Meet William Flinders Petrie, one of the pioneers in the field of scientific Egyptology. A sickly kid, he was obsessed with measuring and dating things...and the deeply disturbing field of eugenics. Determined to dig up other people's treasures at any cost to support his imperialist archaeological ventures, surveyor extraordinaire Petrie even donned a tutu, according to legend, to get to the pyramids.
Born in 1853, WFP was born to a 43-year-old mother who suffered a ridiculously long labor; as a child, he caught a chest illness and wound up a sickly kid. A homebound Petrie fell in love with hieroglyphics at a young age, then began innovating archaeological measurements at the tender age of 24. He worked at Stonehenge and hit the pyramids in 1880, working at Giza that year. Although he discovered items dating from many different pyramids of Egypt's rich history, Petrie maintained a fascination with the pyramids at Giza, in particular.
Some stories feature Petrie willing to excavate at any cost, even if that meant dressing up as a ballerina. Legend relates that local Egyptians didn't allow anyone to approach the pyramids except for the insane, for (rightful) fear that newcomers were out to ransack their national treasures. So, in order to get close to the pyramids, Petrie either stripped naked or donned a tutu to appear crazy. It worked, as Petrie studied, and produced monumental works on, the pointy structures.
Flinders Petrie hangs out at an archaeological site with a goat. Image via Age of the Sage.
Petrie's eccentricities didn't stop with his choice of excavation garb. Close friends with several eugenicists, he was interested in "improving" the human race by encouraging people to select better mates. Disturbing eugenicist Francis Galton commissioned Petrie, according to a fascinating essay by scientific historian Kathleen Sheppard, to "photograph and record different racial types found in Egypt" in order "to build a useful working database for biometric racial comparison." She noted, "Petrie was a believer in, and a proponent of, the biometric methods and the solutions eugenics offered for the ills of society," even recommending forced sterilization of "poor stock" of women and arguing for "state-monitored marriages and reproduction."
Petrie was pretty weird in his everyday life beyond his horrible beliefs. He allegedly willed his head to University College London, where he served as the first chair of Egyptology; Petrie also buried unopened cans of food at excavation sites, which later archaeologists dug up in subsequent seasons, in case he got hungry.
Feature image via EgyptOrigins.