PARIS: French Egyptologist Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, known for her books on art and history and for saving the Nubian temples from flooding caused by the Aswan Dam, has died at the age of 97, her editor Telemaque said Friday.
In a career spanning more than half-a-century, Desroches-Noblecourt also helped preserve the mummy of King Ramses II, which was threatened by fungus, and became the first French woman to lead an archaeological dig in 1938.
Born on November 17, 1913 in Paris, she was captivated by Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamon, and joined the Egyptian Antiquities department at the Louvre.
During World War II she joined the Resistance, and hid the Louvre’s Egyptian treasures in free areas of France.
Desroches-Noblecourt’s greatest accomplishment came in 1954 when the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to build a new dam with a capacity of 157 billion cubic meters, which would extend into Sudan.
The monuments of ancient Nubia would have been flooded if the new Aswan Dam project was implemented in its original form.
Desroches-Noblecourt identified the threatened sites and then made a formal appeal for international support to move 14 temples and make urgent excavations at sites that would soon be under several dozen meters of water.
Andre Malraux, then French culture minister, added his voice to the appeal, saying: "The power that created the colossal monuments threatened today… speaks to us in a voice as exalted as that of the architects of Chartres, as that of Rembrandt…
"Your appeal is historic, not because it proposes to save the temples of Nubia, but because through it the first global civilization publicly claims the world’s art as its indivisible heritage."
Desroches-Noblecourt managed to find funding — from 50 countries at the time of the Cold War. The rescue project, including the transportation and reconstruction of the temples on their new sites, took two decades.
The rescue saw an improvement in Franco-Egyptian relations, which had been poor since the Suez Canal crisis of 1956.
This in turn led to the organization of a Tutankhamun exhibition at the Louvre in 1967, which attracted nearly 1.3 million visitors, followed by the exhibitions of Ramses II in 1976, and Amenophis III in 1993.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to the "Great Lady of the Nile" saying she possessed the rare combination of the "most exacting standards of scientists and the most passionate qualities of educationists."