Friday, February 05, 2010

Feature: Adventures of Amice Mary Calverley

Heritage Key (Owen Jarus)

There will never be another archaeologist like Amice Mary Calverley. She was a plane-flying, war-filming, desert-living Egyptologist, who created stunning drawings of the Temple of Seti I at Abydos.

With the onset of World War II she found herself fighting in a propaganda war against the Axis. However, one of the people who edited her Seti work, Egyptologist Hermann Junker, was aiding the Nazis. He did this even as he was still editing Calverley's work!

Born in Chelsea, London, UK in 1896, her drawings, financed by John Rockefeller Jr., were published in four oversized colour volumes. Her drawings were so good that her editors could find hieroglyphic errors made by the ancient Egyptians, but scarcely one made by her.

To say she lived an adventurous life would be an understatement. For months at a time she lived at Abydos in a house more than 10 kilometres from the nearest town. She took to shooting ethnographic videos of the people in the area, before being declared persona non grata in Egypt, in 1948, after her work rankled the Egyptian government.

She then went to Greece where she shot film of the Greek Civil War and nursed the wounded during the pivotal Battle of Gramos in 1949. The Greeks were so impressed by her that they gave her a commando badge, something she is said to have valued deeply.

And in case you haven’t noticed – she was a she! She did all this between the 1920s and 1950s - a time when both Western and Egyptian society were still fairly patriarchal.

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