JAIC 1997, Volume 36, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 31 to 48)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1997, Volume 36, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 31 to 48)

ALFRED LUCAS: EGYPT'S SHERLOCK HOLMES

MARK GILBERG



5 THE WAR YEARS AND THE PRESERVATION OF THE THEBAN TOMBS

During World War II, Lucas broadcast regularly to troops stationed in Egypt and frequently lectured at hospitals and military camps. He felt a deep affection for the soldiers and delighted in entertaining them however he could. His services were also much in demand by the military authorities, both American and British, who sought his forensic expertise in numerous court-martials.

In spite of the war and failing health, Lucas remained active. In 1941 he was asked to serve on a commission to consider the restoration of the Theban tombs, which for years had suffered from vandalism, flooding, and general neglect (Lucas 1923c; Fakhry 1947a–b). Lucas was an obvious choice to be included on this commission given his knowledge of local hydrology and geology as well as his experience with the preservation of large stone monuments and sites. A number of years earlier, in 1924, Lucas had also conducted one of the first environmental surveys of the Theban tombs. The commission was primarily interested in the preservation of the extant wall paintings that were in extremely poor physical condition and had undergone a limited amount of restoration. Lucas himself was particularly concerned with the restoration work undertaken by a paintings restorer who had succeeded in matching the colors on the tomb walls so well that it was impossible to distinguish what was original and what was new. Lucas believed that restoration should not be allowed under any circumstances and that the tombs were in need of an architect to effect structural repairs, not a paintings restorer to make the wall paintings simply look “pretty.” With this in mind, he cautioned against any attempt at further treatment until a complete scientific investigation was conducted.

In one of his last official duties, Lucas demonstrated his keen sense of fair play when he drew the commission's attention to the pitiful salary paid to his Egyptian successor at the Cairo Museum (Lucas 1923c):

Incidentally I should like to draw attention to the fact that Zaki Iskander Hanna Effendi is grossly underpaid and certainly he should be promoted to the next class at the least. At present he is paid 12 per month, the next class being double that. I am told that one or more of Stoppelaere's assistants, who are `not in the same street' as regards qualifications with him, have been promoted to the higher class. This does not make for satisfaction and good work.

Sadly, Lucas died at the age of 78 while on his way to Luxor to attend a meeting of the commission to inspect the tombs. Lucas's death might have been prevented had it not been for an unlikely sequence of events (Edwards 1993). For years he had suffered from heart problems. Guy Brunton, a fellow member of the commission who was traveling with Lucas on the train, carried Lucas's heart medicine so that he could administer the drug in the event of a heart attack. For some reason they traveled on different arabiyas (cars) from the train station to the hotel in Luxor, when Lucas fell ill. Brunton arrived too late to save him.

Lucas died on December 9, 1945, the lone survivor of Tutankhamen's curse (New York Times 1945). As he was a bachelor, the bulk of his estate was left to his brother, sister, and each of their children. Though his notes on the conservation of the tomb of Tutankhamen were transferred to the Griffith Institute at Oxford, little else remains other than his published works, but these are without parallel in any other branch of archaeology. In total Lucas published more than 100 books and papers, including two small booklets (Brunton 1947) entitled A Potted History of Egypt and A Potted History of Libya, which he printed at his own expense. A deeply religious man with an ardent interest in biblical archaeology, Lucas also published a littleknown work entitled The Route of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (1938).

Lucas was clearly ahead of his time. Fortunately for Egyptology, he was the right man, in the right place, at the right moment in history.


Copyright 1997 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works