John Sanderson, from Purchas His Pilgrims: The Second Part

John Sanderson, an Elizabethan merchant who traveled widely in the Mediterranean, seems to have visited the pyramids out of sheer curiosity, though this did not prevent him from spotting an opportunity for profit. His account of his travels appeared in Purchas His Pilgrims: The Second Part (1625), a vast seventeenth-century compilation of travel narratives and accounts of the peoples and religions of the world. Later in the seventeenth century, a discovery in some ways similar to Sanderson's, but on English soil, would provide the occasion for Sir Thomas Browne's Hydriotaphia, Urn-Burial (NAEL 8, 1.1590-94).

[A Merchant among the Mummies]

The eight and twentieth of April, 1586, I went to see the Pyramids and Momia, being of three gentlemen of Germany entreated to accompany them. . . . The Momia . . . are thousands of embalmed bodies, which were buried thousands of years past in a sandy cave, at which there seemeth to have been some city in times past. We were let down by ropes, as into a well, with wax candles burning in our hands, and so walked upon the bodies of all sorts and sizes, some great and small, and some embalmed in little earthen pots, which never had form. These are set at the feet of the greater bodies. They gave no noisome smell at all, but are like pitch, being broken. For I broke off all the parts of the bodies to see how the flesh was turned to drug, >> note 1 and brought home divers heads, hands, arms, and feet for a show. We brought also 600 pounds for the Turkey Company in pieces; and brought into England in the Hercules, together with a whole body. >> note 2 They are lapped in above a hundred double of cloth, which rotting and peeling off, you may see the skin, flesh, fingers, and nails firm, only altered black. One little hand I brought into England, to show, and presented it to my brother, who gave the same to a doctor in Oxford.


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