Karl Richard Lepsius

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Karl (or Carl) Richard Lepsius (23 December 1810 – 10 July 1884) was a pioneering Prussian Egyptologist and linguist and pioneer of modern archaeology.



He was born in Naumburg an der Saale, Saxony (Germany), the third son of Friedericke Glaser and Peter Carl Lepsius (1775–1853), Naumburg County Commissioner. Karl Richard's grandfather was Johann August Lepsius (1745–1801), Mayor of Naumburg upon Saale.

Karl Richard Lepsius studied Greek and Roman archaeology at the University of Leipzig (1829–1830), the George Augustus University of Göttingen (1830–1832), and the Frederick William University of Berlin (1832–1833). After receiving his doctorate following his dissertation De tabulis Eugubinis in 1833, he traveled to Paris where attended lectures by the French classicist Jean Letronne, an early disciple of Jean-François Champollion and his work on the decipherment of the Egyptian language, visited Egyptian collections all over Europe and studied lithography and engraving.


After the death of Champollion, Lepsius made a systematic study of the French scholar's Grammaire égyptienne, which had been published posthumously in 1836, but was yet to be widely accepted. In 1836, Lepsius travelled to Tuscany to meet with Ippolito Rosellini, who had led a joint expedition to Egypt with Champollion in 1828–1829. In a series of letters to Rosellini, Lepsius expanded on Champollion's explanation of the use of alphabetic signs in hieroglyphic writing, emphasising (contra Champollion) that vowels were not written.

In 1842 Lepsius was commissioned (at the recommendation of Alexander von Humboldt and Christian Charles Josias Bunsen) by King Frederich Wilhelm IV of Prussia to lead an expedition to Egypt and the Sudan to explore and record the remains of the ancient Egyptian civilization. The Prussian expedition was modeled after the earlier Napoléonic mission, and consisted of surveyors, draftsmen, and other specialists. The mission reached Giza in November 1842 and spent six months making some of the first scientific studies of the pyramids of Giza, Abusir, Saqqara, and Dahshur. They discovered over sixty-seven pyramids and more than 130 tombs of noblemen in the area. While at the Great Pyramid of Giza, Lepsius inscribed a graffito written in Egyptian hieroglyphs that honours Friedrich Wilhelm IV above the pyramid's original entrance; it is still visible (photos and translation). In 1843, he visited Naqa and copied some of the inscriptions and representations of the temple standing there.[1]

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