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Petrie and the Intriguing Idiosyncrasies of Racism


Jason D. Ramsey

University of Chicago, US
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William Matthews Flinders Petrie, ‘generally regarded as the father of modern Near Eastern archaeology’ (Silberman 1991:80), is remembered as a veritable genius, renowned for his powerful memory and intellectual abilities which played an important part in many of the ground-breaking developments in methodology he brought about. Yet modern archaeologists are selective in deciding which parts of Petrie’s legacy are to be highlighted. As a corrective to this, Silberman (1991, 1999) has not only drawn attention to the racist ideology that permeated Petrie’s thinking, but also suggests that this framework of thought crucially influenced many of his revolutionary interpretive techniques. The final deed Petrie envisaged for himself was the donation of his head to the Royal College of Surgeons in London ‘for further scientific study . . . [and] as a specimen of a typical British skull’ (Drower 1985:424). As far as Silberman (1999) is concerned, such an act was wholly symbolic of Petrie’s raciallyinformed viewpoint and of his self-identity.

How to Cite: Ramsey, J.D., 2004. Petrie and the Intriguing Idiosyncrasies of Racism. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, 14(2), pp.15–20. DOI:
Published on 25 Nov 2004.
Peer Reviewed


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