Quote: Osborn on the reception of bug-hunters

2 minute read

More from Henry Fairfield Osborn, “Hunting the ancestral elephant in the Fayûm desert”:

News of the approach of an important caravan under government patronage had preceded us, and in the village of Tamia, on the Sunday evening of our arrival, began a display of Oriental hospitality, with formal visits of respect, and presentation of gifts, which continued throughout our whole stay in the desert to the north. An elderly sheikh, Harun Talasun, called in the evening with ten attendants, and in the morning returned with a donkey, led by a slave and bearing a fine sheep. The corpulent Mamour of the district at frequent intervals sent mounted men to inquire after our comfort, and invited us to a feast. An Arab, Mahmud Abd-el-Baqui, visited us in the desert, accompanied by two brothers and an armed escort, bringing us a sheep and turkeys, and on the casual expression of a desire, returned to camp with five spirited and perfectly trained horses, each with its attendant. These hospitable places of fossil-hunting in the Libyan desert were in delightful contrast to former experiences in America. Imagine the mayor, or the sheriff, or the aldermen of a Western town showing such solicitude for a party of "Eastern bug-hunters" or "bone-diggers!" One must find coal, or oil, or gold, to command the admiration of our good-hearted, but too practical-minded countrymen. Throughout our prolonged stay in Egypt we learned to love and admire these simple people. They are ignorant and somewhat crafty, through ages of misrule, but perhaps we have more to learn from them than they from us. As I told Lord Cramer on my return, the kindly attitude toward us always exhibited by the common people was to my mind the strongest proof of the popularity of English rule among the masses of the people of Egypt.

Uh…OK, then.

I highlighted the part above because it is such a great line – but also to note that Tocqueville read the matter more accurately than Osborn. I think I like the idea of Americans unimpressed with “an important caravan under government patronage.”

Although in reality a crew of fifty men led by Henry Fairfield Osborn going through my Western hometown would have brought more excitement than anything short of the Ringling Brothers.


Osborn HF. 1907. Hunting the ancestral elephant in the Fayûm desert: Discoveries of the recent African expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. The Century Magazine 74(6):815-835.