Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Mother of Egyptian archaeologists

Obituary: Tohfa Handoussa  (1937-2017)

Mother  of Egyptian archaeologists
Mother of Egyptian archaeologists

On 16 July this year, Tohfa Handoussa, often called the “mother of Egyptian archaeologists” and a distinguished emeritus professor of Egyptology at the Faculty of Archaeology at Cairo University, passed away after a long illness.

Handoussa was one of the most important pillars of the middle generation of the Egyptian School of Egyptology, which also included important figures such as Abdel-Halim Noureddin, Ali Radwan, Faiza Heikal, Gaballah Ali Gaballah, Sayed Tawfik, Mohamed Ibrahim Moursi and others.

She was a scholar without rival in her knowledge of the secrets of ancient Egyptian civilisation, especially ancient Egyptian religion. She was knowledgeable in every field of Egyptology, however, and a follower of new archaeological discoveries.

She was also fond of visiting younger scholars at archaeological sites to find out more about the latest discoveries in the world of the Pharaohs. She used to ask very interesting questions about such new discoveries and place them in the immense framework of ancient Egyptian civilisation.

Members of the younger generation, the present writer included, learned a great deal from her huge knowledge of archaeological fieldwork because she loved and understood ancient Egypt and the secrets of the Pharaohs more than almost anyone.

Handoussa was born in Cairo in 1937 in an aristocratic family. Her father was Ahmed Basha Handoussa, former dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University, and she later married Hashim Fouad, former dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University and the president of Egypt’s most prestigious sporting club, the Al-Jazeera Club.   

She received her BA in Egyptology from the Department of Egyptology at the Faculty of Arts at Cairo University and was then appointed a teaching assistant in 1964, an assistant lecturer in 1972, and an assistant professor in 1973 after receiving her PhD in Egyptology from Cairo University on “Marriage and Divorce in Ancient Egypt”.

She became an associate professor of Egyptology at the Faculty of Archaeology at Cairo University in 1980, a full professor of Egyptology in 1987, and chairperson of the Department of Egyptology at the Faculty of Archaeology from 1980 to 1994. She was vice dean of the Faculty of Archaeology at Cairo University from 1994 to1997.

During her long career, Handoussa authored many articles and books on Egyptology, such as Marriage and Divorce in Ancient Egypt (in Arabic). She also translated British Egyptologist Walter Bryan Emery’s Egypt in Nubia (1965) into Arabic, which was later revised by Abdel-Moneim Abu Bakr and published in Cairo in 1970.   

Later in her career, the Supreme Council of Antiquities under its then secretary-general Zahi Hawass, a former minister of antiquities, published a festschrift in her honour in which many distinguished scholars from all over the world contributed scholarly articles in recognition of her tremendous efforts on behalf of Egyptian archaeologists and antiquities. Handoussa was a member of many associations, societies and institutions of Egyptology and archaeology in Egypt and abroad.

In January 2017, the Ministry of Antiquities paid homage to Handoussa’s efforts in teaching generations of Egyptian archaeologists and safeguarding Egyptian antiquities at a special ceremony at the Opera House in Cairo.  

Handoussa fully deserved the honorary title of the “mother of Egyptian archaeologists”. On a personal level, I can say that she was my own dearest teacher when I started my career of studying Egyptology at Cairo University in 1990. I will not forget her regular visits to our excavations at Giza and the Bahareya Oasis.

She herself also continued the Cairo University excavations of the late Egyptian archaeologist Abdel-Moneim Abu Bakr on the Giza Plateau with US Egyptologist Edward Brovarski. Her work at Giza was a great opportunity to meet with her and discuss many archaeological and Egyptological issues, always learning much from her vast knowledge.  

Handoussa was an extraordinary woman. She always treated everybody she met in the same elegant and helpful way, always assisting them as much as she could. She was unfailingly generous, supportive and sensitive. In some ways she was a lady from a different period, an unrivalled aristocratic lady of Egyptian archaeology.

We will all sorely miss her, but her human, scholarly and educational legacy will remain alive among us forever.     

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