New Egyptian exploration book covers adventure, discovery and intrigue

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On June 17, 2024

A new historical non-fiction book reveals the never-before-told story of women Egyptologists who paved the way for exploration in Egypt and laid the foundation for modern Egyptology. The upcoming release of Women in the Valley of the Kings: The Untold Story of Women Egyptologists in the Gilded Age covers the women working and exploring before Howard Carter had discovered the tomb of King Tut.

Women in the Valley of the Kings, written by Dr. Kathleen Sheppard, is scheduled for release on Tuesday, July 16, and is published by St. Martin’s Press. Sheppard is a professor of history and political science at Missouri S&T.

In the book, she brings untold stories of exploration into the public eye. She begins by covering some of the earliest European women who ventured to Egypt as travelers: Amelia Edwards, Jenny Lane and Marianne Brocklehurst. Their travelogues, diaries and maps chronicled their travels and give insights into their lives.

“I love getting to explore the lives these women lived,” Sheppard says. “They were doing so much work, right out there in the open, and they were so important to everything in Egyptology. Their male colleagues promised them they would be remembered … and then they weren’t.”

It also covers Maggie Benson, the first woman granted permission to excavate in Egypt, and her meeting with Nettie Gourlay. Sheppard says that together, the two battled issues of oppression and exclusion and, ultimately, are credited with excavating the Temple of Mut.

“My favorite part of writing this book is getting to tell people about the lives these women lived,” says Sheppard. “They were talented, hard-working, and intelligent, and they were the backbone Egyptology depended on.”

Sheppard says that as each woman scored a success in the desert, she set up the women who came later for their own successes.

“For example, J.D. Rockefeller – the American business magnate – wouldn’t fund a project for the Egypt Exploration Society unless they could guarantee that Amice Calverley would lead it,” says Sheppard. “This was in the late 1920s, and he gave the equivalent of millions of dollars. He had several men to choose from but chose a very talented woman. That is really saying something about Calverley’s work.”

Sheppard hopes Women in the Valley of the Kings can help upend the narrative of only men experiencing adventure, discovery and intrigue in Egyptian exploration, and show how a group of women charted unknown territory and changed the field. 

“Men have, historically, been the ones to at least lay claim to the fact that they did those things – but so did women, actually,” says Sheppard. “We need to understand that women have always been key to the sciences — in this instance, Egyptology. That way, when folks say ‘well, women really haven’t ever been interested in or present in those fields …’ we can argue back that that simply isn’t true. Women belong in all the spaces men occupy.”

About Missouri S&T

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students located in Rolla, Missouri. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System, Missouri S&T offers over 100 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top public universities for salary impact, according to the Wall Street Journal. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit

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