Obituaries: Eiddon Edwards

Article excerpt

Eiddon Edwards was the first Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum from 1955 to 1974. The crowning glory of his keepership was the organisation of the large Tutankhamun exhibition in 1972 for which he personally selected objects to be loaned from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Born in 1909, Edwards was educated at Merchant Taylors', where he mapped out his future scholarly career by becoming interested in Hebrew and Arabic, and then at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he read for the Oriental Languages Tripos. When in 1934 he joined the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities of the British Museum, his attention turned to ancient Egypt, especially its language. As early as 1937 he translated Egyptian texts for the catalogue of the British Museum exhibition of sculpture in the collection of G. S. Gulbenkian.

Edwards belonged to the generation of distinguished British Orientalists who, because of their specialised knowledge, spent the Second World War in the Middle East. He was seconded to the Foreign Office and served in the British Embassies in Cairo and Baghdad and later in the Secretariat in Jerusalem. His stay in Egypt engendered his interest in pyramids. When, after the war, he returned to the British Museum, he published The Pyramids of Egypt (1947), one of the most widely read books on ancient Egypt, in which he hits on a formula which combines readability and popular appeal without conceding any scholarly accuracy. Edwards's bibliography runs to some 80 publications. The Pyramids of Egypt is a legend and many of us associate personal memories with it; I remember vividly haggling over the price of my first paperback copy in a back-street shop in Cairo in 1963. In his Oracular Amuletic Decrees of the Late New Kingdom (1960), Edwards published a collection of unusual papyri inscribed in hieratic in the British Museum. The range of his know- ledge was formidable and often took one by surprise; for example, he contributed to K.A.C. Creswell's monumental study of Islamic architecture by identifying pharaonic material re-used in later buildings of Cairo. Edwards was essentially a museum man, a library scholar and an organiser, rather than a field-worker, although he took part in the excavations at Sesebi and Amara, in the Sudanese Nubia below the 3rd Nile Cataract, in 1937-38. His influence on British Egyptology from the 1950s until the late 1980s was considerable. From 1962 until 1988 he served as Vice-President of the Egypt Exploration Society, a British organisation devoted to the study of ancient Egypt. He was an influential representative of the subject in the British Academy of which he was elected a Fellow in 1962. …