Flinders Petrie : biography
Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, FRS (3 June 1853 – 28 July 1942), commonly known as Flinders Petrie, was an English Egyptologist and a pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology and preservation of artefacts. He held the first chair of Egyptology in the United Kingdom, and excavated many of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt. Some consider his most famous discovery to be that of the Merneptah Stele,The Biblical Archaeologist, American Schools of Oriental Research 1997, p.35 an opinion with which Petrie himself concurred.Margaret S. Drower, Flinders Petrie: A Life in Archaeology, 1995, p.221 Petrie developed the system of dating layers based on pottery and ceramic findings.]]
William Matthew Flinders Petrie was born in Maryon Road, Charlton, Kent, England, the son of William Petrie (1821–1908) and Anne (née Flinders (1812–1892). Anne was the daughter of Captain Matthew Flinders, surveyor of the Australian coastline, spoke six languages and was an Egyptologist. William Petrie was an electrical engineer who developed carbon arc lighting and later developed chemical processes for Johnson, Matthey & Co.
Flinders was raised in a Christian household (his father being Plymouth Brethren), and was educated at home. He had no formal education. His father taught his son how to survey accurately, laying the foundation for his archaeological career. At the age of eight he was tutored in French, Latin, and Greek, until he had a collapse and was taught at home. He also ventured his first archaeological opinion aged eight, when friends visiting the Petrie family were describing the unearthing of Brading Roman villa in the Isle of Wight. The boy was horrified to hear the rough shovelling out of the contents, and protested that the earth should be pared away, inch by inch, to see all that was in it and how it lay.William Matthew Flinders Petrie, Seventy Years in Archaeology, H. Holt and Company 1932. p.10 "All that I have done since," he wrote when he was in his late seventies, "was there to begin with, so true it is that we can only develop what is born in the mind. I was already in archaeology by nature."Petrie, Seventy Years, p.10
On 26 November 1896 Petrie married Hilda Urlin (1871–1957) in London. They had two children, John (1907–1972) and Ann (1909–1989). They originally lived in Hampstead, where an English Heritage blue plaque now stands on the building they lived in, 5 Cannon Place. In 1933, on retiring from his professorship, he moved permanently to Jerusalem, where he lived with Lady Petrie at the British School of Archaeology, then temporarily headquartered at the American School of Oriental Research (today the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research).
When he died in 1942, Petrie donated his head (and thus his brain) to the Royal College of Surgeons of London while his body was interred in the Protestant Cemetery on Mt. Zion. World War II was then at its height, and the head was delayed in transit. After being stored in a jar in the college basement, its label fell off and no one knew who the head belonged to.]] It was identified however, and is now stored, but not displayed, at the Royal College of Surgeons of London.
In his teenage years Petrie surveyed British prehistoric monuments (commencing with the late Romano-British 'British Camp' that lay within yards of his family home in Charlton) in attempts to understand their geometry (at 19 producing the most accurate survey of Stonehenge). His father had corresponded with Piazzi Smyth about his theories of the Great Pyramid and Petrie travelled to Egypt in early 1880 to make an accurate survey of Giza, making him the first to properly investigate how they were constructed (many theories had been advanced on this, and Petrie read them all, but none were based on first hand observation or logic).
Petrie's published report of this triangulation survey, and his analysis of the architecture of Giza therein, was exemplary in its methodology and accuracy, disproved Smyth's theories and still provides much of the basic data regarding the pyramid plateau to this day. On that visit he was appalled by the rate of destruction of monuments (some listed in guidebooks had been worn away completely since then) and mummies. He described Egypt as "a house on fire, so rapid was the destruction" and felt his duty to be that of a "salvage man, to get all I could, as quickly as possible and then, when I was 60, I would sit and write it all."
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