A World Beneath the Sands

Toby Wilkinson

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15 October 2020
512 pages

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?

Our fascination with ancient Egypt goes back to the ancient Greeks. But the heyday of Egyptology was undoubtedly the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This golden age of scholarship and adventure is neatly book-ended by two epoch-making events: Champollion's decipherment of hieroglyphics in 1822 and the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon 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 obsession with Egypt's ancient civilisation drove them to uncover its secrets. Champollion, Carter and Carnarvon are here, but so too are their lesser-known contemporaries, such as the Prussian scholar Karl Richard Lepsius, the Frenchman Auguste Mariette and the British aristocrat Lucie Duff-Gordon. 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.

It would be hard to overstate the excellence of Wilkinson's storytelling – and I was surprisingly distraught to think that there can never be a sequel.

A. S. H. Smyth, Spectator

The debate over the decolonization of Egyptology and the repatriation of artefacts has only just started. Wilkinson's elegantly written book provides a sound background and a useful biography that will allow readers to understand and participate in that debate.

Joyce Tyldesley, BBC History Magazine

Few can bring us ancient Egypt with such dynamism as Toby Wilkinson. In A World Beneath the Sands, he has excelled himself in bringing to life the intriguing and swashbuckling story of Egypt’s discovery. He shows us how much what we seek from the past has always told us about ourselves.

Professor Michael Scott, author of Ancient Worlds: An Epic History of East and West and presenter of the BBC documentary series Ancient Invisible Cities: Cairo, Athens, Istanbul