Barry Kemp, who discovered profound insights into ancient Egypt, has died at the age of 84

Barry Kemp, an archaeologist whose decades of digging in the abandoned capital of a mysterious pharaoh helped revolutionize the understanding of how humans function on a daily basis. ancient Egyptians lived, worked and worshiped, died on May 15 in Cambridge, England, one day after his 84th birthday.

The death was announced by the Amarna Project, a nonprofit archaeological organization where Mr. Kemp is a director. It did not specify the cause or place of his death.

Almost from the moment he came to teach at Cambridge University in 1962, when he first graduated, Mr. Kemp became a phenomenon. When he was just 26 years old, he published a paper in the Egyptian Journal of Archeology that dramatically changed the debate about a set of burials from around 3000 BC, showing that they were most likely the predecessors of the pyramids.

However, much of his work had little to do with the pharaohs. He was one of the first to apply inquiries of social history, in which scholars explore the lives of people in the past, to ancient Egypt.

“What I want to do is apply modern and certainly slower excavation methods and research to learn more about the life of the city,” he told Humanities magazine in 1999. archeology to explore the more fundamental aspects of society.”

Those who visit Mr. Kemp at the site will find an archaeologist of center type: tall and athletic, with a bushy beard and permanently tanned skin. He was famous for his exhaustive attention to detail, digging up exquisite evidence – fossilized fleas, clothing samples, even remnants from 3,000 year old beerwhich Mr. Kemp helped reverse engineer, then produce in 1996. (A colleague said it tasted like malt chardonnay.)

In a field as broad as Egyptology, where scholars are necessarily narrowly focused, Mr. Kemp is a generalist, able to bring new insight to a wide range of fields. extra.

“He was just one of the greats, in the way that We no longer have scholars in that field.” “His work touches every corner of Egyptology.”

Between field trips, he produced a series of articles, papers and books, including “Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization,” which first appeared in 1989 and which he revised. thoroughly in the next two editions; it remains required reading for anyone interested in Egyptology.

Mr. Kemp is most closely associated with a website called Amarnaabout 200 miles south of Cairo, it’s a far cry from what most tourists see when they come to explore the ruins of ancient Egypt.

Amarna is the desert capital built by Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ascended the throne in 1353 BC. He practiced an early form of monotheism, the worship of the sun god Aten, and he followed suit up to 50,000 of its subjects Build the city with him.

Amarna is seven miles long and three miles wide, arranged around palaces and temples, one of which, the Great Aten Temple, is half a mile wide. But the lack of drinking water and Akhenaten’s unpopularity after his death around 1335 BC caused the Egyptians to flee north, leaving Amarna in the desert.

Because of its rugged location, Amarna has escaped the fate of more urban northern locations, which were subject to looting and encroachment. It is considered the Egyptian version of Pompeii, the Roman city frozen in time after being buried in volcanic ash in 79 AD

Amarna is also the perfect place for an investigation like Mr. Kemp’s into the daily lives of Egyptians.

At first glance, the palaces and temples here tell a story of great wealth. But over the decades, he and his team excavated cemeteries, factories and villages and revealed an even darker story: the story of ordinary people, including slaves, who toiled and died to make all that splendor possible.

Ancient Egypt was never a great place to be a laborer, but remote, sun-scorched Amarna was especially brutal. Most died of malnutrition, spinal injuries and plague in their early 20s.

“Skeletons reveal the dark side of life” Mr Kemp told the BBC in 2008“a startling reversal from the image Akhenaten promoted, of an escape to sunlight and nature.”

Barry John Kemp was born on May 14, 1940 in Birmingham, England. His father, Ernest, was a traveling salesman, and his mother, Norah (Lawless) Kemp, managed the house.

His father served in Egypt with the British Army during World War II, and the postcards and photos of pyramids and palaces he sent home inspired his son’s interest. came to archeology very early.

Mr. Kemp studied Egyptology and Coptic at Liverpool University and graduated in 1962, the same year he began teaching at Cambridge, where he spent his entire career. He received a master’s degree in Egyptology from Cambridge in 1965.

His first two marriages both ended in divorce. He is survived by his third wife, Miriam Bertram, an Egyptologist with whom he worked closely; his daughters, Nicola Stowcroft, Victoria Kemp and Frances Duhig; two nieces; and a great-granddaughter.

Mr. Kemp made his first trip to Amarna in 1977 and returned every year until 2008. Even after slowing down, he continued to walk to the site as often as possible.

He summarized much of his field research in the 2012 book “The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti: Amarna and Its People.” He had much to say, and although much remained within the bounds of academic discourse, he had a warning for would-be autocrats like Akhenaten.

“The danger of being an absolute ruler is that no one dares tell you that what you just ordered is not a good idea,” he wrote.


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