The Great Belzoni
At the entrance to a tombs in Valley of the Kings and elsewhere in Luxor, posted signs report who was first to discover the tomb. Tourists making note of this will soon realize that the giant leader in such tomb discovery was the Great Giovanni Belzoni. Fascinated by this controversial tomb robber turned archeologist, I found and read the copywrite 2003 biography by Stanley Mayes, the cover of which is shown in the photo. Belzoni was at first a circus strongman, a giant who could carry many people on his shoulders, who had dreams of becoming an engineer. He had an interest in hydrolics, which at the time was primarily devoted to the methods of extracting water for irrigation purposes. When the Pasha, Muhammad Ali, invited him to Cairo, he waited for several years hoping to sell the Pasha on his invention. Meanwhile, he and his wife Sara (whose own biography as a woman adventurer would be worth reading) traveled south as far as Aswan. At that time, Napoleon's troops had only recently left, and although interest in the Egyptian ruins was surging, little was known about them. Belzoni was a careful observer and chronicled his discoveries, but perhaps more importantly he was a resourceful engineer capable of organizing whatever rag tag group of Arab workers he could assemble to remove huge quanitites of sand from the entrances of buried treasures, such as Abu Simbel. In conjunction with interested British diplomats in Cairo, Belzoni found a way to finance the effort to extract and deliver to England much of the loot now part of the British Museum's antiquity department. Having worked in house construction, I am all too familiar with the challenges of moving heavy objects without the aide of machine, and yet Belzoni was able to figure out how to carefully move obelisks and other stone artwork weighing many tons, and then sail them down the Nile during the flood season. Bear in mind that Belzoni did this in the early 19th century, before the advent of machinery made such lifting easy, but even today, the use of cranes to move these treasures is no easy task. Many of the images produced by Hollywood in movie sequels such as Indian Jones or Mummies become much more plausible after reading Mayes biography.Belzoni had a considerable knack for recognizing soil so disturbed as to suggest an entrance to a buried tomb. Competitors frequently became frustrated by Belzoni's secretive ability to organize laboar and continue work despite their efforts to foil him. Once Arab workmen cleared a small opening, with a torch light he would squeeze his huge frame into cramped quarters where he would find himself surrounded by spiders and decayed mummies. For a long time, he and Sara lived in a tomb in Luxor to beat the horrid summer heat, since this was before even the electric fan. Unfortunately, Belzoni's methods are imprecise by standards of modern archeology, and so in a true sense he was merely a tomb robber finding riches to sell to European museums. Indeed, since Belzoni worked prior to the discovery of the Rosetta stone, he did not understand just how ancient the temples and tombs really were, and many of his theories about their creation were flat out wrong. Yet, Belzoni easily recognized the engineering genius and artistic talent that lay before his eyes, and he died an adventurer not a rich man. Prior to Belzoni's efforts, Egypt's ruins were forgotten or dismissed as unimportant pagan creations, and so Belzoni deserves credit for bringing to the attention of the world most of the great antiquities tourists find today in Luxor.