Grafton Elliot Smith, Egyptology and the Diffusion of Culture

A Biographical Perspective

By Paul Crook

Grafton Elliot Smith rose from a colonial Australian background to dizzying heights in the British scientific establishment. He became a world authority on neuroanatomy and human prehistory, and was best known publicly for his challenging theory of cultural diffusion - crossing the boundaries of anthropology, archaeology, and history - stemming from his expert knowledge of evolution. Most controversy raged about his "Egyptian" theory, which placed ancient Egypt as the dynamic source from which major elements of civilization were spread by the migration of peoples and mores. This vision stemmed from his ground-breaking dissection of thousands of mummies in Egypt during the great excavations of the 1900s. His speculations - made in association with thinkers such as W.H.R. Rivers and W.J. Perry - bore fruit in a spate of publications that sparked global debate, arousing particular anger from American ethnologists opposed to ideas of foreign influence upon Mesoamerican cultures. Grafton Elliot Smith's ideas were regarded at the time as authentic (if problematic) approaches to important issues in human history. Subsequently, they were to be caricatured or ignored in anthropological and archaeological disciplines that had moved on to other paradigms. The book shows how his ideas were developed in the context of his life and times, examining the debates they aroused, his attempts to incorporate anthropology within a broader interdisciplinary school under his leadership in London, and his opposition to Nazi race theory in the 1930s.


168 pages

Publication Date: 3/1/2012
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9781845194819