The NGS & Egypt

A traditional sailboat floats along the Nile in the city. Photo by Dr. Gilbert H. Grosvenor



Upheaval in Egypt continues to dominate the news, and while most of it naturally centers on political and social change, there are also fears for Egypt’s priceless cultural heritage. Throughout the Society’s history we have maintained an abiding interest in ancient Egypt, and stories of mummies and pyramids have featured prominently in the pages of the magazine. Let’s take a look back at a few classic items that have appeared over the years:

November 1901 — National Geographic Magazine first reported on Egypt over 100 years ago. “Recent Discoveries in Egypt” was a brief summary of the work of William Matthew Flinders-Petrie. Petrie was the first Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at University College, London. Trained as a surveyor, his careful and systematic studies as well as his findings at the royal tombs of Abydos greatly advanced our understanding of the ancient Egyptians.

December 1907 –“American Discoveries in Egypt” highlighted the work and subsequent NGS lecture by Theodore Davis. Davis was a wealthy American who funded and oversaw much important work in the Valley of Kings.

September 1913 was a “Special Number” devoted entirely to and aptly titled, “Ancient Egypt.” Editor Gilbert H. Grosvenor was eager to give detailed texts and illustrations of the “human side” of archeology. Working with the Egyptian Exploration fund and others, the issue featured three articles on ancient Egypt, written by leading scholars of Egyptology and featuring a “complete pictorial record of the ruins at Memphis, Cairo, Luxor, Philae, and Abu Simbel.”

Cairo, 1893 (from the Library of Congress Collection)



May 1923 NGM — Staff writer and photographer Maynard Owen Williams was our man in “At the Tomb of Tutankhamun.” In this article, Williams invited his readers to tag along on his search for the scoop, drawing them into the center ring of a 1920s media circus. The ensuing chaos foreshadowed the journalistic feeding frenzies of today’s information age.

The September 1926 magazine featured rare aerial photographs of Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine as well as 23 beautiful Autochromes by a master of that format, famed French photographer Gervais Courtellemont.

William C. Hayes, Curator of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, penned “Daily Life in Ancient Egypt,” for the October 1941 issue. His “Scepter of Egypt” was a brilliant survey of Egyptian culture as seen through the museum’s collections.

In 1959, the Society awarded its first grant for Egyptian archaeology. This may seem late, but European organizations were already well-entrenched in classical archaeology and so our early efforts in archaeology focused on the Americas. Then, of course, the WWII years kept Egypt off limits. For its first endeavor, NGS funded a Smithsonian survey of the Aswan Dam area to determine the potential for an archaeological expedition. Of particular concern–the area of the Nile Valley to be flooded by the building of the dam.

In May 1965, the peripatetic couple Irving & Electa Johnson take their retrofitted brigantine on another adventure in ‘Yankee Cruises the Storied Nile.”

“Finding a Pharaoh’s Funeral Bark,” published in April 1988, featured the work of Society grantee Farouk El-Baz. Working in conjunction with the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, they developed a plan to tap into a previously unopened chamber. The chamber had been completely sealed for over 4,000 years and this team of experts obtained air samples without disturbing the contents of the chamber.

A map supplement, “Ancient Egypt,” accompanied April 2001’s story on “Pharoahs of the Sun.”

In 2003, “Treasures of Egypt,” a special collector’s edition of the magazine, was published.

Over the years, photographer Kenneth Garrett has shot many of the images appearing in the magazine’s archaeology articles–two of his many Egyptian coverages were February 2008’s “Black Pharoahs” and April 2009’s “The King Herself: Hatshepsut.”

Fascination with mummies even extends to the animal kingdom, and “Animals Everlasting: Egypt’s Animal Mummies” appeared in the November 2009 issue.

For several years now, Zahi Hawass has been affiliated with National Geographic as an Explorer-in- Residence. Dr. Hawass has long served as the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Director of the Giza Pyramids Excavation. He is credited with major discoveries such as the unusual double statue of Ramses II at Giza and the tombs of the Giza pyramid builders. Naturally, he has been quite concerned about the artifacts in the Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Watch a video to learn more.

Many thanks to Archives Manager Renee Braden for compiling the bulk of this list.

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About Cathy Hunter

I have worked as an archivist at National Geographic for over 20 years and particularly love learning more about our old expeditions.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Anniversaries & Current Events, National Geographic magazine. Bookmark the permalink.

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