THE RAPE OF THE NILE: Tomb Robbers, Tourists, and Archaeologists in Egypt by Brian M. Fagan

THE RAPE OF THE NILE: Tomb Robbers, Tourists, and Archaeologists in Egypt

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A handsome offering for archaeology buffs, this abundantly illustrated volume traces the surviving record of ancient Egyptian civilization. The general outlines of the story are clear, but Fagan (Anthropology--Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) fleshes them out with intelligently chosen detail, starting with a rapid survey of pre-Napoleonic plunder from ancient times through the Mamelukes. Since the Middle Ages, the Arabs had been doing a brisk trade in ""mummy,"" a bituminous preservative obtained from the ancient corpses, but it remained for the British and the French to wreak more havoc in a century than the Greeks, Romans, Christians, and Moslems had in the preceding millennia. Most of Fagan's attention is devoted to the great 19th century explorers and exploiters, particularly Giovanni Battista Belzoni, a former circus weight-lifter who combed the length of Egypt in the 1820's. Belzoni brought to light such previously unknown wonders as the tomb of Sethy I, Rameses II's great temple at Abu Simbel, and the interior of the Second Pyramid, but with barbarisms that would make a modern archaeologist weep--breaking down stone walls with battering rams, abstracting papyri from mummy cases, and carving his initials on the bases of statues. As educated interest increased, Egyptology entered a slightly more sober phase, but plunder was still the rule. Toward the end of the century the British Museum dominated the scene with a larcenous attitude that brought many a mummy to Russell Square on the theory that ""In the British Museum he is placed beyond the reach of all such evils"" as he might encounter at the hands of his latter-day countrymen. It was a long time before the Egyptians themselves--occupied with a flourishing brand-new-antiquities business involving techniques like the instant ""antiquing"" of a scarab by feeding it to a turkey--woke up to their own rights. An engrossing saga, told with clarity and good sense if not much color or depth.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Scribners