Briefly: Christiane Desroches Noblecourt

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The Independent Online

Christiane Desroches Noblecourt, who died on 23 June aged 97, was a pioneering Egyptologist who prodded General Gamal Abdel Nasser to help salvage Nubian antiquities.

Born in 1913 in Paris, Desroches Noblecourt (left, AFP/Getty) developed a passion for Egypt after reading about the discovery of King Tut's tomb in the 1920s. She later studied at the Louvre and the Sorbonne. After an initial trip to Egypt in the late 1930s, she became the first woman to be put on a stipend with the Cairo-based French Institute of Oriental Archaeology.

After Egyptian officials began planning the Aswan High Dam project on the Nile in 1954, Desroches Noblecourt met Nasser to air concerns that 32 ancient temples and chapels in southern Nubia were facing submersion. In an interview in 2007, she recalled how she told him, "Let me handle it, I'll go talk to Unesco on your behalf. He trusted me and let me do it. He was brilliant." Unesco helped mobilise nearly 50 countries for a project in the 1960s to dismantle, move and reconstruct the antiquities, including massive statues of Pharaoh Rameses II at Abu Simbel, which were broken down into 1,000 pieces and rebuilt over four years. She also helped organise a Louvre exhibit in 1967 about King Tut's treasure that drew more than a million visitors.

During the Second World War, Desroches knew some membersof the French Resistance and was arrested in December 1940. "I thought I was done for," she recalled. "I told them what I thought of them, and I don't know why, they let me go after two days."

Christiane Ziegler, a former curator at the Louvre's Egyptology department, described her as "very dynamic, but also very tiring: she wanted everything done in a minute! She had a lot of charisma and spoke well, and really cared for the greater public."

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