Excavator: Petrie, (Sir) William Matthew Flinders (1853–1942)

Petrie is one of the most important and influential figures in the history of Egyptology. He was an archaeologist whose sixty years in field produced an enormous amount of archaeological evidence for all periods of Egyptian history from prehistoric through to medieval times. The thousand or so publications he produced are testament to his tireless endeavours to recover information before it was destroyed by modern developments in cultivation and urbanisation. Such output was perhaps too prolific for the long-term, detailed and meticulous excavations that characterise archaeology today, but nevertheless Petrie's many achievements had a profound influence upon the disciplines of Egyptology and archaeology. He advanced chronological methods through his invention of sequence dating for the Predynastic period, and in 1891 he established synchronisms with Greek pottery. Petrie was emphatic that everything excavated was to be noted, even seemingly small innocuous items and this was perhaps one of his most important contributions.

tomb plan Naqada grave 185 from Petrie’s excavation notes

Plan of Naqada grave 185 from Petrie’s excavation notes. The red polished
Predynastic pot (E.54.1898) is circled on the sketch.
Courtesy of the Petrie Museum.

Petrie's archaeological training began in Britain in 1872, where he surveyed Stonehenge with his father, followed by many of England's other earthenwork monuments. He first visited Egypt in 1880 to survey the pyramids and became joint secretary of the EEF in 1883. This organisation gave him the opportunity to dig in Egypt for the first time in 1884 and a lifetime of work was set in motion. He was honoured with the position of the first Edwards Professorship at University College London, where he established an important collection of Egyptian antiquities that were primarily assembled for educational purposes. This collection remains a invaluable archaeological resource for Egyptian studies. More information about this museum and its founder can be found on the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology's website.

Further Reading

Dawson, W. and Uphill, E. (1995) Who Was Who in Egyptology. Third Edition, revised by Bierbrier, M.L., Egyptian Exploration Society, London, pp.328–331

Drower, M. S. (1985) Flinders Petrie. A Life in Archaeology London.


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