p.82) scholarly literature, and think of our own studies: how we learned by heart the writings of notable European Egyptologists like sacred texts, without being encouraged to form any interpretations of our own. We were content with excursions, without gaining any practical excavation experience of our own. To this day excavation techniques are not a part of our curriculum. When I took over the direction of the Egyptian Museum decades later, I discovered that a large number of its curators and restorers had never been at any archaeological site aside from the Giza pyramids. I put together a continuing education program, with lectures on important archaeological sites, which we would then visit one by one. It is ridiculous that a curator responsible for a museum’s archaeological collection should have no clear idea of where the objects he or she looks after came from. I sadly had to ask myself whether it wasn’t our own fault that foreign colleagues didn’t take us seriously.
In fact, our universities were completely overburdened. In 1972 there were twelve of us earning bachelor’s degrees. Today our universities graduate several hundred Egyptologists each year. Egyptology has suddenly become a fashionable major, and instructors can no longer deal with the masses of students. Research and teaching suffer accordingly. It is scarcely possible for us to offer training of a quality comparable to that of European universities. That naturally contributes to the inferiority complexes of many of our Egyptologists. So why are so many young people nevertheless studying Egyptology? In Europe I read that it is probably a response to a secret yearning on the part of young Egyptians for ancient splendor and glory, a kind of patriotric ‘repatriation’ of their own cultural heritage—Egyptology as reassurance of a onetime high culture at a time of national and political decline. It may be that that also plays a role. For many young people it must be all the more frustrating that their country is unable to give them any work.
Months later I had the same experience with the mission from Harvard University and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that I had had with Professor Kromer. The Americans were documenting the graves in the necropolis to the west of the Khufu Pyramid, a project begun in the first half of the twentieth century by the famous American archaeologist George Reisner. ‘Papa George’ was legendary. In 1925 he discovered a shaft on the east side of the Great Pyramid that led at a depth of thirty meters to a wall sealed with limestone blocks. Behind them lay the tomb chamber of the ‘Great Royal (p.83) Consort’ Hetepheres, who lived between roughly 2551 and 2528 BC. She was the mother of the pharaoh Khufu and wife of Snefru, the first of the ancient Egyptian kings of the Fourth Dynasty. The expectations in 1925 were naturally enormous—three years before, Howard Carter had found the undisturbed tomb of Tutankhamun. But here was an obviously undisturbed tomb from the Fourth Dynasty, or roughly twelve hundred years older than the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. And in fact Reisner did discover that everything in the small chamber was undisturbed: the alabaster sarcophagus, the canopic jars, chests filled with fine linens, salve jars and cosmetic utensils in gold and copper, armbands of silver, a gold-studded bed, and other pieces of furniture adorned with marquetry. It was only the contents of the sarcophagus itself that were a disappointment—the coffin was empty. Clearly Reisner had come upon Hetepheres’s second tomb. The first, we now assume, had probably been plundered, and the queen’s mummy either destroyed or stolen. Here a new tomb chamber had been created for her at the foot of the Great Pyramid—but without her mortal remains. Her tomb treasure can now be seen in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Reisner made a great contribution to the study of the Old Kingdom and its necropolises, and in the mid 1970s William Kelly Simpson was carrying on with Reisner’s work on the plateau. After the predynastic dig on the south hill, I was looking forward to studying the following period. Or so I thought. But Simpson too made no effort to include me in the mission’s work. “Make yourself comfortable here in the office. If I need anything or have any problems, I’ll come to you. Have a nice day!”
I was about to turn around, when I burst out that I would insist on being present at the dig so as to be able to write detailed reports. I was not angry at Simpson, or about the fact that in my second assignment as inspector I was being dismissed in the same way. I was angry at my own people. It was intolerable how we presented ourselves to foreign colleagues. Then Professor Simpson and his colleagues also took me on without hesitation, and we are still friends to this day.
I had accompanied two American excavation campaigns and learned a great deal about the scientific recording and documentation of tombs. During my excavation work in Benghazi, it had already become clear to me that I wanted to write my master’s thesis about an archaeological site that had not (p.84) as yet been scientifically studied, and I began looking around the area with a purpose. Which of the many tombs could be an interesting research project? During the Austrians’ excavations on the southern edge of Gebel Qibli, a tomb had caught my eye whose architecture clearly differed from that of the Old Kingdom tombs. During a lunch break I ran over to the other side of the south hill to look at the tomb up close, and was astonished. The exposed outer walls were made of a fine Tura limestone, on which were wonderful reliefs. They were quite similar to those of the Old Kingdom, yet somehow different. The tomb chapel was in the form of a cross. I could not get inside, for the entrance was partly walled up and secured with a heavy iron door.
In the library of the Egyptian Museum I looked to see whether any information on the tomb had already been published, and finally found it. The British archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie had cursorily described the five rooms in 1906 and prepared a series of relief drawings. The Tomb of Thery—the more I dug around in the archive, the more clear the outlines of a tragedy became, one that was altogether typical of the fate of many ancient monuments: Petrie had had a large part of the sand beneath the slope of the hill removed and the tomb chapel cleared of it. He was fascinated by the quality of the reliefs, especially those of the eastern chamber. His drawings, published in 1907, pictured Thery seated before the offering table and his two sons, Psamtik and Gem-ef-set-kap, presenting offerings. Above them sat Anubis, the god of the necropolis. In front of Anubis one could see the symbol of the tomb, the ankh (the sign for life) and the Horus or udjat eye, beneath which, in turn, were the signs for ‘beautiful’ and ‘gold.’ I read that Petrie and also Gaston Maspero, then chief of the Service des Antiquités, had intended to remove a few portions of the wall. Petrie wanted the reliefs for a British museum, Maspero for the museum in Cairo. But apparently both of them lacked the time, money, and necessary sponsors, so the walls were left intact. Petrie had the tomb refilled with sand. But that precaution came too late. His discovery had long since been talked about, and tomb robbers had their eyes on it. Apparently at the request of foreign antiquities dealers, they cleared the sand from the out-of-the-way tomb and chiseled from the wall the very blocks that Petrie and Maspero had coveted. They also ravaged other reliefs, carving out entire scenes. What was scandalous was the inaction on the part of the antiquities authorities. In 1911 Inspector Georges Daressy permitted the (p.85) stolen blocks to be shipped to London—“unknowingly,” it was said, though the thirty crates were declared as “ancient blocks,” “stones,” and “fragments.” Maspero was so enraged that within weeks he initiated a new antiquities law that went into effect on June 14, 1912. One more piece of antiquities legislation pointing in the right direction, but one that accomplished little—for only a year later the Nefertiti bust left the country in the same manner.
I told Professor Simpson about the tomb, and he immediately agreed to look at it with me. We were enchanted by the reliefs on the outer walls: Osiris seated on his throne, accompanied by his sister–wife Isis and their sister Nephthys—actually scenes found in temples, not tombs, at least not usually in those of the Giza necropolis. We concluded that many of the standard Old Kingdom scenes were found in this tomb, but also some from the pictorial inventory of later centuries.
“The tomb has to be documented before it deteriorates still further,” I told him. “Petrie’s notes leave a lot of uncertainty.”
Simpson felt that the tomb definitely had to be measured, documented, and published—a very nice scholarly project. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll arrange for an invitation to you from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There you can study our documentation of the Giza necropolis and also make use of the archive at Harvard University. I’ll see that you can have a room in the museum’s guesthouse. But you’ll have to arrange for the plane ticket to Boston yourself.”
On the way home I could hardly believe my good fortune. Simpson was not only entrusting me with such a project, he was paving the way for me. But where was I to get the money for a plane ticket to Boston? I was earning LE25 a month. The flight would possibly cost $1,000. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for lack of money. I would broach the issue with the vice president of the antiquities service.
Fuad el-Oraby had a reputation for throwing tantrums and was considered impossibly difficult: a former officer who bossed his intimidated subordinates around like common soldiers. I had not as yet met him, but I remembered my experience with the ‘General’ three years before and summoned up all my courage. I would simply explain to him how I envisioned the trip. A few weeks before, I had been awarded a small stipend from the British Council for a fourteen-day language-study stay in England. And now (p.86) there was the invitation to America as well. So all I needed was a ticket from London to Boston.
I was given an appointment in Bab al-Luq. The secretary announced me and led me into a very simple office. Fuad el-Oraby was seated behind an uncluttered writing table, reading in a file. He promptly looked up and said, “I’m proud of you. I see that you’ve received an award from the British Council. A stipend for England! I congratulate you.” An encouraging greeting. So I told him about the invitation to Boston—that I wanted to work on my master’s thesis but needed a ticket to America. Fuad el-Oraby listened attentively, reflected for a moment, then suddenly brightened. “I have a solution! I will add your name to the list of official delegates to the opening of the Tutankhamun exhibition in New Orleans. What do you think of that? That way we kill two birds with one stone. You have your ticket to America, and I get to send somebody in place of these people who know nothing about Tutankhamun!”
On September 10, 1977, I boarded a jumbo jet for America. During the sixteen-hour flight I had a lot of time to think. Contrary to expectations, this ‘general’ had also given me a chance, and his suggestion exceeded my wildest hopes. I was the youngest member of an official Egyptian delegation. Behind me sat the minister of culture Abdel Moneim El Sawy; his wife; and the director general of the antiquities administration, Professor Mohamed Abdel Qader. Ahead of me was a ten-day tour to five major cities in the United States: New York, Chicago, the opening of the Tutankhamun exhibition in New Orleans, then California with San Francisco and Los Angeles. A dream journey. To be sure, I hadn’t anticipated the amount of envy this trip would provoke among my older colleagues in the antiquities service. Such a young woman, not yet twenty-seven years old, and with no travel experience! They can’t send such a person! But I also heard kind words. “My dear, you’ll make precisely the right impression abroad of the young generation of Egyptian women,” the friendly minister assured me. “You’re the perfect ambassador for this exhibition,” his wife seconded.
Over the Atlantic we ran into violent turbulence. Behind me I could hear the soft murmur of Qur’an suras. I could only think of Mama, who on a flight home from Benghazi landed in Cairo in a plane on fire, and despite the flames climbed out unfazed. She was absolutely certain nothing would happen to her. For hours I gazed down at a sea of scudding clouds and waves. (p.87) Then finally the pilot announced that the Manhattan skyline would soon be visible on the horizon: New York—city of dreams. Below us cruise ships and skyscrapers were glistening in the sun. During the descent I shut my eyes, calling to mind scenes from American movies. At the airport I still found myself in such a dream: A large committee met us, luxury limousines drove us into Manhattan, motorcycle police escorted us in front and behind. By the time the car door was opened in front of the famous Plaza Hotel, my neck already ached from constantly staring upward. We were told that we should freshen up, and then the visiting schedule could begin. I was suddenly exhausted. In Cairo it was two o’clock in the morning. But I suppressed the desire for sleep, took a hot bath, changed my clothes, and went back down to the lobby, ignoring my need for rest. We were immediately whisked on to the Metropolitan Museum on Fifth Avenue. I was stunned as I stood in the Egyptian Department: The Metropolitan owns more statues of Queen Hatshepsut than the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. From the late nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, the museum owned the license for excavations at Hatshepsut’s Temple in Deir al-Bahari. But how could it be that it was able to take home such quantities of unique objects? The museum people mostly wanted to show us the Temple of Dendur. It had been faithfully reconstructed in the Sackler Wing—a gift to the United States from Egypt in gratitude for its help in the archaeological campaign to rescue Nubian monuments threatened by the reservoir of the Aswan dam. I liked the way they had rebuilt the temple under a large glass roof.
On our way to the Brooklyn Museum I could see out of the limousine window only poverty and misery: black people lounging on stoops, drunks, jobless people, mountains of trash on the sidewalks. Was this America, one of the wealthiest countries in the world? The driver asked that we lock the windows and doors. We were not to go out onto the street alone at night, not to open our hotel room doors. I had been living in a city of millions, but at that time Cairo was truly a peaceful and safe metropolis. I suddenly felt oppressed by the canyons of steel and concrete, and it was only when I saw the view from the Empire State Building, and then from the Statue of Liberty, that my sense of elation returned.
I could scarcely believe it. Only shortly before I had been kneeling in the dust of the pyramid plateau, and now here I was standing in the General (p.88) Assembly of the United Nations at the invitation of Egypt’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ahmed Esmat Abdel Meguid, who would years later be Egypt’s foreign minister and president of the League of Arab States. There was to be a formal dinner with a great number of politicians and diplomats in attendance. I was somewhat intimidated, but the minister and his wife took me by the hand like a daughter. The ambassador’s wife also graciously introduced me to their guests. I was asked to tell them about my work on the pyramid plateau. They were astonished that such a young woman had worked in the desert, and then they wanted to know whether I rode past the pyramids on a camel the way one saw people doing on television. In the course of the trip I met many Americans who actually believed that the camel was the standard means of transportation in Egypt and that attacks by Nile crocodiles were a frequent cause of death. I had to wonder about the image of my country conveyed by the media. We lived in the land of the pharaohs, to be sure—but time hadn’t stood still for us either.
We left New York the next day, and in Chicago we were treated to the same scenario: a reception committee at the airport, luxury limousines, a luxurious hotel with a view of the lake, the warning not to open our doors and not to go for a walk at night. In Chicago’s Field Museum I saw my first dinosaur skeleton, ‘Sue,’ the famous Tyrannosaurus rex. In the Egyptian Department we admired the many artifacts excavated in Egypt since 1924. Two days and a night later we were in New Orleans—a city surpassing everything we had seen before. We were greeted as though we had landed as aliens. On the drive into town, accompanied by an escort of police cars and motorcycles, I was struck by the way the streets were decorated with palms and ancient Egyptian motifs. For the opening of the Tutankhamun exhibit, the entire city had been adorned in pharaonic style, boutique windows featured ancient Egyptian costumes, and the hotel lobby had been turned into an Egyptian temple. Then came a shock: For the opening ceremony we were asked to wear tuxedos and evening dresses. I didn’t have an evening dress. But the minister and his wife and the other members of the delegation were also unprepared. No problem, we were told, and a short time later we were provided with formal wear from a rental service. The minister’s wife and I laughed out loud. But the wife of the Egyptian ambassador in Washington explained that that was perfectly normal in America. Plenty of people, even the well-to-do, rented tuxedos for an evening.
(p.89) It was an evening filled with surprises. We went on foot to the hall a few steps away, noting that the palm-lined street had been dyed blue to represent the Nile. Hardly had we entered the hall when I felt I was at a masked ball: All the American women were dressed the same. They all wore variants of the costume that Elizabeth Taylor had worn in Cleopatra, and even their hairdos were imitations of Liz’s. The courses at dinner were served with Egyptian twists, colorful sweets arranged as Tutankhamun masks. Among the horde of guests I recognized well-known Hollywood stars, and you cannot imagine what I felt when I was seated as a table partner next to the wonderful actor James Mason. An entire, much too short evening next to the incredible James Mason! His questions were unsurprising: “How can such a young woman work in the desert? Aren’t you afraid of snakes and scorpions?” No, I assured him, wild animals are more afraid of us than we of them. And wasn’t the desert one of the most enchanting landscapes on earth? We talked about Tutankhamun, speculating about the pharaoh’s early death, but also about modern Egypt, about Cairo and the university. While we were eating, I felt the attentive glances of a woman from the neighboring table. She was the only one who wasn’t dressed like Elizabeth Taylor. It was Elizabeth Taylor. We nodded to each other, and I felt that she had the most beautiful smile in the world. After dinner she came over to us. James Mason introduced us, and for a long time I thought I had strayed into a film. With a winking glance at the ladies around us, Elizabeth Taylor said, “Oh well, we now know perfectly well what ancient Egyptian women looked like. But here’s an Egyptian who outclasses them all. You are very beautiful!” James Mason looked at me and smiled. Elizabeth Taylor looked at me and smiled. And all I could say was something dumb like, “Thank you. But so are you!”
Tutankhamun was the most spectacular exhibition Egypt ever sent abroad. It displayed a large selection of the most important objects from the tomb treasure and, of course, the famous eleven-kilogram mask made of gold and semiprecious stones. None of these would ever leave Egypt again. Americans and some 40 million people around the globe were stunned by the show. The proceeds helped to compensate for Egypt’s war losses and improve its tourist infrastructure. It was the most successful publicity show the country had ever undertaken.
(p.90) After the dinner and the opening ceremony, museum colleagues invited us to a Bourbon Street jazz bar. The following day I saw the Mississippi, flowing a dark gray beneath clouds. It began to rain, and never again have I seen so much water lash down in such a short time. The blue-dyed street turned into an actual river. I had to think of Cairo: Whenever it rained there, even a few drops, people stayed home from work, as the streets descended into absolute chaos.
So we were happy to be able to set out for sunny California. Our days in San Francisco were overscheduled and flew by. I remember Chinatown, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the oldest gigantic trees in the world. Afterward came Los Angeles with its Universal Studios, the film tricks with which Charlton Heston had crossed the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments, and the gigantic gaping jaws of the “great white” in Jaws. At Disneyland I began to be bored, but our time had run out in any case. The delegation had to return to Cairo, and I was expected in Boston. Minister El Sawy’s wife parted from me charmingly and wished me much success in my work in Boston. The minister and the president of the antiquities service thanked me for my commitment.
A day later I was standing in the arrival hall of the Boston airport. My reception committee consisted of Peter Der Manuelian, now the Philip J. King Professor of Egyptology at Harvard University, and Professor Simpson, who drove me to the museum’s guesthouse. We had a small snack with the other residents. I had returned to an altogether normal life. At night, thanks to the jet lag, I lay awake. I would have liked to be able to take a walk, but in Boston too that was not advised. So I spent my days at Harvard University, sifting through the data relating to excavations on the Giza plateau. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful. We often went to the shore. I would breathe the fresh sea air, eat fish and lobster outdoors, and enjoy it all enormously. Again I could see how diligent my American colleagues were. They would work tirelessly and with dedication from morning to night, and I could see how precious this study was to me. I learned how tomb reliefs were documented and was inspired by modern ways of displaying them.
But in the United States I had another experience that would stay with me: I visited an exhibition titled Dialogue in the Dark. The visitor entered into a completely dark space. For two hours, armed only with a cane, you moved with a group of people led by the voice of the guide. At first I was (p.91) panicked. I was supposed to cross a highly trafficked street, honking cars were racing past me, and I didn’t dare step off the sidewalk. I was supposed to search for a seat in a restaurant, shop in a supermarket, and count my change. I was totally disoriented, with only the voice of the guide for help. She had noted all our names, and spoke familiarly to each of us. “Wafaa, here we are! Only a few steps to your right.” I groped my way through the darkness and began to realize what it means to live one’s life in utter, inescapable darkness. Once we were seated in the dark restaurant, I asked our guide how she managed to find her way around. She answered, “I’m blind.” I can’t describe how that struck me. But I finally felt my anxiety subsiding, and I noticed that I began to smile. I have no explanation for this phenomenon, but I have since encountered this smile again—it made me very happy later during my work with blind children in the Egyptian Museum.
In London upon my return I was on my last legs. I landed at Heath-row early in the morning. My first meeting with the director of the British Council and the directors of the educational program for recipients of the Near Eastern stipend was scheduled for nine o’clock. Because of jet lag my eyes were drooping. I had a hard time listening and barely understood what they were saying. We were then taken to the British Museum. Henry (Harry) James, the keeper of the Egyptian Department, could see I was totally exhausted. I explained to him that the visit to his museum was perhaps the most important part of my trip. “Could we possibly put off the museum tour for a day? I need to rest.” Mr. James smiled with understanding, and we postponed the date. The British Council also recognized that as an Egyptologist I wanted to spend more time in the museum. I had thought I knew the British Museum collection from catalogs and books, but I was overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of its rare and important objects. At the same time, I was impressed by the swarms of visitors. In New York, Chicago, and Boston I had already seen that most museum visitors immediately head for the Egyptian departments and stand fascinated in front of the displays. Of course I was accustomed to the sight of crowds of tourists in front of the pyramids or the Sphinx. But here it once again became clear to me what fascination ancient Egyptian culture holds for people all over the world. I was a little proud of that, but also sad about what enormous losses our museums had suffered.
(p.92) In the evening I would walk along the Thames, past the Tower of London and the venerable Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. After my time in the New World, I was enjoying the aura of the old one. I visited Westminster Abbey and admired the government buildings of Whitehall. At the changing of the guard in front of Buckingham Palace I thought, This is the center of the British Empire. It was from here that the colonies of India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Hong Kong, lands in the Caribbean, and Egypt were ruled. It was from here that were issued the orders to put down the Urabi Revolt and to invade during the Suez crisis. I looked at the mix of nations and cultures around me—and I didn’t feel foreign. Strange, I thought, for decades we Egyptians tried everything to cast off the British yoke, and now I have the feeling that I too am part of the British Commonwealth.
My friend Carolyn picked me up, and we drove to Oxford to see the Ashmolean Museum, to Cambridge and the Fitzwilliam Museum. There too I admired the museums and the wealth of their collections. Seeing the abundance of Egyptian objects, I had to think that we Egyptians were no longer part of the Commonwealth and its privileges, while the British still enjoy the most precious works of the ancient East. Beyond all political and intellectual differences, that should unite us—a ‘commonwealth of culture.’ Artifacts form the cultural bridge between us. Couldn’t they help overcome the barriers between rich and poor? Carolyn and I got along wonderfully. We laughed a lot. Since her time in Benghazi and despite her accident in Afghanistan, she hadn’t lost her sense of humor. We spent delightful days together. But I was already feeling homesick. I missed my family, the sun over the pyramid plateau, the laughter of my countrymen.
I left London with a suitcase that weighed a ton, packed with books, catalogs, publications, and my workbooks. I landed in Cairo happy, full of enthusiasm and eager to get to work. It was time to put theory into practice. I was burning to get back to Thery’s tomb, even though I would be able to visit it only at odd hours on account of my obligations as inspector. Back in Giza my colleagues reacted to my plans with reservations. When Chief Inspector Nassef Hassan heard what I had in mind, he enumerated all the possible objections to it. It was too far away, the terrain was difficult, even dangerous. In any case, he could not put a car at my disposal. But he did agree that I might work in the tomb. So I would set out in the early morning on foot and trek the three (p.93) kilometers through the desert sand, my notebooks, my camera, and my drawing utensils under my arm. My colleagues gave me no support, either moral or practical. Often enough I would find the inspectors’ building locked in the afternoon. Hassan and the others had already headed home in the Jeep and the minibus. I would trudge down to the bus stop from the plateau, my hair and clothes full of dust that I would have to shake off outside the door at home. My mother would be dismayed to see me in such condition. “My child, what are you doing to yourself? Do you really have to do this?” “Yes, I have to,” I would tell her.
But I was not entirely alone. Saad al-Abbadi, the ghaffir from the south hill, supported me. Whenever he saw me heading for the tomb behind the hill, he would accompany me, and ultimately even bring along a few excavation workers. Saad helped me to open the heavy iron door that must have been installed in Maspero’s time. All of us set about clearing away the sand that kept sifting into the tomb’s interior.
The south slopes of the plateau are treacherous terrain. The limestone crumbles, the sand is fine and shifting. In addition, it is riddled with tomb chambers whose shafts, as much as twenty meters deep, are neither secured nor marked. They have no surface structures and the shafts are in no way encased. Sand trickles into the openings, partially covering them, so that anyone unfamiliar with the area risks falling into one, where it is not uncommon to find nests of snakes and scorpions. Naturally I didn’t tell Mother any of this. I had no fear of the shafts. The guards and laborers knew exactly where they were, and I quickly memorized their locations. Eager for adventure and with a lust for discovery, I would have liked to climb down into some of them and investigate, but the men urgently advised against it, for which I am still grateful to them today.
I began by documenting the exterior walls. The pictures show the owner of the tomb and his wife praying to the deities Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys. The style of the relief drawings is very like that of the Old Kingdom, but the motif itself wasn’t used in tombs in that early period. From the hieroglyphic texts on the exterior walls I knew that Thery was a police overseer, an office he had inherited from his father, Gem-ef-set-kap. His mother’s name was Tadi-Hor, and she bore the title ‘Lady of the House.’ One of Thery’s two sons was Psamtik—and this name is an indication that he had been given it in honor of Thery’s lord, the pharaoh Psamtik, a ruler from the late seventh century BC.
(p.94) On the Giza plateau, with its pyramids and necropolises, there are mainly monuments from the era of the Old Kingdom (ca. 2650–2100 BC), but there are also a small number from the time of the New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1100 BC), especially the temple structures in front of the Sphinx. Archaeologists concentrate mainly on the monuments of the Fourth Dynasty (ca. 2613–2294 BC). That there are also traces in the necropolises of the Late Period, that is, the era of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty (ca. 664–525 BC), was still not fully recognized in the 1970s. Thery’s tomb was constructed around 640 BC. That was the time of the so-called Saïtes, rulers whose residence was in the city of Saïs in the Delta. The Twenty-sixth Dynasty, together with the preceding Twenty-fifth Dynasty, was an epoch of cultural renaissance. The pharaohs of these two dynasties attempted to obliterate the memory of previous foreign rulers by giving their buildings a ‘genuine’ ancient Egyptian appearance. The masonry of this period is especially carefully executed, artistic and masterly in its craftsmanship. One way in which the Saïtes attempted to be authentic Egyptians was by once again building in the ancient Egyptian necropolises on the pyramid plateau. The cemeteries from the heyday of the pyramid builders had lain there for around fifteen hundred years. Thery, however, the overseer of Pharaoh Psamtik’s police, was among those who constructed an elaborate tomb for himself on that venerable terrain. But he didn’t build himself a mere mastaba, a simple, rectangular flat tomb. Nor did he commission a rock-cut chamber in the ancient Egyptian style. Instead, he built a tomb that would stand out from those surrounding it.
The tomb held yet another surprise. In the center of its interior court I discovered a shaft leading down into the lower part, the actual tomb chamber. Could it be that Sir Flinders Petrie had overlooked it? In any case, he didn’t mention it. Petrie was by no means an exception in his generation of excavators. The veterans followed their curiosity and their lust for finds. They moved huge masses of sand and rubble, but when they failed to turn up anything exciting, they would abandon their digging and documentation. They made do with the publication of sketches and notes that didn’t fully describe a site and fail to meet today’s scientific standards.
But the reliefs in Thery’s inner court claimed all my attention. The walls were decorated with exquisite pictures and texts in bright reds, blues, (p.95) and greens, altogether in Old Kingdom style. It is not easy to distinguish between the signs of the various epochs and properly date them, but I noticed that it became easier and easier for me to recognize subtle differences. Thery and his wife are seated, while servants bring them food and drink and the couple are entertained by singers and musicians playing a harp and a flute. Reading the texts, and in the midst of these pictures, I felt surrounded by a second family. I became more and more knowledgable about Thery’s biography. He was a man who insisted that the names of his second wife and those of their children should also be immortalized here.
The back four chambers of the upper tomb chapel were dark and filled with sand and rubble. Four workers began to remove the debris, always keeping long sticks at hand to keep horned vipers at bay. The venom of these snakes is deadly and works in a very short time. The day we cleared the western chamber, there were suddenly warning cries. Finally Saad al-Abbadi brought out a good-sized cobra. I insisted that he not club it to death but simply let it loose somewhere far away. Unlike horned vipers, cobras are not truly dangerous, and outside there were plenty of mice and other small animals for them to live on. Saad laughed, “We were just about to give it to you so that you could have a nice snakeskin bag made out of it.” The snake had hidden in the farthest back corner of the chamber. Saad showed me where it had curled up, and then pointed to the wall. The room was covered over and over with Chapter 146 of the Book of the Dead: the Book of Gates to the Beyond, which describes the journey of the sun god through the twelve hours of the night. We could see a series of gates in which demons stood guard. Painted next to them were texts that Thery would be required to recite so that the guards would grant him entrance to the underworld. He could only pass once he had pronounced each of the gatekeepers’ names. The portals of the gates were decorated with rearing cobras. The laborers looked at me meaningfully: How wise of the snake to nest near its symbolic home.
Registering all the reliefs and texts took weeks. Finally there were the shaft and whatever might be found at the end of it. With great care the workers had exposed a rectangular hole roughly 1.6 meters by 1 meter carved out of the limestone. They warned me, but I was determined to climb down into it. My desire to document the tomb completely in drawings and (p.96) photographs was greater than my fear. I bought a stout rope, a good lamp, and though shaking his head, Saad al-Abbadi tied the rope around my waist and shoulders. While the men mumbled suras from the Qur’an, they slowly lowered me into the shaft. We had previously determined that it was twelve meters deep. After four meters I spotted a narrow side shaft with a skeleton in it on the west side. Apparently a Roman-era burial. When I aimed my flashlight into the niche I saw two large eyes shining at the back of it. Frightened, I screamed and jerked backward. I then saw two large wings lift upward above me, and could hear how the men at the top also screamed as they let go of the rope. I plunged a few meters downward until Saad al-Abbadi managed to grab the rope again. I struck the rock wall, and for a few seconds was almost senseless with pain. The men slowly lowered me to the floor, where I cowered barely conscious. I couldn’t feel any strength in my legs, and had to first calm myself. Saad called down to ask if I was okay, whether I was alive. “Al-hamdulillah,” the men called. “Al-hamdulillah,” I repeated. I lay there for perhaps twenty minutes unable to move. Despite the poor light I could make out that the bottom part of the tomb consisted of two chambers, not one. I discovered a rectangular cavity filled with rubble, probably a shaft leading to the actual tomb chamber. Finally I pulled myself together and called to Saad that we should now try it together. With great effort they pulled me back up the twelve meters to the top, the rope painfully cutting into my shoulders. I arrived completely exhausted. As we all caught our breath, we tried to think how we might get down again safely. Saad explained that a large owl had flown out, a splendid creature that apparently lived in the tomb niche. I confessed to the men that I had thought I was looking into a man’s eyes down there, and related that the ancient Egyptians believed that the soul of the dead flies out during the day in the form of a bird and returns to the other world only at night—a bird with the head of the deceased. Again the men looked at me wide-eyed. Then it was the soul of Thery that had flown out, and it would probably only return in the night. I will never forget that experience.
That day Saad al-Abbadi saved my life. I could have broken my neck. That time it was he who was my guardian angel. However, weeks later I was unable to help him. I had not seen him for several days and asked the other ghaffirs about him. Saad wasn’t doing well, they told me; he was at (p.97) the university clinic. I drove there that same day and found him lying on a trolley on a wet sheet while his wife sat next to him weeping. He scarcely noticed me and was unable to speak. I called a nurse and asked why the man was having to lie on a wet sheet. The nurse apologized, explaining that there were not enough staff. I pressed money in her hand, left more money with Saad’s wife, and promised to look in on him again the next day. When I arrived the next morning the trolley was empty. Saad had died of kidney failure in the night.
I sat in the bus, looked at the people around me, and asked myself, Was it because Saad was a ghaffir that he couldn’t be helped? Because he couldn’t afford to be hooked up to an expensive dialysis machine?
I was certain that Thery’s tomb chamber lay at the base of the rubble-filled shaft. I showed the architect of the Giza precinct my cross-section drawings and explained to him that I definitely wanted to clear the shaft. Who knows, maybe it was the original workmen themselves who had dumped stones into it to protect the grave goods. But my colleague advised me against it. “The stone is too friable. The tomb shaft could cave in. You would in any case require ceiling braces and a lifting apparatus for the rubble. Wait until we have better machinery. The tomb isn’t going to run away from you.”
But I couldn’t stop thinking about the stolen relief blocks from the east chamber of the tomb chapel. From the archival documents from 1912, I knew that the crates had been shipped to the museums in Bristol and Brooklyn. I determined to search for the lost reliefs and wrote to the curator of the Egyptian Department at the Brooklyn Museum, Bernhard V. Bothmer. I suspected that the reliefs were possibly lying unused in his storerooms, that perhaps we could get them back and even return them to the tomb. A short time later I received a reply. Bothmer wrote that the museum no longer owned the blocks; the reliefs had been sold to a museum in South America because the museum decided to concentrate on collecting sculptures. Unfortunately, it could no longer be determined which museum it was. I was somewhat astonished that the reliefs had not been returned to their home country, but simply resold. So I set about finding out which museums in South America had Egyptian collections, and wrote to Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba. But I received only negative replies. The relief blocks remained (p.98) missing—until twenty-five years later when, as director of the Egyptian Museum, I received a Colombian delegation, including the director of the National Museum in Bogotá. She told me that her museum owned a few Egyptian relief blocks, but that they didn’t know what period they came from. I pricked up my ears. The reliefs had come from New York a long time ago, my colleague explained, in exchange for other pieces. I asked her to send me photos, and behold, they were indeed Thery’s lost tomb reliefs.