Em Hotep Digest vol. 01 no. 01: W. M. Flinders Petrie

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: Em Hotep Digest

Em Hotep Digest is a new weekly installment to Em Hotep.  If you haven’t joined us yet on Facebook, Em Hotep BBS is the semi-topical daily discussion where professionals and amateurs come together to share and discuss our mutual passion:  Egyptology.  The Digest is a compendium of the weekly goings-on at the BBS.  This week the topic was W. M. Flinders Petrie.




Contributors:  Géraldine Ashby, Yvonne Buskens, Dennis van Hoorn, Heidi Kontkanen, and Vicky Metafora.



William Matthew Flinders Petrie (June 3, 1853—July 28, 1942) was a British Egyptologist whose methodology paved the way for modern Egyptology.


William Matthew Flinders Petrie, age 12, from “Flinders Petrie: A Life in Archaeology” by Margaret S. Drower.

From Excavating Egypt: Great Discoveries from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology by Betsy Teasley Troupe, Stephen Quirke, and Peter Lacovera.

“A rather sickly only child, the young William Matthew Flinders spent much of his time reading and became intrigued with a local curiosity shop that sold ancient coins.  He began to haunt the Coins and Medals department of the British Museum and to collect for them, quickly learning how to spot forgeries.  His father also taught him how to use an old quadrant found in a junk shop.  Petrie’s interest in the past and in surveying grew, and he accompanied his father on expeditions to map standing stones, the most important being Stonehenge.  The plan he made of the ruin was by far the most accurate that had ever been produced, and it, along with numerous others, was presented to the map room of the British Museum.  This led to an interest in ancient systems of measuring; working through the collections in London, Petrie produced what is still an important work on ancient measures, “Inductive Metrology, or the Recovery of Ancient Measurements from the Monuments,” published in 1877.” (p. xiii)


Petrie lounging at the entrance of his ancient apartment at Giza, from “Flinders Petrie: A Life in Archaeology” by Margaret S. Drower.

From Egypt:  How a Lost Civilization Was Rediscovered by Joyce Tyldesley

“Now William [Petrie Sr.] and Flinders [Petrie Jr.] entered into lengthy correspondence with Piazzi Smyth, questioning and even suggesting improvements to his mathematical calculations.  Not surprisingly, Smyth’s friendship cooled somewhat under the barrage of queries.  Meanwhile, the Petries grew increasingly disenchanted with his methodology, until eventually they determined to test his theory—a theory which, being totally dependent on the measurements and ratios of  the pyramid structure, could be subject to rigorous scientific assessment.  They would measure the pyramid inside and out and, once and for all, determine the truth of the ‘pyramid inch’.  But William, always indecisive, kept delaying their departure until eventually, in 1880, Flinders lost patience with his father and set off for Egypt alone.

“At Giza he quickly settled into an empty tomb.  With the addition of some shelving, a new door and a petroleum stove, it made a comfortable and inexpensive base.  Cheapness was important because Flinders was entirely self-funded.  Much of his equipment, including his rope ladders and many of his surveying instruments, were homemade to save money…Working conditions within the pyramid were not good; it was dirty and hot, and unwanted visitors could be a nuisance.  It made sense to work as much as possible at night, when the plateau was deserted and unnecessary clothing could be removed without causing offence:

‘It was often most convenient to strip entirely for work, owing to the heat and absence of any current of air, in the interior.  For outside work in the hot weather, vest and pants were suitable, and if pink they kept the tourists at bay, as the creatures seemed to him too queer for inspection.’”


From The Complete Pyramids by Mark Lehner

“Petrie excavated the pyramid of Senwosret II at Illahun [El Lahun]in 1887-8, but failed to find the entrance and passage to the burial chamber, with its red granite sarcophagus, until the following year.  In one of the shaft tombs just outside the pyramid, he, together with Guy Brunton, found the exquisite jewelry of Princess Sit-Hathor-Iunet, now in the Cairo Museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  He also searched unsuccessfully for a passage or chamber underneath the subsidiary ‘Queen’s Pyramid’ of Senwosret II, even though he carved out two criss-crossing tunnel systems, and a deep vertical shaft, directly under the pyramid.  It is strange that there are apparently no passages or chambers under this small pyramid considering that Petrie did find the remains of a chapel at its north side, where someone must have been worshipped.” (p. 57)

The elegant crown of Princess Sit-Hathor-Iunet, daughter of Senwosret II, discovered by Petrie and Brunton in a shaft tomb just outside Senwosret III’s pyramid.


From Discovering Ancient Egypt by Rosalie David.

“In 1895, in the great cemetery near the modern town of Nagada, Petrie discovered over two thousand graves.  He was able to use the material from these graves to test whether such items did indeed belong to a New Race or whether a direct development could be traced between later dynastic objects and these pieces.  Since there were no inscriptions to provide the basis for dating, Petrie developed his own system, known as Sequence Dating.  This used the stylistic changes seen in the extensive supplies of pottery found in the graves as a basis for dating and arranging sequentially all the other associated material, including ivories, slate palettes, stone vessels, tools and weapons.  Although Sequence Dating had its limitations, it could be used to place material which could not be dated otherwise, and it has evolved and been employed to great effect by later Egyptologists.  Together with Petrie’s discovery of the Predynastic and Early Dynastic Periods, it remains his greatest single contribution.”  (pp. 42-3)


From Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris by David O’Connor

“Between 1858 and 1926 many, mostly British, archaeologists worked at Abydos, but two in particular—because of their wide- ranging  excavations—did most to articulate Abydos’ hitherto invisible archaeology.  In both methods and personalities, Auguste Mariette and Flinders Petrie were a study in contrasts.

“Petrie, both on his own and later alongside younger colleagues, conducted and promoted much more focused and meticulous excavations in many parts of Abydos (1899-1903, 1921-22).  Important structural complexes which had minimal surface archaeology , and were thus often overlooked by Mariette’s workers, were identified from one end of Abydos to the other, and made known through rapid, if sometimes summary, publication.

“Mariette died in 1881, a year after Petrie first visited Egypt, and they never interacted with each other.  Both men were intensely dedicated researchers, with very different methods of working.  Mariette liked to live in relative comfort at Saqqara, which was convenient for his administrative responsibilities, while he delegate excavations elsewhere to others. Petrie, however, was always on site, moving from one makeshift base camp to another, keeping a close eye on his assistants and developing a notorious reputation for austerity.  Supposedly, at the end of each excavation season he buried the remaining canned goods at the camp.  At the outset of the next season they were dug up and hurled against the nearest wall; those which did not explode were considered fit to eat!  Despite these eccentricities Petrie inspired great respect throughout his career, as well as much—if sometimes bemused—affection.”  (pp. 26-7)

Petrie at Abydos in 1922




Vicky Metafora posted a link to a biographical page of Petrie with photos of the Father of Egyptian Archaeology from different stages of his life:  William Matthew Flinders Petrie:  The Father of Egyptian Archaeology.


Yvonne Buskens shares these interesting selections from the Petrie Museum.  For the full-size pictures, follow the links to the originals at the Petrie Museum.


Tarkhan Dress:  ” This dress UC28614B was excavated at Tarkhan. Tarkhan is one of the most important cemeteries from the time that Egypt was unified around 3000 BC. Petrie named the site after a nearby village Kafr Tuki to distinguish early finds from later material, since the cemetery continued to be used in antiquity.”




Ancient Rat Trap?:  Lahun is in Fayum, 100 miles south of Cairo. It is the location of the pyramid site of Sensuret II (1877-1870 BC).  Information from Petrie museum: ” Petrie first excavated at Lahun (he called it Kahun) in 1889 and found the remains of mud-brick houses of different kinds. Large houses with courtyards reflect wealthier inhabitants than those who lived in smaller, terraced houses. Petrie surveyed the site and found many objects illustrative of daily life in Middle Kingdom Egypt.  The wealth of finds is illustrated here with board games such as a black faience gaming piece UC7141. There are also workmen’s tools and measuring instruments, such as a wooden cubit rod UC16747. Kohl pots, tweezers, hair curlers and mirrors show the importance of personal adornment, while what may be a rat-trap is evidence of a rodent problem.”



Heidi Kontkanen was kind enough to share these photos she took in the Petrie Museum.


Sandstone block fragment from the temple of king Amenhotep II on the west bank at Thebes, with raised relief, preserved area with head of Princess Sitamun, daughter of Amenhotep III, wearing vulture headdress and holding floral scepter, facing right, and above part of her name in a cartouche.  18th Dynasty, Thebes. (UC14373),  Petrie Museum, London.



Inlaid wooden panel forming a fragment of a wooden box. Gold leaf sun disk and uraeus, and Atef crown details shown on cobra and Atef crown. Inlay in red.  30th Dynasty (UC30627). Petrie Museum, London.



Group of three snakes (cobras?) in pottery, egg-shell bead eyes, and one each at back of head. Naqada II, unprovenanced.  (UC15361).  Bird shaped pot in decorated ware. Naqada II (UC15356).  Red ware pottery vase in form of duck. Predynastic, maybe from Abydos (UC15759). Petrie Museum, London.



Websites and Articles


The Petrie Project at Glyptotek:  The Glyptotek’s Egyptian collection includes many exciting discoveries from Petrie and his contemporaries’ excavations at the beginning of the 20th century. Read more about the Petrie project at Glyptoket. (Yvonne Buskens)

The Archaeological Record – Flinders Petrie in Egypt:  Where do you think W.F.M Petrie did all his discovery’s , surveys, etc; take a look at this page from Digital Egypt for Universities and find out.  (Yvonne Buskens)

W. M. F. Petrie – The Hill Figures of England:  Not everything Petrie did was Egyptology!  Yvonne offers this interesting site as well regarding Petrie’s work a little further north..  (Yvonne Buskens)

Virtual Kahun:  A joint project between the Manchester Museum and The Petrie Museum of Archaeology, UCL.  The pyramid builders’ town of Kahun has been called “The Marie Celeste of Ancient Egypt”. This website gives visitors the chance to explore the site in virtual reality, ‘handle’ many of the artefacts excavated and to search the collections.  (Yvonne Buskens)

Friends of the Petrie Museum:  The Friends of the Petrie Museum (PMF) was formed on 1st June 1988 under the Chairmanship of George Hart, Staff Lecturer at the British Museum, and the Presidency of Harry Smith, Emeritus Professor of Egyptology at University College London, and holder of the Edwards Chair in Egyptology for many years. The driving force behind the formation of the Friends was Barbara Adams, Curator of the Petrie Museum at that time, who recognised the need to channel the goodwill and interest of so many visitors and donors to the Petrie Museum.  (Yvonne Buskens)

Petrie Museum Unofficial Page:  This page celebrates a great museum – the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London, and the work of the Friends of the Petrie Museum (PMF) to promote the museum and events, and raise funds for conservation of objects in the museum.

Isis, Horus, and Madonna,” a selection from The Religion of Ancient Egypt by William Flinders Petrie.  (Dennis van Hoorn)


Géraldine Ashby shared Petrie’s journals, via the Griffith Institute:

The Journals of Flinders Petrie November 30, 1880 to June 22, 1881

The Journals of Flinders Petrie October 3, 1881 to May 8, 1882

The Journals of Flinders Petrie November 7, 1883 to June 30, 1884


Yvonne Buskens offers this complete bibliography of Petrie



Online Books

Egyptian Tales (First Series) by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Egyptian Tales (Second Series) by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Gerar by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Gizeh and Rifeh by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora).

The Hawara Portfolio: Paintings of the Roman Age by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Historical Studies by E. B. Knobel, W. W. Midgley, J. G. Milne, M. A. Murray, and W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Hyksos and Israelite Cities by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Illahun, Kahun and Gurob by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Kahun, Gurob, and Hawara by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Memphis I by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Meyudm and Memphis (III) by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Scarabs and Cylinders with Names by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Tarkhan I and Memphis V by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)

Tombs of the Courtiers and Oxyrhynkhos by W. M. Flinders Petrie (Yvonne Buskens/Vicky Metafora)


Vicky Metafora and Yvonne Buskens provide this extended list of online books by Petrie.



Reviews and Recommendations


Documentary Review: The Man Who Discovered Egypt by Andrea Byrnes (Egyptological, 04/03/12) (Yvonne Buskens)


Book Review: Drower, Margaret S. Flinders Petrie:  A Life in Archaeology, by Scott B. Noegel.  (Yvonne Buskens)



Copyright by Keith Payne, 2012.  All rights reserved.



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This entry was posted on Saturday, December 8th, 2012 at 7:51 pm and is filed under Em Hotep Digest. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 comments so far

Richard O'Neill

well what a great summary with all the great links on Petrie by all!

December 8th, 2012 at 8:07 pm

It’s worth also noting one of the major discoveries Petrie made was to establish the actual design proportions and design concept used by the Old Kingdom architects for the Great Pyramid. His seminal 1883 survey specifically addressed this issue and concluded that the proportions were based on those of a circle, and that the building was constructed in cubits of 52.35cm.
As well as establishing the actual symbolic design principle, he concurrently debunked all of the other theories that had been flying around until that time, including those promulgated by his father’s friend astronomer royal for Scotland Charles Piazzi Smyth, who in turn was following confused theories put forwards by English author John Taylor.
Petrie’s conclusions regarding the circular proportions of the Great Pyramid were accepted and reiterated by I E S Edwards and Miroslav Verner, and my own work concludes that this symbolism represented the encircling protection of Horus, represented graphically by the falcon with the shen.
Some authors have derisively referred to this as ‘pi in the pyramid’, whereas in fact it was sacred symbolism placed right at the heart of the Ancient Egyptians’ monumental design.
As Petrie wrote in 1940:
“…these relations of areas and of circular ratio are so systematic that we should grant that they were in the builder’s design”.

December 9th, 2012 at 9:37 am

Hi Dave,

Great to see you here on Em Hotep! 🙂

Regarding the pursuit of the “Pyramid Inch” and all of the Biblical extrapolation, I think Petrie is just one of many who began exploring Egypt’s mysteries from an angle dangerously close to the “fringe”, only to discover that the historical truth is much more interesting than the theory they initially began with.

Thank you for joining in!


December 9th, 2012 at 9:56 am

Hey Richie! 🙂

I think the Digest was the next right move in my integration of Em Hotep with social media. As you know from running in some of the same circles, there is a lot of excellent conversation, and even teaching I would say, taking place in the various groups on Facebook, only to scroll off into the ether. This will allow us to keep a permanent record, as well as each digest being a sort of wiki on the theme of the week.

We are growing, my friend!


December 9th, 2012 at 9:59 am

By the way, I should correct something I said to David, or at least clarify. When I say that Petrie began exploring Egypt’s mysteries from someplace close to the fringe, I was referring specifically to his decision to survey the pyramid to explore Piazzi Smyth’s theories.

But Petrie was a pretty solid modern thinker who I suspect would fit right in on “The Big Bang Theory”. Quirky but brilliant, I suspect he was suspicious of the Biblical stuff sooner than he was willing to admit at first.

Just my thoughts!


December 9th, 2012 at 10:03 am

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