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About Iorwerth Eiddon Stephen Edwards, C.M.G., C.B.E., Litt.D., F.B.A.
Iorwerth Eiddon Stephen Edwards (AKA Eiddon Edwards)C.M.G., C.B.E., Litt.D., F.B.A.
From Society of Antiqaries
was born in London on 21 July 1909, the only son of Edward Edwards, a noted Persian scholar on the staff of the Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts at the British Museum. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School
and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he was a major scholar and gained a first in oriental languages (Arabic and Hebrew). Postgraduate research in Arabic followed and in 1934 he joined the department of Assyrian and Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum where, for the next forty years, he devoted himself to the study of ancient Egyptian civilization. Early in the war he was seconded to the Foreign Office and posted to the Cairo embassy with the job of translating confidential documents, though he managed to visit and study most of the pyramids outside working hours. He also served in the Baghdad embassy and the secretariat in Jerusalem. On returning to the British Museum after the war, Edwards was for a number of years its sole Egyptologist and his first task was to re-assemble the Egyptian antiquities which had been stored for safety near Bath; and in 1947 Penguin published his outstandingly successful book, The Pyramids of Egypt, repeatedly revised and up-dated, the fifth edition appearing in 1993. The academic year 1953-4, was spent as Visiting Professor at Brown's University, Rhode Island, and in 1955 he was appointed the British Museum's first Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities, presiding over the separation of the Egyptian from the Assyrian items. Administration of the new department was Edwards' first priority and this left little time for personal research but he published Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum, 4th Series, (Oracular Amuletic Decrees of the Late New Kingdom) 1960; The Early Dynastic Period in Egypt, 1964, and he was joint editor of the Cambridge Ancient History (3rd edn.), vols. I-III, 1970-91. He organized the spectacular Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition in 1972, two years before he retired. It attracted well over a million-and-a-half visitors during its run of nine months and amply repaid, both in popularity and scholarly esteem, the energy and imagination Edwards had lavished on it. Diplomatic obstacles had proliferated and without his friendly contacts, nurtured since wartime, with Egypt's Minister of Culture and high museum officials it is doubtful whether the exhibition would have taken place. In exchange for a cultural visit by the Royal Ballet in 1969, the Egyptian government loaned all the prized objects Edwards wanted for the exhibition, the main aim of which was to raise funds for the Unesco appeal to save the Temples of Philae, close to the Aswan dam. From London the exhibition went to America and the appeal still benefits from sales of Edwards' catalogue of the exhibition and other supporting publications. A perhaps unforeseen outcome was the marked improvement in relations between the United Kingdom and Egypt and a grateful government appointed Edwards C.M.G. in 1973. The high regard in which he had long been held in Egyptian cultural circles was recognized in more practical terms; he was made a member of the planning committee for the national museum in Cairo in 1982; a member of the advisory committee for re-organizing the Egyptian Museum, Cairo in 1985 and for the protection of monuments in Giza, 1990. At home, Edwards was for some years honorary treasurer of the Egypt Exploration Society, with which he excavated in Egypt and the Sudan, and vice-president from 1962-88. Many of his colleagues throughout the Egyptology community contributed to a volume, Pyramid Studies and Other Essays, presented in his honour in 1988. He died on 24 September 1996.