sail the Nile
ARCHAEOLOGIST PETER LACOVARA
Curator's digging unearths Tut for Carlos Museum
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 04/16/2008
Peter Lacovara wanted to be an archaeologist for as long as he can remember.
|On an upcoming expedition, Peter Lacovara will lead the survey and mapping of Marqata, a city that was the home of Tut's grandfather.|
|In 1997, Peter Lacovara excavated the settlement where the workers who built the Pyramids of Giza lived. Town planning is one of his specialties.|
|Peter Lacovara works in Abydos, in middle Egypt, at a center for the cult of Osiris, the god of the dead, during a 1996 dig. The archaeologist's relationship with Egypt's antiquities czar helped the Carlos Museum land the Tut exhibit.|
As a child, the Michael C. Carlos Museum curator entombed hamsters in pyramids in his backyard in Flushing, N.Y. He still loves digging in the dirt, but now, his passion takes him all over Egypt. Expeditions over the past 25 years have yielded not only the respect of his peers but a web of connections that has benefited Atlanta since he arrived here in 1998.
Thanks to Lacovara's relationship with Egypt's antiquities czar, Zahi Hawass, the Carlos Museum this fall will be host to the debut of "Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs," the newest tour of Boy King artifacts.
Despite his 53 years, Lacovara still looks a bit boyish himself, particularly when he cracks his impish grin. Only an archaeologist could find a thing in his office, stuffed with seemingly centuries worth of books, papers and Egyptian-themed souvenirs. So he repairs to a courtyard on the Emory campus to discuss his field, his projects and his hopes for Atlanta.
Q: How has archaeology changed since Howard Carter discovered Tut's tomb in 1922?
A: We used to dig up only temples and tombs, so we know how Egyptians died. Now we want to find out how they lived. The old school was more art historical and object-oriented. Modern archaeology is interested in the social aspects. It's more anthropological.
Town planning is one of my specialties. It's hard because while tombs were made of stone, towns were constructed of mud-brick, and they have disappeared. Since the sites are not tourist attractions, the Egyptian government can't afford to maintain them as well. It's easier for development and farming to encroach on these sites.
Q: Tell us about your upcoming expedition.
A: I will be leading the survey and mapping of Marqata, a city that was the home of Tut's grandfather. It's 5-by-2-mile area and will take 10-plus years. I'm working with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We are collaborating with Georgia Tech's Imagine Lab to do a 3-D reconstruction of the palace and a virtual fly-through of the ancient city.
Q: What was your roughest experience?
A: It was an expedition with one of the many eccentrics who seem to populate the field. I slept in a tent in the desert in a sleeping bag. It was raised off the ground on a box made of palm fronds to keep away the horn vipers [better known as asps]. They're cute but deadly.
This man was afraid of Egyptian food and had all the supplies packed by Fortnum & Mason [the British purveyor] before he left. He was very abstemious. Once a day, for lunch or dinner, our meal would be a can of tuna split three ways. I lost 20 pounds in two weeks. I was so hungry that at one point, I fell asleep while I was working. I woke up to see vultures circling.
Q: Getting "Tut" was a coup for the Carlos, but you've said "Lost Kingdoms of the Nile," the museum's current exhibit of Nubian art, is more important. Can you explain?
A: The ancient Nubians [in what is now southern Egypt and Sudan] are always in the shadow of Egypt, but in many ways their civilizations were just as remarkable. They produced some of the earliest towns, pottery and technological advances.
And it's not in the history books. This exhibit is important because it shows that ancient Africa has a cultural history as rich and varied as Europe and the Middle East.
Q: What are your goals for the museum?
A: To build the collection. Ironically, Egyptian art is the most popular draw at the museum but also the smallest collection. There are no endowed purchase funds. People love it, but they don't support it.
You can't build a museum on loans, and it's going to get harder to get loans, too. Transportation and insurance costs are going up, and the museums with the great collections only want to play with the big boys.
Time is running out. Prices are rising because there are fewer artifacts, and the Gulf states have started collecting. Now is our very, very last chance.
Q: When you're not on the job, what do you do in your spare time?
A: My idea of fun is going to see Egyptian art. House restoration is my only hobby. I renovated an 1850 house in Hudson, N.Y., and now I'm working on one in downtown Albany, N.Y., which is an affordable Boston. It's great, even though its [from] 1870, which is a little too modern for me.
"Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs" is scheduled for the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center from Nov. 15 to May 22, 2009.
Group tickets (10 or more) are already on sale. Call 1-866-524-7687. Individuals can register for tickets now; they will be given purchasing priority before tickets go on sale to the general public in September. More information is at www.kingtut.org.