See the Pyramids

By Torri Still / September / October 1998
November 24th, 2007
His physique more closely resembles James Earl Jones than Indiana Jones, but Brown professor Leonard Lesko remembers scaling rotten ladders to record inscriptions on ancient Egyptian monuments. "I'd be seventy-five feet in the air and reaching into nests of cobras and wasps," he recalls with a Harrison Ford-like twinkle. "But that's the beauty of Egyptology. You don't have to do the same old thing every day."

The beauty of Egyptology is something Lesko knows a lot about, and this year he's making sure the rest

of us know something about it, too. As chair of the only university Egyptology department in North America, Lesko and his wife, Barbara - the department's administrative research assistant - are celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with a year's worth of lectures and exhibits, as well as with a Halloween costume ball.

Of course, as the only Egyptology department around, Lesko's is also the biggest - even if it has only two professors (Associate Professor Leo Depuydt is the second) and averages two undergraduate concentrators each year. Most importantly, perhaps, Egyptology is the University's sole fully endowed department, thanks to the generosity of Theodora Wilbour, whose donation in honor of her father, Charles Edwin Wilbour (class of 1854), has funded the department and the Wilbour professorship, which Lesko holds.

The fiftieth-anniversary celebration coincides with the 200th anniversary of Egyptology as a discipline, which began the year Napoleon and his army invaded Egypt and discovered the Rosetta stone, among other artifacts. Although the Rosetta stone will not be on campus for the anniversary, a number of books, artifacts, and paintings will be. "We have some great stuff that people don't know exists," Leonard Lesko says. "For example, there are some fascinating tomb paintings that people may not have seen because they were published only in scholarly tomes."

The tomb paintings will be among those on display during October and November at the Annmary Brown Memorial. Painted by Joseph Lindon Smith, who studied at Brown in the late nineteenth century before going on to paint hundreds of wall reliefs from Egyptian tombs and temples, these are not only beautiful works of art but are an invaluable historical record as well. According to Barbara Lesko, Egypt's monuments deteriorate so rapidly that work such as Smith's helps scholars imagine how they originally looked

The Leskos hope to tap into the passion for all things Egyptian that dates back to the 1970s, when the traveling exhibit of King Tut's treasures drew thousands. "It is a visually fabulous culture," Barbara Lesko says. "People just love the art and the enormous monuments of ancient Egypt." As for this year's anniversary celebration, she says, "You just know you're going to hear and see something spectacular when an archaeologist comes to town."

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September / October 1998