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Murray, Margaret Alice

    Full Name: Murray, Margaret Alice

    Other Names:

    • M. A. Murray
    • Margaret A. Murray

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 13 July 1863

    Date Died: 13 November 1963

    Place Born: Calcutta, West Bengal, India

    Place Died: Welwyn, Hertfordshire, UK

    Subject Area(s): Egyptian (ancient) and folklore (culture-related concept)

    Career(s): art historians

    Institution(s): University College London


    Archaeologist and historian of Egyptian Art. Murray took great interest in both the art of ancient Egypt, and the folklore and religious practices in witchcraft. Murray’s childhood involved a considerable amount of relocating; including locations in England, India, and Germany. She would learn much from her time in these countries, either from the influence of family or instructors. The most notable moment of this exposure included a love of archaeology from her Uncle John and the mastery of the German language. Murray initially wanted to be a nurse, however, her plans changed due to a rejection from Calcutta General Hospital.(Uphill) She instead began her education at University College London in 1894. Her first published article came about because of her professor, Flinders Petrie (1853-1942). She was employed by Petrie to create illustrative reproductions of reliefs he had unearthed in Egypt. Seeing her talent, Petrie suggested she additionally trace the property ownership in the Old Kingdom. This research was published in Publications of the Society of Biblical Literature between 1894-1895. After this, she was responsible for teaching University College London’s hieroglyphics class while Petrie was excavating in Egypt. Upon proving herself as a reliable lecturer she was employed as a junior lecturer in 1898 (Cohen). A year later she was brought on as a lecturer on salary (Cohen). Murray accompanied Petrie to Egypt in 1902, excavating Abydos. She took time to copy inscriptions found in the temples onsite. These included hieratic, demotic, and Coptic graffiti. In 1914 any overseas excavations were put on hold due to World War I. She attempted to work as a nurse at the time but was unfortunately unable to do so because of her health. She instead spent her time tending to her health and researching connections between ancient Egypt and the Holy Grail. She also consistently submitted articles to Petrie’s journal, Ancient Egypt.(Cohen) This work would continue until 1919. In 1922 Murray became a Fellow of University College. Throughout her life Murray was involved in a number of excavations including; Malta from 1921-1923, Minorca from 1930-1931, and Petra in 1937. On her return home from these excavations she moved to Cambridge where she would remain for the entirety of World War II. Afterward, she returned to London to continue her original work. She assisted Petrie at an excavation in Palestine in 1938. Murray was president of the Folklore Association in London. [The years of this presidency vary depending on the source, however, it is known it was between 1952 to 1955.] In 1963 she published what would be her final book, My First Hundred Years. She died at the age of 100 shortly after. (Cohen)

    Her book, Egyptian Sculpture, was written as a guide for students of Egyptology. The true value of this book lies in the inclusion of the object illustrations. However, as noted in some reviews, not every illustration has a coordinating description available. The notes section also has tremendous use value but likewise has sections of missing information. A startling discovery noted in this book is several examples of the use of chiaroscuro by Egyptians prior to its use by ancient Greeks.(G. D. H.)

    Legends of Ancient Egypt is one of many examples of Murray’s interest in folklore. Her book is a collection of short stories focusing on various ancient Egyptian gods. Included alongside the short stories are brief introductions to each of the gods. This book, like Egyptian Sculpture, was written with the average student or layperson in mind.

    Murray’s best-selling book, The Splendour that was Egypt, details various aspects of ancient Egyptian life. These aspects include art, language, and science. and of course the religious practices of Egypt. Her stance on these various religions is one that is debated by reviewers of her book. Reviewer Thomas Brady claims her assertions on Egyptian religion to be “[bold] generalizations.” Despite this controversy, the book has a strong reputation because of its well-managed translations and illustrations of various works.

    Selected Bibliography

    • “12. Evidence for the Custom of Killing the King in Ancient Egypt.” Man 14 (1914): 17–23;
    • “Egyptian Finger-Counting Rhymes.” Folklore 36, no. 2 (1925): 186–187;
    • “269. The Horned God.” Man 32 (1932): 237–38;
    • “Female Fertility Figures.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 64 (1934): 93–100;
    • “The Divine King in Northumbria.” Folklore 53, no. 4 (1942): 214–15;
    • “94. Cowries Representing Eyes.” Man 42 (1942): 144–144;
    • “Wax or Clay Images.” Folklore 57, no. 2 (1946): 93–93;
    • “The Serpent Hieroglyph.” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 34 (1948): 117–18;
    • “Folklore in History.” Folklore 66, no. 2 (1955): 257–66;
    • “Ancient and Modern Ritual Dances in the near East.” Folklore 66, no. 4 (1955): 401–409;
    • “Mediaeval Stone Mould and Leaden Clamp.” Folklore 66, no. 4 (1955): 412–13;
    • “Burial Customs and Beliefs in the Hereafter in Predynastic Egypt.” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 42 (1956): 86–96;
    • “12. Egypt and Africa.” Man 61 (1961): 25–26;
    • My First Hundred Years. United Kingdom: W. Kimber, 1963.


    • G. D. H. Review of 117, by Margaret Alice Murray. Man 30 (1930): 146–47;
    • Brady, Thomas A. The Splendour that was Egypt: A General Survey of Egyptian Culture and Civilisation. By Margaret A. Murray, Fellow of University College, London. (New York: Philosophical Library. 1949. Pp. xxiii, 354. $10.00.), The American Historical Review, Volume 55, Issue 4, July 1950, Pages 878–879;
    • Uphill, Eric Parrington., Dawson, Warren Royal. Who was who in Egyptology …. Kiribati: Egypt Exploration Society, 1972.;
    • O’Brien, Alexandra A. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 62, no. 3 (2003): 214–15.;
    • Cohen, Getzel M., and Joukowsky, Martha Sharp, eds. 2006. Breaking Ground : Pioneering Women Archaeologists. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Accessed January 27, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.;


    • Petrie Museum London, England (Cohen)

    Contributors: Caitlin Childers


    Caitlin Childers. "Murray, Margaret Alice." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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