Jean Capart, the father of Belgian egyptology
As a result of industrial expansion in Egypt, in the 19th and 20th centuries, there was no shortage of scientific research in the fields of archaeology and Egyptology. Here, and elsewhere, one famous name emerged, that of the Egyptologist Jean Capart, who was born in Brussels on 21 February 1877 and died in the same city on 26 June 1947, he is considered to be the father of Belgian Egyptology. A new discipline, which made a first very modest appearance in Liege in 1902, more than a century ago: Jean Capart was entrusted with a class simply entitled "Egyptology", which did not offer access to any sort of diploma. In 1900, he travelled to Egypt for the first time and, within the space of a few years, he became a major figure of Egyptology. The curator at the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels, above all, he was an art historian, as well as a man with plenty of field experience and an author of a great many reference archaeological publications. His international reputation was such that, before his death, he became President of the International Association of Egyptologists and was even offered the Direction of the Antiquities Service of Egypt!
The academic was extremely typical with his long black beard, and he inspired two of our greatest comic strip masters: Edgard P. Jacobs for his Doctor Grossgrabenstein, an archaeologist fascinated by the Pharaonic civilisation who played a key role in "The Mystery of the Great Pyramid", and Hergé for his Professor Hercules Tarragon, who appeared in "The Seven Crystal Balls" and "Prisoners of the Sun" in the role of a specialist in pre-Colombian civilisations, a victim along with his companions in misfortune, of the mysterious curse of an Inca king, not without some similarities to the one to whom Lord Carnarvon is said to have fallen victim following the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen.
After this interlude, allow us to return to the real person. In 1937, Jean Capart obtained the concession for El-Kab, in Upper Egypt, 90 km south of Thebes and 32 km south of Esna, of which the Queen Elisabeth Egyptology Foundation and the Royal Museums of Art and History are still in charge of studying today. The site is of great historical importance because it was the religious centre for the Goddess Nekhbet, generally depicted as a vulture protecting the pharaoh with her with unfurled wings, at least since the time of the pyramids. It is a huge site, although indeed in a very dilapidated state, but it houses successive remains of all the major periods in Egyptian history up until the Greco-Roman occupation. There is a vast wall of earth bricks, the foundations of temples that were successively built over each other over the centuries, the ruins of a village from a later period, and, outside of the walls, many tombs, sanctuaries and rocks covered with ancient graffiti.
In his work, Jean Capart benefited from illustrious support, that of the royal family and, in particular, Queen Elisabeth, an enthusiast of Egyptian studies. It was with him as guide that the Queen became one of the first to visit the tomb of Tutankhamen on 18 February 1923 and supported the creation of what was initially called the Queen Elisabeth Egyptology Foundation which, today, still encourages Egyptology research under the title of the Queen Elisabeth Egyptology Association. This work was taken over with great enthusiasm by Queen Fabiola who offered valuable support for the Belgian archaeological mission in El-Kab.