FLINT, MI.- The Flint Institute of Arts presents the exhibit Excavating Egypt: Great Discoveries from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London through January 7, 2007. This exhibition tells the story of archaeologist William Matthew Petrie (1853-1942) and his exploration of ancient Egyptian civilization. This father of Egyptian archaeology worked in Egypt for over 50 years, and served as the inspiration for the film hero Indiana Jones. Excavating Egypt features over 200 of Petrie's most significant finds, which together tell the story of the earliest people in Egypt.
Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (3 June 1853 28 July 1942) was an English Egyptologist and a pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology. Born in Charlton, England, Petrie was the grandson of Captain Matthew Flinders, explorer of the Australian coastline. Petrie was raised in a devout Christian household (his father being Plymouth Brethren), and was educated at home. His father, a surveyor, taught his son how to survey accurately, laying the foundation for a career excavating and surveying ancient sites in Egypt and the Levant.
After surveying British prehistoric monuments, including Stonehenge, Petrie travelled to Egypt in 1880 to survey the Great Pyramid at Giza. His interest in Egypt piqued, Petrie went on to excavate at many of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt such as Abydos and Amarna. Probably his most important discovery was that of the Merneptah Stele.
Having accomplished such impressive work at Giza, Petrie was recommended to the Egypt Exploration Fund (now the Egypt Exploration Society), who needed an archaeologist in Egypt to succeed Édouard Naville. Petrie accepted the position and was given the sum of £250 per month to cover the excavations expenses. In November 1884, Petrie arrived in Egypt to begin his excavations.
Petrie's painstaking recording and study of artefacts set new standards in archaeology. By linking styles of pottery with periods, he was the first to use seriation in Egyptology, a new method for establishing the chronology of a site. A number of Petrie's discoveries were presented to the Royal Archaeological Society and described in the society's Archaeological Journal by his good friend and fellow archaeologist, Flaxman Charles John Spurrell.
From 1892 to 1933 Petrie was the first Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at University College, London. This chair had been funded by Amelia Edwards, who was a strong supporter of Petrie. He continued to excavate in Egypt after taking up the professorship, training many of the best archaeologists of the day. In 1913 Petrie sold his large collection of Egyptian antiquities to University College, London, where it is now housed in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. 1923 saw Petrie knighted for services to British archaeology and Egyptology.
During his career as an Egyptologists, Petrie often may forays into Palestine where he conducted important archaeological work. For instance, his 1890 six-week excavation of Tell el-Hesi (which was mistakenly identified as Lachish), represents the first scientific excavation of an archaeological site in the Holy Land. At another point in the late nineteenth-century, Petrie surveyed a group of tombs in the Wadi al-Rababah (the biblical Hinnom) of Jerusalem, largely dating to the Iron Age and early Roman periods. Here, in these ancient monuments, Petrie discovered two different metrical systems. In 1926, the focus of Petries work shifted permanently to Palestine and he began excavating several important sites in the southwestern region of the country, including Tell el-Jemmeh and Tell el-Ajjul.
Petrie spent the last few years of his life living in Jerusalem, where he died in 1942. During this period, Sir William lived with Lady Petrie at the British School of Archaeology, then temporarily headquartered at the American School of Oriental Research (today called the Albright Institute). Upon his death, Petrie donated his head to science, specifically the Royal College of Surgeons of London, so that it could be studied for its high intellectual capacity - Petrie was no doubt, influenced by his interest in Eugenics. However, due to the wartime conditions that existed in 1942, his severed head was delayed in transport from Jerusalem to London, and was eventually lost. Petries body, minus its head, was interred separately in the Protestant Cemetery on Mt. Zion.