It is a curious coincidence that the 100th and 200th anniversaries respectively of perhaps the two most famous events in Egyptology should both fall in 2022.
First up, in September, came the 200th anniversary of the decoding of the Rosetta Stone by the French philologist Jean-François Champollion – a breakthrough currently being celebrated with a major exhibition at the British Museum on the unlocking of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Meanwhile, this month sees the 100th anniversary of the unearthing of the tomb of Tutankhamun by excavators led by the British archaeologist Howard Carter – a discovery that made headlines around the world (for more on Tutankhamun, see The Past next week).
But if the linking of these two important events is partly a fluke of the calendar, the fact that the central roles were played by a Frenchman and an Englishman is surely less coincidental – for the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone and the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb both took place during the long period (stretching from 1798 until 1956) when France and Britain exerted colonial control over Egypt.
As we are reminded this week on The Past, the colonial attitudes that foreign experts brought with them did much to colour the way that Egypt was viewed in the 19th and early 20th centuries – including the misplaced assumption that the ancient culture found there must be culturally linked to Europe and therefore more ‘civilised’ than the rest of Africa.
In the latest issue of Current World Archaeology magazine, we hear the remarkable story of ancient Egypt’s enigmatic ‘Qurna Queen’ – a regal figure with tantalising possible links to neighbouring Nubia, whose burial site was discovered in 1908 by a team including the British archaeologist WM Flinders Petrie. Margaret Maitland explains how new research into this mysterious female ruler has revealed historic biases in interpretation, and shines light on Egypt’s true place within a wider African culture.
Elsewhere this week, we have also been delving into the archive for more about Egypt’s ancient queens of the Nile: we looked at how female rulers managed to wield power in what was definitely a man’s world; we studied the processes that went into making the famous painted portrait bust of Nefertiti; we examined what CT scanning can tell us about the mummy of Hapshepsut, the woman who became king in 1478 BC; and we visited the looted tomb of Nefertari, the Great Royal Wife of Ramesses II.
And finally, if all that simply whets your appetite, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week is also themed around queens of the ancient world. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!
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