How do you do an overview of one of the most famous archaeologists responsible for 60 years of ground breaking techniques in Egypt, Palestine and Britain for a general audience in an hour? Well, last night’s The Man Who Discovered Egypt at 9pm on BBC4 did it pretty well. Of course, you can quibble and point out all the great things Petrie did, the people he knew, the sites he worked at etc etc, but it is difficult to get a documentary about Flinders Petrie, ‘a Victorian Brit of whom I’d [the Guardian critic] never heard’, right for the larger audience of television.
I will admit to having a vested interest in this documentary as a small section of it was filmed at the Petrie Museum and Institute of Archaeology, and obviously myself and the other colleagues involved in helping with photographs, information and more, want to see it succeed. Despite the title, which would annoy me if I was Egyptian, as a documentary explaining Petrie for the non-expert it did succeed. It helped that the presenter was Chris Naunton, director of the Egypt Exploration Society and an archaeologist himself, who explained Petrie’s interests and discoveries with enthusiasm. The locations in Egypt and Palestine helped too and the cinematography was impressive. It was great to see Petrie’s work in Palestine given almost equal billing with his work in Egypt.
The range of experts involved also conveyed the scale of Petrie’s work; from our very own Stephen Quirke and Rachael Sparks to the Palestine Exploration Fund to the Quftis Omar and Ali to curators at the Cairo Museum and Rockefeller Museum and archaeologists in the field at some of Petrie’s sites. The documentary did not shy away from Petrie’s eugenic thinking or the differences between him and his wife Hilda with younger archaeologists towards the end of their working lives. Overall it was a rounded picture of Petrie, the man and archaeologist.
And Petrie would so have an iPad if he worked in Egypt today and would have created an iMeasure app!
The documentary will be repeated over the next week but is also available to view on BBC iPlayer here.