The daughter of an Aberdeen academic, Annie Pirie (1862-1927) had extensive training and experience as an artist before her involvement in archaeology. Working in pastels and oil paints, she exhibited in the Scottish Royal Academy. Moving to London to further her fascination with ancient Egypt, she became one of Flinders Petrie’s early students. With her much older artist-colleague Rosalind Paget, Pirie travelled to Egypt to work as a copyist for Petrie at Saqqara in 1895.
During the season Pirie met James Edward Quibell, Petrie’s assistant. They excavated together again in Thebes at the Ramesseum, and at El Kab and Hierakonpolis, and it was on one of these digs that they fell in love while nursing each other through a bout of food poisoning — food on Petrie’s excavation was notoriously bad. They married in 1900.
Edward Quibell, as he was known, was then Inspector of Antiquities for the Egyptian Antiquities Service, which meant living in Egypt and working with a variety of people to document and protect antiquities and sites. Life on site suited Annie from the outset — in her own words:
“Of all the different dwelling places, give me, for choice, if not too long a time, a good tomb…The shafts at the bottom of which the real burial is, sometimes still gape in the floor and one has to be careful not to fall in, but this is almost the only draw back”–A. Quibell, A Wayfarer in Egypt (edited from a quote in Nekhen News 9, 1997 [pdf]).
Public engagement, to use a modern term, was important to Annie Quibell. In 1904, the Quibells both contributed to the Egyptian exhibition for the St Louis World’s Fair, which opened on 30 April and ran to 1 December. (For those Judy Garland fans out there, that’s the fair that provides the backdrop for the film Meet Me in St. Louis.) In her obituary, Annie Quibell was given credit for doing much of the work on the display’s installation – perhaps her artist’s eye helped boost its visual impact. The display included three life-size recreated scenes of ancient Egyptian life.
In later life, Annie Quibell wrote several books on Egypt aimed at a popular audience, including short guides to Saqqara and the Giza Pyramids. She died from leukaemia in 1927, two years after the publication of her travel guide/memoir, A Wayfarer in Egypt. Annie Pirie Quibell lives on, though, in the archives of the Griffith Institute, the Egypt Exploration Society and the Petrie Museum, through which scholars are now becoming increasingly aware of her contributions to Egyptology and archaeology. In particular, Lee Young’s work brings to light much of the detail of Annie Quibell’s life.
post written by Amara Thornton (Twitter: @amalexathorn; Website/Blog: www.readingroomnotes.com/notes.html). As already noted, we are particularly indebted to Lee Young’s original research, and you can read more on Annie Quibell’s life in the references and links below.
Edited by Tori
St Louis Republic. 1904.World’s Fair Department of Anthropology: Treasures of Antiquity … St Louis Republic [Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers], 6 March.
The Times. 1928. Mrs J. E. Quibell. The Times. 18 January.p. 14.
Young, L. 2014. Annie Abernethie Quibell. Ancient Egypt 14 (4): 16-23.
Young, L. 2013. Tale of a Mysterious Photo Album. Nekhen News 25: 28-29.
Young, L. 2012. Death on the Nile. Nekhen News 24: 29-30 [pdf]
Anon., 1997. Hierakonpolis Centenary. Nekhen News 9: 12-13 [pdf]