Review – A Short History of Tomb-Raiding

Posted May 29, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – A Short History of Tomb-Raiding

A Short History of Tomb-Raiding: The Epic Hunt for Egypt's Treasures

by Maria Golia

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 304
Rating: three-stars

To secure a comfortable afterlife, ancient Egyptians built fortress-like tombs and filled them with precious goods, a practice that generated staggering quantities of artifacts over the course of many millennia—and also one that has drawn thieves and tomb-raiders to Egypt since antiquity. Drawing on modern scholarship, reportage, and period sources, this book tracks the history of treasure-seekers in Egypt and the social contexts in which they operated, revealing striking continuities throughout time. Readers will recognize the foibles of today’s politicians and con artists, the perils of materialism, and the cycles of public compliance and dissent in the face of injustice. In describing an age-old pursuit and its timeless motivations, A Short History of Tomb-Raiding shows how much we have in common with our Bronze Age ancestors.

Maria Golia’s A Short History of Tomb-Raiding is a slow, thorough thinking through of the different times and political/economic climates in which Egypt’s tombs have been plundered. Often we think of early archaeologists and antiquarians, or even current archaeologists where big institutions are trying to grab and keep priceless, culturally important objects, but Golia begins in the past.

It’s a bit of a dry read, ultimately, but it’s more sympathetic to the Egyptian tomb raiders who raid their own ancestors’ tombs than most accounts. Sure, they destroy context and thus knowledge — but there’s a reason they do what they do, mostly grinding poverty.

I’d honestly expected more commentary on European thieves, though; in one way this really centres the Egyptians themselves, but… European demand is also a huge part of that, and even men like Petrie (who was at least methodical) were digging among the bones of someone else’s ancestors, and not always sharing that knowledge with the descendents.

Rating: 3/5

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