Sunday, 16 August 2015

Trowelblazers - Margaret Murray

I first became aware of Margaret Murray's name because of her books on witches. As academic work, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe has been largely discredited now, but the book she wrote for the popular audience, The God of the Witches, has been very influential in the formation of the modern religion of Wicca.
But before she started writing about witches and pagan religion, she was an Egyptologist.
She studied under Flinders Petrie at University College, London, becoming his copyist and illustrator and providing the illustrations for his report on the archaeological dig at Qift. When she was promoted to Junior Lecturer in 1898, teaching the linguistic courses in the Egyptology Department, she became the first female lecturer in archaeology in the United Kingdom. She also taught Ancient Egyptian history and religion.
In 1902, she went to Abydos where Flinders Petrie was digging, for practical archeaological experience. As well as Hilda Petrie, there were other female archaeologists there, and the experiences she had there led her to feminist points of view (some male excavators objected to taking orders from a woman, for instance). She discovered the temple to Osiris at Abydos, and wrote the site report.
In 1908, she was chosen to perform the public unwrapping of a mummy from the Tomb of Two Brothers, excavated by Petrie. Around 500 people attended.

She also did important work in Maltese archaeology, together with Edith Guest and Gertrude Caton Thompson, and continued her interest in Egyptology throughout her career.
So it's a shame that her interest in Folklore and witchcraft has come to over-shadow her important contributions to Egyptology and archaeology more generally. When she died, at the great age of 100, Glyn Daniels (another well known archaeologist) called her the Grand Old Woman of Egyptology.

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