Skip to main content

William Matthew Flinders Petrie

Flinders Petrie at Abydos
Flinders Petrie at Abydos

Sir Flinders Petrie (1853–1942) is one of the most important and influential figures in the history of Egyptology. He was an archaeologist whose sixty years in the field produced an enormous amount of archaeological evidence for all periods of Egyptian history from prehistoric through to medieval times.

The thousand or so publications he produced are testament to his tireless endeavours to recover information before it was destroyed by modern developments in cultivation and by urbanisation. Such output was perhaps too prolific for the long-term, detailed and meticulous excavations that characterise archaeology today, but nevertheless Petrie's many achievements had a profound influence upon the disciplines of Egyptology and archaeology.

He advanced chronological methods through his invention of sequence dating for the Predynastic period, and in 1891 he established synchronisms with Greek pottery. Petrie was emphatic that everything excavated was to be noted, even seemingly small innocuous items, and this was perhaps one of his most important contributions.

Petrie's archaeological training began in Britain in 1872, when he surveyed Stonehenge with his father, followed by many of England's other earthwork monuments. He first visited Egypt in 1880 to survey the pyramids, and became joint secretary of the Egyptian Exploration Fund (EEF) in 1883. This organisation gave him the opportunity to dig in Egypt for the first time in 1884, and a lifetime of work was set in motion. He was honoured with the position of the first Edwards Professorship at University College London, where he established an important collection of Egyptian antiquities that were primarily assembled for educational purposes. This collection remains a invaluable archaeological resource for Egyptian studies. More information about this museum and its founder can be found on the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology's website (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/petrie-museum).

Further Reading

  • Dawson, W. and Uphill, E. (1995) Who Was Who in Egyptology, third edn, revised by Bierbrier, M.L., Egypt Exploration Society, London, pp. 328–31.
  • Drower, M. S. (1985) Flinders Petrie: A Life in Archaeology, University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Petrie, Flinders (1931) Seventy Years in Archaeology , Sampson Low, Marston & Co., London.

Other highlight objects you might like

Other pathways and stories you might like

Sign up for updates

Updates about future exhibitions and displays, family activities, virtual events & news. You'll be the first to know...

University of Cambridge Museums logo
Cambridge City Council logo
Arts Council England Logo
Research England logo
The Technology Partnership logo
Brewin Dolphin Logo