Skip to main content Accessibility help

First Steps in Archaeology

  • Margaret Murray

To trace the rise of archaeology is practically to write the biography of one man, Flinders Petrie.

I first went to University College, London, as a student of Egyptology in January 1894. Petrie was then in Egypt, digging at Koptos, having in the previous year electrified the learned world by his discoveries at Tell el Amarna. Dr J. H. Walker was in charge of the Egyptology department (then and for years afterwards known as the Edwards Library), and Mr F. Ll. Griffith of the British Museum came twice a week to take a class in hieroglyphs. When Miss Amelia B. Edwards founded the Edwards Professorship of Egyptology, it was with the intention that it should be for the training of students in Egyptian archaeology as distinct from the Egyptian language. She had a small but well chosen collection of Egyptian antiquities which she bequeathed as a nucleus of a teaching collection, and with it her Egyptological library. One show case held the collection, and two bookcases held the library. There were also three ‘cradles’ which held the enormous tomes of Rosselini, La Description de Z’Egypte, and Lepsius’s Denkmäler. It is difficult for any modern archaeologist to realize how few books there were on any archaeological subject. For Egypt there were the early volumes of the ‘Egypt Exploration Fund (including the disastrous Bubastis) and Petrie’s early volumes, including Kahun, with its shattering suggestion that certain peculiar painted pottery found in a Middle Kingdom site (c. 2000 B.C.) came from the Aegean. Mariette and Heinrich Brugsch were well represented in the Edwards Library, and the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology was the chief journal in which to publish short articles. Erman’s Aegyptische Grammatik, with its English translation by Breasted had just appeared and was being carefully studied by all Orientalists. Egyptian history began at the 4th dynasty, nothing was known of anything beyond Khufu and the Great Pyramid, except the fragments of Manetho’s history, the lists of Kings, of which the Tablet of Abydos was one, Herodotus, Josephus, and a few scattered items in other ancient authors. The Biblical record concerning Egypt dates from Abraham’s visit, but as the ruler of that country is called Pharaoh without his personal name the exact date is uncertain, but is definitely after the Old Kingdom.

Hide All

1 To be really exact it took place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21, 4004 B.C. The evidence for these dates is entirely documentary. The date of the year as calculated by Archbishop Ussher is obtained by taking the Jewish date of the Flood—2348 B.C.—and adding to it in succession the age of each patriarch when he begat a son. The other items can be worked out from the data given in the first chapter of Genesis.

2 I suggest to the Egypt Exploration Society that a re-issue of Diospolis Parva would be of the greatest value to all Egyptologists.

Dr Margaret Murray retired from the Assistant Professorship of Egyptology at University College, London in 1935. At the invitation of the Editor of ANTIQUITY she looks back, in this article, on a long and distinguished career, which has included at least sixty-six years as a practising professional archaeologist. What she says is, as always, provocative, pungent and pertinent.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed