Shouldering the past: Photography, archaeology, and collective effort at the tomb of Tutankhamun

Christina Riggs

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10 Citations (Scopus)
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Photographing archaeological labour was routine on Egyptian and other Middle Eastern sites during the colonial period and interwar years. Yet why and how such photographs were taken is rarely discussed in literature concerned with the history of archaeology, which tends to take photography as given if it considers at all. This paper uses photographs from the first two seasons of work at the tomb of Tutankhamun (1922-24) to show that photography contributed to discursive strategies that positioned archaeology as a scientific practice – both in the public presentation of well-known sites and in the self-presentation of archaeologists to themselves and each other. Since the subjects of such photographs are often indigenous labours working together or with foreign excavators, I argue that the representation of fieldwork through photography allows us to theorize colonial archaeology as a collective activity, albeit one inherently based on asymmetrical power relationships. Through photographs, we can access the affective and embodied experiences that collective effort in a colonial context involved, bringing into question standard narratives of the history and epistemology of archaeology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)336-363
Number of pages34
JournalHistory of Science
Issue number3
Early online date19 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017


  • archaeological labour
  • history of archaeology
  • history of photography
  • Egyptian archaeology
  • Tutankhamun

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