xi's moments
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Decoding the land of pharaohs

By Wang Ru,Fang Aiqing and Wang Kaihao | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-09-22 07:54

A photo from the 1930s shows Chinese archaeologist Xia Nai in Egypt. CHINA DAILY

Archaeologists clearing the sands of time will improve understanding of civilization, report Wang Ru, Fang Aiqing and Wang Kaihao.

The words of the poet Percy Shelley ring out across this ancient land, "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

As the Nile ebbs and flows, time has witnessed civilizations rise from sand and stone.

The passage of time has also eroded the cultural wonders of the Karnak temple complex in Luxor, where Thebes, once the capital of ancient Egypt, proudly, magnificently stood.

Some monuments — no matter how magnificent — crumbled and were lost in the sands of time.

The Temple of Montu in Karnak, more than 3,000 years old, where one of the oldest deities in Thebes was worshipped, was one such site. Compared to the grand architecture of the precincts of Amun-Re and Mut in the Karnak complex that rises high above the ground and attracts hordes of tourists, the home of Montu seems much quieter.

In 1938, Chinese archaeologist Xia Nai (1910-85) was on a field trip collecting materials to write his doctoral dissertation on ancient Egyptian beads.

He wrote in his diary: "I decided to spend a whole day at Karnak today. …The donkey keeper was very surprised that I was going to the Temple of Montu, a rarely visited one that is in ruins, with just rubble remaining. ... However, as I insisted, he had to follow me..."

After returning to China, Xia put aside his Egyptological interest and switched his focus to archaeological excavations in his own country. His theories, discipline and talent cultivation make him widely hailed as one of the founding fathers of modern Chinese archaeology.

Xia's dissertation on beads remains a powerful reference in the field up to this day.

History, by nature, is full of coincidences.

Exactly 80 years later, the dilapidated location Xia visited has become a cherished destination for his followers. In 2018, the first official Chinese-Egyptian joint archaeological mission was launched by the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Egypt's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

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