Giants of Egyptology

13th of a Series




KMT 9:1 SPRING 1998 © KMT Communications

Caricature: Dennis Forbes

After George A. Reisner and James H. Breasted, certainly Herbert Eustis Winlock was one of the greatest American Egyptologists active during the first part of the Twentieth Century. Nearly a generation younger than the other two American pioneers in the field, he did not outlive them by many years (Breasted fifteen, Reisner eight), dying relatively early, a few days short of his sixty-sixth birthday. Winlock's name is forever linked with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, being employed as he was by that institution for his entire professional career. It was through his work over a quarter century with the Museum's Egyptian Expedition - first as a team member and then as field director -that a great many of the Met's excavated art objects and artifacts came into its extensive Egyptian collection. That so much monumental sculpture of Hatshepsut is known today is due in large part to Winlock's excavation successes at the female pharaoh's Deir el Bahari morturary temple.

Born in Washington, D.C., on February 1, 1884, Herbert was the son of William Crawford Winlock and his wife Alice (née Broom). The elder Winlock was assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, so young Herbert grew up in a household with a certain museum bias, it might be supposed. He took his undergraduate degree at Harvard, graduating in 1906. His area of study was Egyptology and his particular mentor was Albert M. Lythgoe, who at the time was associated with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as that institution's first curator of Egyptian art. Lythgoe singled Winlock out as especially promising (he was an A student), and in 1905 invited the young man to go with him to Egypt to excavate, following his graduation the next year.

Herbert E. Winlock in Egypt in the 1920's

By the time Winlock joined Lythgoe in London in late 1906, en route to Egypt, the older man had had a falling out with the MFA and been hired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thus Winlock became, under Lythgoe's direction, the youngest member (at age twenty-two) of the first team of the MMA's brand new Egyptian Expedition (the other team member was Englishman Arthur C. Mace ). During the 1906-1907 season, the three began work at Lisht just north of the Faiyum — a site which is still the Metropolitan's active concession over ninety years later.

After a couple of seasons at Lisht - where he assisted Mace with the excavation of the Tomb of Senebtisi, Winlock was transferred to the Kharga Oasis to work on the Temple of Hibis. In the fall of 1910 Lythgoe had Winlock terminate his activities at Kharga, as he had persuaded Gaston Maspero, director-general of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, to grant the MMA Egyptian Expedition a concession to dig at Malkata, site of the ruins of the Palace of Amenhotep III. When Winlock himself met with Maspero in Cairo, he managed to get the Frenchman to extend the MAA concession to include the Theban hill site of Qurnet Murai and the Asasif, as well, east of Deir el Bahari. The Americans, however, had to share the latter two areas with first the Germans and then the French. During the 1911-1912 season the Expedition cleared the Eleventh Dynasty Tomb of Dagi, recovering high-quality relief fragments. In 1912 Herbert Winlock married Helen Chandler.

The winter season of 1912-1913 found him and his colleagues excavating the great causeway of the Temple-Tomb of Montuhotep II at Deir el Bahari and, in the Asasif, the jointly owned unfinished Mortuary Temple of Rameses V-VI. During the next season, the Met excavators were occupied with the clearing of the early-Christian Monastery of Epiphanius, and in the process uncovered interesting artifacts dating to the Middle Kingdom.

The years 1914-1919 found Winlock first back in New York City, working at the Museum, and then serving as a major in the American Army during U.S. involvement in World War I. He returned to Egypt and Luxor for the winter 1919-1920 season, when the MAA Egyptian Expedition resumed full-scale activities in its Theban concession. It was that year, while clearing the Tomb of Meketre that the surprise discovery was made of the late-Eleventh/early-Twelfth Dynasty vizier's tomb models - the finest examples ever found in Egypt. This extraordinary grouping nary grouping was divided equally between the Metropolitan and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The next season, 1920-1921, Winlock directed the Expedition activities in excavations at the temple-tomb site of Montuhotep II at Deir el Bahari, continuing the earlier work at the site of Eduoard Naville, and uncovering in the process the burials of several royal women who had been interred within the complex. The next year found the Metropolitan activities focused on the Eleventh Dynasty Tomb of Ipi, which resulted in the discovery of the now-famous Hekanahkte Papers, a group of papyri which shed considerable light on elite-status life in the Middle Kingdom.

As the 1920s progressed, the Metropolitan team under Winlock’s direction continued working at Deir el Bahari, both in the Montuhotep II area and at Hatshepsut's mortuary temple there, and its immediate vicinity. These efforts resulted in the discovery in an adjoining quarry of the purposely dismantled, mutilated and buried colossal statues of Hatshepsut, which had once decorated her temple and its compound. A great many of these were awarded to the Metropolitan and now, restored, are housed in the Museum's Hatshepsut gallery. Also found was the "secret" second tomb of the female pharaoh's favorite, Senenmut. During the 1928-1929 season, Winlock's MAA associates located the reinterred burial at Deir el Bahari of Queen Meryetamen, probably a wife of Amenhotep II, whose huge anthropoid outer coffin was in the same style as those of other early-Eighteenth Dynasty queens discovered in the Royal Mummies Cache nearly fifty years earlier.

1930-1931 was Winlock's last season excavating in Egypt. The fall of the latter year he was elected director of the Metropolitan Museum, a post he held from 1932 to 1939. From then until his death, he was the Museum's director emeritus. In declining health for several years, Herbert E. Winlock died in Venice, Florida on January 25, 1950.

British Egyptologist Arthur Weigall paid Winlock the high compliment of calling him the "best of his generation" of Egyptologists. Not only was he a highly successful archaeologist, but Winlock left his mark as a widely published (and read) writer on the subject of his work. His best known titles are Excavations at Deir el Bahari, 1911-1931 (1942), The Rise and Fall of the Middle Kingdom at Thebes (1947) and Models of Daily Life in Ancient Egypt from the Tomb of Meket-Re at Thebes (posth.,1955).