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Labib Habachi

Labib Habachi: The Life and Legacy of an Egyptologist

Jill Kamil
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 360
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    Labib Habachi
    Book Description:

    Labib Habachi, Egypt’s most perceptive and productive Egyptologist, was marginalized for most of his career, only belatedly receiving international recognition for his major contributions to the field. In Labib Habachi: The Life and Legacy of an Egyptologist, Jill Kamil presents not only a long-overdue biography of this important scholar, but a survey of Egyptian archaeology in the twentieth century in which Habachi’s work is measured against that of his best-known contemporaries—among them Selim Hassan, Ahmed Fakhry, Abdel Moneim Abu Bakr, and Gamal Mokhtar. The account of Habachi’s major discovery, the Sanctuary of Heqaib on Elephantine in 1946, was shelved by Egypt’s Antiquities Department for thirty years. When it was finally released for publication, it became the subject of a heated controversy between Habachi and a western scholar that was never resolved. To construct her picture of Labib Habachi, Jill Kamil draws on a wide range of sources, including a long personal acquaintance with the subject. Tracing the arc of Habachi’s career, Kamil sets his life’s work in its full context, providing a valuable perspective on the development of Egyptian Egyptology and the sometimes fraught relationship between Egypt’s scholars and the western archaeological establishment.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-377-2
    Subjects: History, Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Sources and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Labib Habachi’s biography, while covering archaeological activities in the twentieth century, shows that much of what is associated with that era in Egypt emerged from processes whose roots go back to earlier centuries. Therefore, tracing the role that Egyptians have played in the study of Egyptology requires an insight into the political and social forces that forged modern Egypt; the emergence of western-educated scholars who widened the intellectual horizon of the people; the roles played by French archaeologist Auguste Mariette, a titanic figure in the history of Egyptian archaeology, and Ahmed Kamal, the first native Egyptian to become both archaeologist...

  7. Chapter 1 Egyptology in the Early Twentieth Century
    (pp. 25-40)

    Three events were celebrated in Egypt in 1904, the year Labib Habachi was born. The first was the signing of the Anglo-French agreement by which France, still a major creditor, surrendered its position in Egypt to the British, who forthwith controlled Egypt’s military, handled its foreign relations, and set its internal policy. The second event was the unveiling of the bronze statue of François Auguste Mariette, celebrated founder and preserver of Egypt’s monuments, in the garden of the new Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. The third was the bestowing on an Egyptian Egyptologist, Ahmed Kamal, the title of bey on...

  8. Chapter 2 Between Two Worlds
    (pp. 41-68)

    In the first half of the twentieth century there was no Egyptian middle class in the sense we know today. A class-conscious nobility,l’ancien régime, woven around the concept of land owning in the nineteenth century, held sway in court and government. The upper class comprised professionals such as lawyers, doctors, academicians, and engineers and was supported by another social strata of artisans, craftsmen, and traders. The farming masses (fallahin) and the urban poor made up the bulk of the population. The upper class itself fell into three categories: those who completed their studies in Paris and were pro-French; English-educated...

  9. Chapter 3 Bridging the Gap
    (pp. 69-90)

    Labib Habachi’s transformation from a roving inspector into a perceptive Egyptologist came about slowly. As he moved from post to post, he developed a sharp appetite for knowledge, a flair for seeking out archaeological clues, and an eye for an anomaly, whether a subtle change in the color of the soil, a sandy mound in a field, or an object out of context. While stationed in Cairo on one occasion, he went to north Saqqara where Walter Emery of University College London was working on a large archaic cemetery of First and Second Dynasty brick-built tombs on the edge of...

  10. Chapter 4 A Turning Point
    (pp. 91-114)

    The politically turbulent years of the 1930s, when Ismail Sidqi emerged as the ‘strong man’ of Egyptian politics, abolished the constitution, drafted another that enhanced the power of the monarch, and formed his own party (Hizb al-Sha‘b), were culturally innovative and archaeologically vigorous years for Egyptology. The IFAO and Britain’s EES remained highly active. The Dutch Institute of Archaeology had set up a branch in Cairo and Queen Elizabeth of Belgium (who was stimulated by her visit to Egypt in the company of Jean Capart, conservator of the Egyptian collections at the royal museum in Brussels) launched what became an...

  11. Chapter 5 Excavation and Discovery
    (pp. 115-146)

    “We started work on Elephantine in January 29, 1946. I watched the workers file past me under the watchful eye of Muhammad Eweis, each carrying a basket fitted with two sturdy handles. These are thefas, or hoemen, at excavation sites, and they were using the most ancient and still the main agricultural tool in the Nile valley.” With remarkable clarity, Habachi recalled the events as they had unfolded nearly three decades earlier. He leaned back on themastabaon his balcony and let his mind run free: “Each man swung the hoe and scooped the earth into the basket...

  12. Chapter 6 The Cult of Heqaib
    (pp. 147-175)

    Muhammad Eweis responded eagerly to Labib Habachi’s call to return to Elephantine. He and his team had carried back to the Fayoum glowing reports of that last outpost on Egyptian soil. “Yes, I remember,” he said, nodding his head when I managed to locate him in Lahun in 1987. It is doubtful that he did. He was a frail old man, his memory all but faded. Among his extended family, however, I learned what had become a legend. When the workers returned from Elephantine, the young men of the village congregated each evening at Eweis’s home to hear of the...

  13. Chapter 7 Labib Habachi and Ahmed Fakhry
    (pp. 177-188)

    The careers of Labib Habachi and Ahmed Fakhry invite comparison. They were born within a year of each other, shared a love of their country and its people, were among the first graduates of Egyptology from Cairo University in 1928, and both voiced grave concern for the preservation of Egypt’s ancient monuments. They were Egypt’s most productive and internationally respected scholars of Egyptology of the twentieth century and their books—Habachi’sObelisks: Skyscrapers of the Pastand Fakhry’sThe Oases of Egypt—became bestsellers.

    There the similarity ends, because, apart from differing fields of interest, their lives provide an explicit...

  14. Chapter 8 A New Era
    (pp. 189-216)

    In the early hours of July 23, 1952, the ‘free officers’ of the army led by Gamal Abd al-Nasser and headed by General Naguib seized power in Egypt. They took over military installations, the radio, the airport, and communications. The Revolutionary Command Council was set up under the leadership of the general but the real power in its daily and decision-making functions was in the hands of young Colonel Nasser, who eventually emerged as the acknowledged leader and declared Egypt a republic in June 1953.

    That year, Labib Habachi delivered a sturdy brown folder entitled ‘The Temple of Heqaib’ to...

  15. Chapter 9 The Salvage of Nubia
    (pp. 217-236)

    When UNESCO’s director general Vittorino Veronese addressed an international appeal to save the monuments of Nubia, it was the only time the United Nations body was called upon to rescue the heritage of an entire country. He stressed that it was not merely a question of preserving something known that may otherwise be lost, but also of bringing to light as yet undiscovered archaeological wealth for the benefit of all. To encourage participation, the Egyptian government offered powerful incentives, such as archaeological concessions in some of the most famous sites in Egypt and the right to take selected objects from...

  16. Chapter 10 Changing Times
    (pp. 237-256)

    “And then Heqaib came into my life again.” Habachi’s eyes lit up and he broke into a smile as we sat at his dining room table. The German Archaeological Institute, in cooperation with the Swiss Institute for Architectural and Archaeological Research, was granted a concession in 1969 to clear and document all the monuments of the ancient town at the southern tip of Elephantine Island. “The Sanctuary of Heqaib, which I discovered in 1946, fell within the area, and Werner Kaiser, the director of the project, encouraged me to reactivate my efforts to have my manuscript released from the Antiquities...

  17. Chapter 11 Picking Up the Reins
    (pp. 257-272)

    Labib Habachi was in the throes of revising the text on the Sanctuary of Heqaib in the autumn of 1979 when I contacted him with a view to reading revisions to my guidebook,Saqqara and Memphis, for a second edition. He greeted me warmly at the door and led me into the dining room. The table was littered with typed pages, files, photographs, and a tiny portable Olivetti typewriter that had seen better days. He sat down, indicated the chair I should take, placed his arms on the table, palms together, smiled and said, “Now, let us see what Labib...

  18. Chapter 12 Professional Discord
    (pp. 273-286)

    At a late stage of Labib Habachi’s revision of his Heqaib manuscript, Werner Kaiser, director of the German Institute, suggested that the introduction needed to be rewritten to include more historical background. Habachi agreed in principle but found it hard to set his mind to the task. One reason was his health: he had a second heart attack in 1980. The other was his frustration with Gerhardt Haeny, the Swiss scholar who was carrying out an architectural survey of the sanctuary.

    “I met the challenge with enthusiasm,” said Haeny. “There were many reasons for my interest, not the least of...

  19. Chapter 13 Racing against Time
    (pp. 287-304)

    Labib Habachi long harbored a wish to keep his personal library of over three thousand books as a unit after his death in order to provide a service to young students of Egyptology. He visualized a special building constructed on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor. “I shared my idea with friends affiliated to the various institutes [of Egyptology] and all encouraged me but none offered any advice on how to go about raising funds for such a costly enterprise,” he said. “Then Kent Weeks came up with the answer. He urged me to consider placing my books...

  20. Chapter 14 Epilogue
    (pp. 305-308)

    At the Fourth International Congress of Egyptologists, held in Munich in the autumn of 1985, two large red-bound volumes of Labib Habachi’sThe Sanctuary of Heqaibwere on display and a minute’s silence was observed in his memory. His death marked the end of an era. Until his last days, a whole generation of Egyptologists were indebted to him for his help and expertise, not only on scholarly matters but also in regard to fieldwork. No other scholar, Egyptian or foreign, had a more intimate knowledge of the physical remains of the pharaonic period than he. Generous with his time,...

  21. Glossary
    (pp. 309-310)
  22. Abbreviations
    (pp. 311-312)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-326)
  24. Index
    (pp. 327-344)