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  • Karen Frost

Chapter 2: The Explorers Club

Updated: Jul 18, 2021

The Explorers Club in New York City is a real place. According to Wikipedia, "In 1904, a group of men active in exploration met at the request of noted journalist, historian, and explorer Henry Collins Walsh, to form an organization to unite explorers in the bonds of good fellowship and to promote the work of exploration by every means in its power." The club has counted among its members the most famous adventurers and explorers of all-time, and its honorary members have included US astronauts, President Teddy Roosevelt, director James Cameron, and even Elon Musk. Currently, the club is located on the Upper East Side in New York City, in a six-story Jacobean revival mansion on East 70th Street, but from 1904 to 1928 it was located in the Studio Building at 23 West 67th Street in New York City. Because there are no photos of the old club's interior, I used the current layout in my description of the club for "The Lady Adventurers Club."

In the 1920s, the club began to invite explorers returning from the field and visiting scientists to give informal lectures. In LAC, British archaeologist Anna Baring gives a lecture on excavations in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, but in truth, the club was extremely sexist. Women weren't granted membership until 1981. It's more than unlikely a woman would have lectured in 1922. Artistic license.

A cool virtual-reality tour of the club can be found here.

The Missing Tombs of the Pharaohs

Egypt had 170 pharaohs, but of course, 170 pharaonic tombs haven't been found. Archaeologists have focused on the 33 pharaohs of the New Kingdom, since that was when Egypt was at its peak and the tombs were assumed to be the richest. Of those, the four listed by Anna--Ahmose I, Thutmose II, Ramses VIII and Amenhotep I--haven't been found. However, it's likely those tombs were already raided, since the mummies of Ahmose I, Thutmose II, and Amenhotep I were all found in the Deir el-Bahri cache. Only Ramses VIII's mummy hasn't been found, which could mean his tomb is intact.

Regarding Dra' Abu al-Naga', per its Wikipedia page, it was probably used as a royal necropolis for the pharaohs of the Seventeenth Dynasty and contains the possible tomb of Amenhotep I, Tomb ANB. It has been assumed Ahmose I was buried there (although his body was eventually part of the Deir al-Bahri cache). As referenced in LAC, Clarence Fisher did indeed hold the concession to dig at Dra' Abu al-Naga' from 1921-1923 on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Fisher concen­trated mainly on the tombs of Ramessid officials, but he worked as well in the Eighteenth Dynasty mortuary temple of Amenhotep I and his wife Ahmose-Nefertari. The site was then abandoned by archaeologists until 1967.

In an earlier version of this chapter, Anna mentions two women archaeologists: Gertrude Bell and Gertrude Thompson. The former merits her own entry in this blog one day, but regarding Thompson, here's her wikipedia page. In summary, she was yet one more of the baller English lady archaeologists of the early to mid-1900s, and at the time this novel is set, she was launching an excavation to find prehistoric settlements in Hamamieh on the east bank of the Nile. The take-away here is that at a time when it's assumed that women were being relegated to the shadows pre-women's lib, in fact, many women were able to carve out niches for themselves in academic fields like archaeology.

The chapter closes with a reference to Giovanni Battista Belzoni. From engineer to barber to circus strongman to archaeologist, Belzoni was a very interesting character with a fascinating backstory, which you can read about on his wikipedia page.

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