“Everything must always be reconsidered”

Nubiologist László Török chose his email address to reflect his profession

MúzeumCafé 40.

Professor László Török started out as an architect and became noted as an archaeologist. He writes about the history of art, and encyclopaedia entries refer to him as a Nubiologist. MúzeumCafé talked to him about his career, about Egyptology in Hungary, the role of a Hungarian Egyptologist in international research and the origins of a young branch of science called Nubiology. Professor Török has authored and co-authored major volumes that are highly regarded by foreign universities. In addition, by compiling the catalogue of the Museum of Fine Arts’ terracotta statue collection and staging the Coptic exhibition in the museum in 2005 he has contributed significantly to Budapest’s present important role in the research of late Egyptian Hellenistic and Coptic art. László Török began his career as a member of the Archaeological Research Team and he participated in preparing the publication of findings about the Buda Medieval Royal Palace. On the recommendation of László Castiglione, he applied for a scholarship to Egypt. The expedition of the Academy of Sciences set off for Nubia in 1964. The Hungarian expedition received the licence and the finances in the last month of the archaeological rescue operation organised by UNESCO in connection with the construction of the Aswan Dam. Several outstanding archaeologists headed by László Castiglione travelled to and excavated a small town of late ancient, early medieval times. After returning, processing took place in fits and starts. Then came the founding of the Department of Classical Archaeology, where László Török worked for several years. All the findings, crocks and fresco fragments were first restored in the Institute of Archaeology then taken to the Egyptian Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts. It took him years to process all that and publish the results. Then there was another chance occurrence. Humboldt University’s Department of Egyptology had been in Sudan excavating a royal palace and temple complex in an unusual settlement which flourished for about a millennium from the 5th century BC, but the work was suspended for some years because relations between the GDR and Sudan deteriorated. Then obstacles were removed and excavations continued. They sought people in Eastern Europe whom they could involve in the excavations and László Török was recommended from Budapest. Thus he went to Berlin. Publications began and the first conference of Meroitic studies was held. “According to traditional classification the ancient period of Nubian history is divided into two phases, yet for years I have done my best to create different classifications. The earlier period lasted from the 7th century to the 3rd-4th centuries BC, which is called the Napatan period after a large city, the presumed capital; the other period lasted to the 4th century AD. That is the Meroitic period, since the capital is said to have been moved from Napata to Meroe.” Professor Török is exasperated by the mistakes of the profession and especially by debates with some of his colleagues. “If their professor said something 40 years ago it is taken for granted, although everything must always be reconsidered.” With regard to his email address, Meroe was rejected, since it already existed. That period seems to be more popular, so he opted for Napata. In Hungary Professor Kákosy invited him to lecture on Nubia. Nubiology itself was established by researchers of different disciplines who aimed to arrange the incredible amount of disorganised source material, in such a way that it could serve as a basis for scientific research. In Norway he set up a team to publish the sources available by then. The University of Bergen agreed to process the Christian gravestones with Greek and Coptic inscriptions found in Nubia. Classical philologist and historian of literature Tomas Hägg invited him to Bergen, which resulted in a long period of cooperation. It turned into something concrete when at the beginning of the 1990s László Török decided that all the then available textual sources related to the ancient history of Nubia had to be published. The result was four volumes appearing between 1994 and 2000. When he returned to Hungary from Egypt and submitted his first article on Coptic art history to the journal Studia Antiqua, one of its editors, János György Szilágyi, took note of the young man who was researching the margins of a dis-cipline. He asked him to process the Coptic textiles in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Applied Arts, as well as other Coptic objects in the former. On the occasion of an official visit to Egypt in 2001 the then Minister of Culture, was offered the opportunity to have a Coptic exhibition staged in Budapest. The task was designated to the Museum of Fine Arts’ Collection of Antiquities. Professor Török curated the exhibition, which involved four years of preparation.