What could be more exciting, more exotic or more intrepid than digging in the sands of Egypt in the hope of discovering golden treasures from the age of the pharaohs?
The antiquities of the Nile Valley have a particular romance, that has spoken to the Western imagination for centuries. Our fascination with ancient Egypt goes back to the ancient Greeks, while the practice of collecting Egyptian antiquities was already well-known in ancient Rome. But the heyday of Egyptology – the period when it emerged from its antiquarian origins to develop as a proper scientific discipline, and the period that witnessed all the great discoveries, sparking recurrent bouts of ‘Egyptomania’ in the West – was undoubtedly the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This golden age of scholarship and adventure is neatly book-ended by two epoch-making events: the decipherment of hieroglyphics in 1822 and the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb exactly a hundred years later.
In A World Beneath the Sands, the acclaimed Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson tells the riveting stories of the men and women whose fascination with Egypt's ancient civilisation drove them to uncover its secrets. The famous names are here, from Jean-François Champollion to Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon, but so too are their lesser-known contemporaries, such as the Prussian scholar Karl Richard Lepsius, the Frenchman Auguste Mariette, who discovered the Serapeum at Saqqara and Lucie Duff Gordon, the aristocrat whose Letters from Egypt captivated British readers. Their work – and those of others like them – helped to enrich and transform our understanding of the Nile Valley and its people, and left a lasting impression on Egypt, too. Travellers and treasure-hunters, ethnographers and epigraphers, antiquarians and archaeologists: whatever their motives, whatever their methods, all understood that in pursuing Egyptology they were part of a greater endeavour – to reveal a lost world, buried for centuries beneath the sands.