By Jaromir Malek.
One of the things which make research into the past so special is that the information at our disposal is finite. The corpus of material cannot be increased beyond that already in existence and so it has a "final figure". Fortunately, not all evidence has yet been discovered and the ways in which information can be extracted are multiplying all the time.
Everybody is familiar with the most conspicuous monuments of ancient Egypt: pyramids, temples, and tombs. There are museums with statues, stelae, coffins, papyri, and other material, and there are libraries containing books with the results of Egyptological research. Few people, however, know of Egyptological archives, mainly because they usually open their doors only to specialists. These archives contain a variety of material, such as negatives and photographs, copies or tracings of texts and representations, research documentation which has been left incomplete and unpublished. The raison d'être of the archives is simple: Egyptology cannot afford to lose any piece of irreplaceable information.
The best known and the largest Egyptological archive is here at Oxford, in the Griffith Institute in the Ashmolean Museum. It has just been enriched by a collection of papers of the late Jacques Jean Clère (1906-1989), the former Directeur d'Etudes at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris and one of the most prominent Egyptologists of this century. The material has been presented to the Griffith Institute by Professor Clère's widow, Madame Irène Clère.
J.J. Clère was a true Parisien. His academic career was far from orthodox: he left school at the age of twelve and his early training was in arts, at the Ecole Bernard Palissy and the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs. Soon, however, he gave up the study of the arts for Egyptology which became the main scholarly passion of his life, though not exclusively. He was also very attracted by modern languages such as Arabic and Berber. Clère's exceptional skills as a draftsman led to his participation in the excavations at Deir el-Medina and Madamud while he was still in his twenties. His interest in philology as well as epigraphy made him ideally qualified for the preparation of one of the volumes of the catalogue of Middle-Kingdom (c.2000-1750 BC) stelae in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. He was also an expert on Egyptian sculpture, especially two types of statue. The first is that of sistrophorous figures, those bearing a sistrum, a ceremonial rattle of the goddess Hathor. The other type, the petitioner statues, shows men with the palms of their hands turned upwards, as if pleading for food. Clère's knowledge, displayed in umerous publications and the papers in the Griffith Institute, was vast, from inscriptions of the First Intermediate Period (c.2100- 2000 BC) to Ptolemaic (332-30 BC) papyri.
Professor Clère belonged to the generation of scholars who became Egyptologists because of their insatiable curiosity and sheer love of ancient Egyptian civilization. They published only when they had solved a problem to their own full satisfaction, rather than in order to add yet another "bibliographic unit" to the list of their publications. Yet, in spite of all his erudition (or, maybe, because of it), J.J. Clereè remained very human and quite unpretentious. The research value of his papers is considerable, and they are a very special monument to a great scholar and a remarkable man.
(August 14, 1995)
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