A Short History of Tomb Raiding: The Epic Hunt for Egypt’s Treasures by Maria Golia - review by Raphael Cormack

Raphael Cormack

Finders Keepers?

A Short History of Tomb Raiding: The Epic Hunt for Egypt’s Treasures


Reaktion 304pp £20

Picture the scene. One day your telephone rings; on the other end of the line is an agitated young Egyptian woman. She informs you that she has just discovered what she believes to be valuable antiquities and she has no idea what to do about it. She has found your number in the phone book and has called you because she believes you are ‘wise and successful’ and will know the best thing to do. Should she, she asks, try to sell them? Should she dig for more? What you don’t know is that you are not the only person this woman has contacted. She has been going through the phone book and has called anyone who looks like they might have money. Most have told her to contact the police but some, either hoping to get rich or to meet a nice girl, have been taken in by her scam, handing over cash to pursue this golden opportunity – cash that they will never see again, of course.

This is just one of the many schemes and scams featured in Maria Golia’s new book, A Short History of Tomb Raiding, a lively and fascinating tour through the underbelly of Egyptian antiquities. Ancient Egyptians, at least the rich ones, were pathological hoarders. They not only accrued vast wealth during their lifetimes but also held tight to it long after their deaths, their riches being buried deep in the Egyptian sands alongside their mummified corpses. So now, where other countries might have precious metals, minerals or oil underneath their soil, Egypt has rich seams of buried treasure.

People have been trying to access the bounty of these tombs for almost as long as they have existed. Even in ancient Egypt, where despoiling a tomb was a serious offence against the established order, it happened. Then, as pharaonic culture and religion disappeared in Egypt, prospecting for

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter