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John Harvard's Journal

Peter Der Manuelian

July-August 2011

Peter Der Manuelian

Peter Der Manuelian

Courtesy of Peter Der Manuelian

In fourth grade, the lure of ancient Egypt grabbed Peter Der Manuelian ’81, King professor of Egyptology. “I think it strikes everybody—and they grow out of it. I just didn’t. For most people it’s mummies. For me, it was the grandeur and scale of the monuments and architecture, the beauty of Egyptian art, the fascinating code of hieroglyphs.” Manuelian is Harvard’s first full-time Egyptologist since 1942. (He previously taught at Tufts.) His life’s work has centered on the pyramids at Giza, built in the third millennium b.c. In 1977, he finally got to Egypt, as a teenager doing epigraphy—producing publishable facsimile line drawings of tomb wall scenes and inscriptions for Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). (He’s since become a graphic designer who has designed 30 Egyptological monographs, his own included.) After concentrating in Near Eastern lan­guages and civilizations at Harvard, Manuelian earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1990. He has published four scholarly books and three for children, including one that teaches kids how to draw hieroglyphs. An MFA curator since 1987, he has directed its Giza Archives Project since 2000—gathering, digitizing, and cross-referencing all archaeological mater­ials on the pyramids. He’s also working with iPad apps to teach hieroglyphs interactively, and gearing up to write a biography of George Reisner (1867-1942), his predecessor as Harvard’s resident Egyptologist. A squash player, Manuelian and his wife, writer Lauren Thomas, live in the Back Bay with four cats. A recent Newsweek essay he wrote on the Egyptian protests was uncharacteristic. “I usually don’t write about a.d. things,” he says. “I stick to b.c.

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