Snakes? Curses? Egypt Exploration Society says it's in peril…

Director: I’m worried about the environment and climate change as much as anybody else.

Thursday, 10th February — By Harry Taylor

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Dr Carl Graves at the EES’s HQ

IN the famous blockbuster series, archaeologist Indiana Jones faced numerous perils.

Whether it was snakes, curses or giant boulders, Harrison Ford’s explorer somehow manages to survive and get the prized artefact.

But a larger danger looms over a real-life society in Camden dedicated to exploration and archaeology, that could literally bring the walls crashing down around them. One that even Dr Jones never overcame in his films – two London Plane trees.

The Egypt Exploration Society (EES) in Doughty Mews, Bloomsbury, said that its historic home is at long-term risk of damage, ruining its scrolls, casts, and 20,000 books unless two lofty trees in the neighbouring garden are removed.

From the outside, the wall of the one-time Victorian coaching house can be seen being pressed inwards by the tree, leading to concerns about its long-term safety.
Dr Carl Graves, its director, said that if it continued, the building would have to close to the public.

Water is getting in through cracks that run down the wall on its ground and first floors.

Dr Graves said: “If it carries on long-term it would force us to close here, certainly within the next five to 10 years. It’s our 140th anniversary this year, and we want to make it to 150 years here, which has been our home since 1968.”

He added: “As a small charity, we can’t afford to do major works like taking down the wall. It would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. The insurance won’t pay either.

“All the money we have should be going towards helping Egyptology scholars rather than dealing with the effects of these trees. We do a lot of work to further the understanding of Egypt and Sudan, and we can’t do that if it is not safe. It’s a lot bigger than two trees, it’s international heritage.”

A maintenance plan is already in place, but he said mitigating measures would just be “kicking the can down the road”.

The offices were up for sale in 2017. Trustees and members became unhappy with the idea of potentially moving out of London. The centre in Doughty Mews is a short walk from the British Museum, UCL and the leading Egyptology Petrie Museum.

The EES was founded in 1882 by Amelia Edwards after her visit to Egypt eight years earlier. The society went on to help start the career of Howard Carter, who later was part of Lord Carnarvon’s dig at the tomb of Tutankhamun. It was part for the dig at Tanis, north eastern Egypt, which featured in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark.

One of the trees the Society wants removed

Dr Graves said that while, like any Hollywood representation, it stretches the truth, it’s not miles away from reality.

“I went to Alexandria last year with Charlotte [one of the EES staff], and we were crawling through the catacombs with a torch, and she said ‘I didn’t think it was actually like this’, and yes there’s museums where it is more sanitised but archaeology can be like that in the films.”

Dr Graves put leaflets through doors locally, and some have objected to the works, including neighbour Robert Sakula.

He said that it was “incredible that Camden would acquiesce in the loss of trees at a time like this”.

Holborn and Covent Garden councillors Sue Vincent and Julian Fulbrook have also said they should be refused.

Cllr Fulbrook said: “It is outrageous that there is any suggestion of removing any trees in the neighbourhood (unless diseased) when, as a council, we are so committed to enhancing tree cover in the ward to act as a ‘sink’ for the toxicity of rampant environmental pollution.”

In response, Dr Graves said: “I’m worried about the environment and climate change as much as anybody else.

“I’m not saying there should be no trees there, we would want them to be replaced with smaller, more suitable trees, possibly slightly further away. We want to be more environmentally friendly ourselves, and introduce something like a green roof – but we can’t do that at the moment because it would basically be in the trees’ canopy.”

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