The scholars who solved the riddles in the sands

In 1835 the first two Egyptian antiquities were registered in the British Museum: a pair of red granite lions from Nubia. Each bore the name of Tutankhamun — not that anyone had ever heard of him. All serious understanding of the millennia-spanning Nilotic civilisation had disappeared before the last hieroglyph was carved in 394 AD. In the mid-18th century the most advanced ‘scholarship’ on the subject consisted of ‘pinpricks of insight in an enveloping fog of misapprehension’, and by the early 19th century the Egypt of the pharaohs was still largely buried in the sand. The word ‘Egyptology’ did not exist. Yet within 100 years Egypt would no longer be