Enticed by antiquity, English professor Thomas Whittemore assumed the role of archaeologist when he joined the Egypt Exploration Society in 1911.


Thomas Whittemore at the Egypt Exploration Society excavations at Abydos Thomas Whittemore at the Egypt Exploration Society excavations at Abydos

Affinity for Archaeology, 1894-1911

While Whittemore was lecturing at Tufts, he developed a fascination for antiquity and convinced the institution’s administration to permit him to teach courses surveying the history, culture, art, and architecture of ancient civilizations. This was also the period when he began to dabble in the realm of archaeology. A man with the right connections, he was appointed as an American representative at excavations undertaken by the British-run Egypt Exploration Society (EES; formerly known as the Egypt Exploration Fund).Dwight Lathrop Elmendorf, “Egyptian Exploration Work: Why it needs to be hastened because of the Great Nile Dam,” The New York Observer (March 9, 1911), 312.

Archeological Pursuits in Egypt, 1911-1915 and 1920-1927

In 1912, Whittemore resigned from his post at Tufts so as to commit himself more fully to his archaeological pursuits. He participated in the EES excavations at Abydos from 1911 through the season of 1913-1914, which were directed by Edouard Naville. Whittemore helped to unearth such treasures as the Osireion behind the Temple of Seti I and the Ibis Cemetery.Thomas Whittemore, “The Ibis Cemetery at Abydos: 1914,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 1, 4 (October 1914), 248-249. Fully acceding to his role as the Society’s American representative in the 1914-1915 season, Whittemore worked with British representative Gerald Avery Wainwright to coordinate independent, American-financed excavation projects at Sawama and Balabish near Abydos.“Notes and News,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 2, 2 (April 1915), 115. Artifacts uncovered at these sites were subsequently transferred to museums in the United States, an arrangement that demonstrates the extent to which American archaeological interests had grown over the span of a few short years. However, the onset of World War I interrupted Whittemore’s and the Society’s archaeological endeavors, bringing excavations to a complete halt in November of 1915. No longer receiving subscriptions due to the conflict-laden international climate,Holger Klein, "Tarifi Zor Whittemore: Erken Dönem, 1871-1916 - The Elusive Mr. Whittemore: The Early Years 1871-1916", in The Kariye Camii Reconsidered, edited by Holger Klein, Robert Ousterhout, and Brigitte Pitarakis (Istanbul, 2011), p. 479, See also Robert Nelson, Hagia Sophia, 1850-1950: Holy Wisdom Modern Monument (Chicago, 2004), p. 165. the EES was unable to resume work until after the war.Gerald Averay Wainwright, Balabish (London, 1920),

The EES recommenced its work in Egypt at Amarna in the 1920-1921 season. Whittemore, however, was preoccupied with ongoing relief initiatives in Russia and Bulgaria. Thus, he did not participate in the renewed excavation projects until 1923, at which time he joined F.G. Newton’s camp at Amarna for brief, somewhat sporadic, stints. Upon Newton’s sudden death in December of 1924, Whittemore escalated his involvement with the Society once more, assuming the role of acting field director until Henri Frankfort succeeded him in the following season.“Notes and News,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 11, 1/2 (April 1925), 107-109. See also H. Frankfort, “Preliminary Report of the Expedition to Abydos 1925-6,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 12, 3/4 (October 1926), 157-165, doi:10:2307/3854381. In the following years, Whittemore lessened his direct involvement with fieldwork projects - being present only for short periods at EES excavation sites through the 1926-1927 season - and it appears that he focused the bulk of his attention on preparing articles for scholarly publication.H. Frankfort, “Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Tell el-‘Amarnah, 1926-7,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 13, 3/4 (November 1927), 209-218, doi:10.2307/3853960.

First class Bulgarian train ticket purchased by Whittemore, November 18, 1915 First class Bulgarian train ticket purchased by Whittemore, November 18, 1915

Expanding Archaeological Horizons in Bulgaria, 1912-1924

Although Whittemore largely committed himself to relief work in Europe during and for several years following the World War I, he did not entirely abandon his archaeological studies. In contrast, he broadened his sights, considering other locations through the lens of an archaeologist. For instance, having made brief visits to Bulgaria in 1912 and in 1914, for reasons both academic and political, Whittemore provided key financial and administrative support for an archaeological survey undertaken by Ivan Velkoff and André Grabar at the Messemvria Basilica in the fall of 1920. It is possible that Whittemore played a role in the 1921 excavation at the Red Church in Perustica, Bulgaria, as well, for the project’s overseer, Sergěj Pokrovskij,A. Frolow, “L’Église Rouge de Peruštica,” The Bulletin of the Byzantine Institute 1 (1946), 16-42. would later direct the Whittemore-affiliated study of the Belovo Basilica in 1924.André Grabar and William Emerson, “The Basilica of Bělovo,” The Bulletin of the Byzantine Institute 1 (1946), 43-59. Unfortunately, much remains unknown about Whittemore’s whereabouts during this period, and there exists no detailed account of the professor’s role in these Bulgarian initiatives.


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