From Egypt, With Love

David O’Connor’s arrival to the Penn Museum in 1964 ushered in a new era of Egyptology in Philadelphia and beyond. But the famed archaeologist was also a dad—connecting with his young daughter across continents with these whimsical doodles.

The famed Egyptologist David O’Connor came to the Penn Museum when he was a 26-year-old Australian Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge. Museum Director Froelich Rainey had recruited O’Connor to reopen the Museum’s excavations in Egypt. While the Museum had led excavations in Egypt dating back to 1906, the work had been largely dormant since the mid-1950s.

O’Connor became the director of the Penn–Yale–New York University Expedition to Abydos, and for the next three decades, he reshaped the Museum’s Egyptian Section and profoundly impacted the field of Egyptology. (You can read one of his early reports from the field, written in 1967, in our Expedition archives.) 

It’s no surprise that O’Connor excelled at writing at academic books, research papers, and field notes. But he also had a knack for a lighter fare: cartooning. During his travels O’Connor kept in touch with his young daughter, Aisha, with ink doodles on notepads.

Archaeology requires a tough travel schedule, especially for the children who stay back home, but Aisha O’Connor got to see her father climbing the Pyramids of Giza, riding a camel (backwards), and getting stuck between two cars on a crowded Cairo street. O’Connor signed every letter “Love and kisses,” sometimes calling himself “Daddy” and other times “David.” 

A drawing of a six figures labeled "Me, Bob, Charlie, Fatima, Carol, Chris." At left, an airplane drawing with a man's head sticking out of the window, with the text "Daddy flying to Cairo." The drawing is on Penn Museum letterhead.

The Spring 2024 issue of Expedition magazine is dedicated to O’Connor. This special issue on the Penn Museum’s research in Abydos and South Egypt was assembled by guest editor Josef W. Wegner, Ph.D. As a Curator in the Museum’s Egyptian Section and professor in Penn’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Wegner is also the Project Director in Abydos. Dating back to the earliest days of Egypt (3000–2800 BCE), Abydos has become known as the burial place of the first pharaohs. 

It takes an expert scholar like Wegner to put together a collection of 13 articles from leading researchers in the U.S., Egypt, and beyond. We hope you enjoy exploring titles like “The Search for Egypt’s First Kings” (Matthew Adams), “Discoveries at the Temple of Ramses II” (Sameh Iskander), and “Conserving the Pyramid of Queen Tetisheri” (Deborah Vischak, Ayman Damarany). 

Here are some of our favorite cartoons that O’Connor sent back home during his time at the Penn Museum. We hope you get a kick out of them, and while David O’Connor was an extraordinary scholar, we hope his comics show you that archaeology is conducted by ordinary people: People who miss their kids, who get overwhelmed on busy city streets, and who get up and go to work every day—whether that means being lowered into a tomb or scaling a pyramid.  

A special thanks: We tip our cap to Peter Lacovara, the Director of the Ancient Egyptian Archaeology and Heritage Fund, who has written article called “David’s Doodles” that will come out in Scribe Magazine in the near future.  

A drawing of three men and a camel, "Bob and me watching a camel." To the left, a housing complex. "Our house in the desert."
A drawing of a building complex, labeled "Daddy's room" with an arrow. "Dear Aisha, Here is the house that Daddy lives in while he is in Egypt, and here are the people who look after it."

Expedition magazine is an exclusive perk for Penn Museum Members, published three times a year and featuring leading experts from the fields of archaeology and anthropology. The Winter 2024 issue is a special issue on the Museum’s ongoing project at Abydos in South Egypt. Expedition editor Quinn Russell Brown compiled this post.


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