Petrie's Photographs of Egypt


Stephen Quirke

Flinders Petrie and site photography.

One of the most prominent figures in the development of Egyptology in England is the archaeologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942). Petrie has a specific place in Griffith Institute history: the young Francis Llewellyn Griffith first excavated in Egypt on a Petrie dig, and he first visited the sites of Middle and Upper Egypt on a river-journey with Petrie in 1886-1887. The images from that journey are included in the photographic album published in this online edition.

Although the later history of this 1886-1890 album in the Griffith Institute is not recorded, it is particularly appropriate that is preserved here, as a document of the 1886-1887 Nile journey by Petrie and Griffith, and of the 1889-1890 work at Kahun (el-Lâhûn, 'Kahûn') and Gurob (Kôm Medînet Ghurab), from which Griffith would publish the famous papyri found by Petrie (The Petrie Papyri: Hieratic Papyri from Kahun and Gurob, 1898). We are greatly indebted to the Friends of the Petrie Museum for their funding of this edition.

Photography was one of the foremost of Petrie's interests and working tools. Over a thousand of his site and museum photographs are preserved at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, the Griffith Institute and the Egypt Exploration Society. In recent years, researchers have been turning again to these historical and archaeological documents. The 2007 publication by Patricia Spencer of photographs in The Egypt Exploration Society - the early years includes twenty-five of 467 photographs in the Petrie 'Tanis Series', from his first large-scale excavations in Egypt, undertaken 1884-1886 for the EES, then the Egypt Exploration Fund. Part of the Petrie Museum holding is introduced in the summer 2008 volume (Jan Picton (ed.), Unseen Images: archive photographs in the Petrie Museum I. Gurob, Sedment and Tarkhan).

In addition to negatives and prints from the 1880s 'Tanis' and 'Gizeh' series, rescued in the 1980s by Barbara Adams and Jaromir Malek from dangerously deteriorating negatives, the Griffith Institute preserves eight original bound albums of photographs associated with Petrie. Three give a privately circulated series of 'Egyptian Miniatures' from his second winter in Egypt 1881-1882 (Petrie Albums 5, 6, 7), preceding the 'Tanis Series' from his EEF excavations 1884-1886, preserved at the EES. The album published here, Petrie Album 8, is of particular interest, because it fills the gap between his EEF work and his output as Professor at UCL after 1893.

Petrie Album 8: authorship, readership and order.

Only Petrie's handwriting is present: no other annotations have been noted, leaving any later owner unidentifiable. Possible later owners include Griffith, Archibald Sayce, and the Petrie family. According to the introduction to his 'Egyptian Miniatures' of 1881-1882, Petrie did not have time to produce prints himself, and so lodged negatives with a local photographer and circulated the album to friends who might want to order a copy of any particular item. No information is provided on whether Petrie profited from reproduction or sought to retain copyright. A similar set of instructions is preserved on the inside cover of Griffith Institute Petrie album no. 8. This online edition is intended as a publication of the album itself, as an historical document for future research; we have not sought to reorder the photographs or discover other prints that might fill the gaps. The photographs are presented in the order in which they appear in the album opening from the left where the inside cover contains instructions for ordering copies. Numbers on the prints identify a roughly reverse sequence, with the lowest numbers at the right end; batch-numbering in Roman numerals confirm an uneven sequence from right to left, intentionally or not in modern Arabic order.

Date of photographs.

Two archival sources enable us to pinpoint the dates of individual photographs to a remarkable degree, transforming them from average images of nineteenth-century Egypt into historical documents of interest equally to Egyptologists and historians of late nineteenth-century photography and society:

(1) Petrie letters home, his 'Journals'.
These are preserved in the Griffith Institute, gift of his daughter Ann Petrie. Petrie wrote his Journals on a roughly weekly basis, allowing a week time-span for photographs. The Journals for 29 November 1886 to 26 March 1887 record the journey by Petrie, accompanied for most of the time by Griffith, allowing dating to the week for many of the album photographs.

(2) Petrie Notebooks, preserved in the Petrie Museum.
Notebook 23 gives technical information on his 1881-1882 photographic series, applicable with few changes to the 1886-1890 album.
Captions for 1886-1887 photographs appear in the following notebooks:
601-637, Notebook 122, scans 35-36 in Petrie Museum Archives CD-ROM
638-697, Notebook 46, scans 31-32
698-733, Notebook 95, scan 35 (nos. 729-733 shown to be a selection from the list in Notebook 94, scan 43)
734-801, Notebook 123, scans 37-38.

Together the captions, journal entries, and publications confirm the general chronological order of the Petrie numbers: the only exception seems to be towards the end of his journey in southern Upper Egypt, where four Aswan images (Petrie nos. 749-752) intrude into a Theban sequence. A summary is provided below.

More research is required for more precise dating of images, for locating missing prints, and for a fuller understanding of the role of the photography in the work of Petrie over these less institutional years of his career in archaeology, between EEF and UCL. We welcome any additions, comments and corrections that might be incorporated into this online edition.

The Petrie journey with Griffith: Journal November 1886 to March 1887

Petrie nos. refer to the images in the Griffith Institute Petrie Album 8. In the following, the forms of place-names have been made to conform to those used by the Topographical Bibliography.

29 November to 14 December 1886: from Liverpool to Alexandria
13 to 19 Dec 1886: Alexandria, Cairo, hiring the boat, to el-Minya
20 to 24 Dec 1886: life on boat, mention of Beni Hasan (Petrie nos. 601-9)
23 Dec 1886 to 1 Jan 1887: el-Ashmûnein, Antinoë, el-Bersha, Isbayda, el-cAmârna, Gebel Abû Fôda, Manfalût, Beni Muhammed (Petrie nos. 611-620)
10 to 18 Jan 1887: Bellianeh, Abydos, Hû, Qasr wa 'l-Saiyâd (Khenoboskion), Qena, Dendera, to Luxor (Petrie nos. 623-631)
14 to 26 Jan 1887: Qift, Qûs, Shanhûr, Qurna, Deir el-Bahri, Luxor, Armant, Gebelein, Esna, el-Kûla, Hierakonpolis, el-Kâb (Petrie nos. 632-677)
27 Jan to 7 Feb 1887: Edfu, Gebel el-Silsila, Saba Rigaleh, Kôm Ombo, Aswân, Elephantine, Philae (Petrie nos. 679-726)
7 to 14 Feb 1887: Konosso, Philae, Bîga (Petrie nos. 729-733, 749-752)
14 to 23 Feb 1887: boat Aswân to Luxor, Karnak
22 Feb to 1 March 1887: el-Madâmûd, Griffith leaves Petrie at Karnak, Luxor (tombs, Deir el-Bahri, Drac Abû el-Nagac, Medînet Habu) (Petrie nos. 735-746, 756-760)
8 March 1887: Luxor (Medînet Habu)
6 to 17 March 1887: boat Luxor to Asyût, train to Wasta, by donkey on east bank Brimbal to Helwân, Atfîh, Tura quarries, to Badrashein
18 to 26 March 1887: Badrashein, Cairo, Saqqâra, start of Dahshûr work.

Views of objects in Egyptian Museum (seen at end of journey?) (Petrie nos. 794-799)

Views of objects probably all acquired during this journey (Petrie nos. 802-814)

Petrie excavation season 1887-1888: Petrie nos. 820-868
Petrie excavation season 1888-1889: Petrie nos. 917-940
Petrie excavation season 1889-1890: Petrie nos. 941-962.

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