The reputation of Amélineau

I spent part of yesterday evening updating the Wikipedia article on Émile Amélineau.  The old version described him as an archaeologist, but was oblivious to his work as a Coptologist.  More seriously it was unaware of the very serious criticisms levelled against his excavation work at Abydos by the great Flinders Petrie. 

Petrie more or less created Egyptian archaeology as a scientific discipline.  Prior to this, there was really only tomb raiding or treasure hunting.  Every anglophone archaeologist has been influenced by his work.  He was certainly egotistical. His 1931 publication Seventy years in archaeology mentions very few other Egyptologists — not even the discovery of Tutankhamun. 

When I was a boy, reading about Egyptology in the books of Leonard Cottrell, Amelineau was simply a villain.  This view has prevailed.  So it was quite a shock to find his endless publications of Coptic texts.  Often these are the only edition.  The Journal Asiatique is full of them, and then there are the great volumes of the works of Shenoute.

These too have not gone without criticism.  Modern coptologist Stephen Emmel, familiar from his role in the Gospel of Judas saga, has criticised them as containing many errors, but he acknowledges that no-one since has edited them.  We may recall that Emmel is editing some of the texts afresh, and so perhaps unconsciously he feels the need to justify the production of a new edition by drawing attention to the defects of the editio princeps

 I wish I could have found a French biography of Amelineau.  Petrie’s bitter remarks, written many years later, can only be one side of the story.  Doubtless Amelineau really did do wrong, and should never have attempted archaeology, for which he had no special qualifications.  But a balanced picture of the man must recognise his real contribution to scholarship.

2 Responses to “The reputation of Amélineau”


  1. Walter Dunphy

    You probably checked this (from the entry in Wiki..French):
    http://www.inha.fr/spip.php?article2170
    Apart the personal rivalries, there’s a whiff of competition between the “Service des antiquite’s” and
    the “Egypt Exploration Society”.
    Walter.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Aha! No, I didn’t see it. My eye must have slid over it when I looked at the French article.

    I agree that there were rivalries — that comes out pretty strongly. But it was Gaston Maspero who did the dirty on Amelineau, suggesting that Amelineau’s work at Abydos really was an embarassment even to his French colleagues, once Petrie’s marvellous work revealed how poor Amelineau’s work had been.