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26.05.2014

Ricardo A. Caminos: 'A very private person'

Born in Buenos Aires on 11 July 1915, Ricardo Augusto Caminos spent his early years in the capital of Argentina. He was educated at the Instituto Nacional del Profesorado Secundario and at the University of Buenos Aires, initially as a historian, and then decided to pursue a career in Egyptology in which he was largely self-taught. The change seems to have coincided with his departure from Argentina to Chicago, but is not clear. He moved to Chicago with the support of a scholarship from the Institute of International Education, New York, and then dedicated himself to his graduate studies at the Oriental Institute.
Caminos then spent one year at the University of Oxford, which became a decisive experience in his development as a scholar of Egyptology, and quickly he established relations with Professor Battiscombe Gunn and Dr. Alan Gardiner. His chosen fields of specialization became hieratic palaeography and epigraphy.

In 1955 Gardiner persuaded Caminos, together with Harry James, to undertake epigraphic work at Gebel es-Silsilah as part of the Archaeological Survey for The Egypt Exploration Society. Both Caminos and James worked at the site in 1955 and again in 1959-60. Following this he worked at Qasr Ibrim, Buhen, Semna and Kumma as part of the Nubian Rescue Campaign from 1960 to 1965. On his eventual retirement Caminos settled next door to The Egypt Exploration Society at 4 Doughty Mews, London. Today the legacy of Ricardo Caminos is an important part of this history of The EES. On this day, the 22nd anniversary of Caminos’ death, María Rodríguez Rubín provides some further details about the personality and life of the renowned Egyptologist Ricardo Caminos, and also raises awareness one of the largely unexplored archives within the EES Lucy Gura Archive.

  

Figure 1: Doorbell of Caminos’ house at 4 Doughty Mews. His house was acquired by The Egypt Exploration Society after his death, and part of his Egyptological library was donated to the Society by Caminos family.

We are currently immersed in a complex new project to rehouse and recatalogue the EES Lucy Gura Archive. As part of this project we have highlighted a selection of material as a specific collection related to Ricardo Caminos; 'the Caminos archive'. Inside the Caminos archive we find an interesting and extensive collection of personal material made and used by Ricardo Caminos for his lectures, papers and publications, and a collection of personal and professional correspondence. As related by his friend and colleague Harry James in his obituary of Caminos for The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology; ‘Ricardo Caminos was a very private person’ (1993: 235), but in this short piece I intend to shed some light on his interesting personality and lifestyle.

Through his letters we can see that Caminos was a solitary person. In one letter (figure 2) a close family members writes: 'Ricardo, better be like you, alone, "que nadie te joroba”', i.e. 'Ricardo, better be like you, alone, "and no one bothers you”.'
Caminos found the solitary manner of living suited him, as Harry James mentioned in his obituary for JEA; ‘“For aye austerity and single life”, might seem a wholly appropriate epigraph on the mode of living chosen by Ricardo Caminos’ (1993, 227).


Figure 2: A letter and card written by a close family member to Caminos.

But this ‘monkish’ life did not mean unfriendliness in fact, absolutely the opposite. His correspondence preserves his extremely kind personality toward everyone, and unusual generosity in answering enquires from colleagues all over the world. Normally, these colleagues and friends were asking for advice on specific topics or opinions about their publications. Ricardo thoroughly answered all requests showing his great kindness, and exceptional clarity and logic with a very retentive memory to answer many different questions with little difficulty.
Another letter (figure 3) exemplifies his advisory role. A Spanish student from the University of Pais Vasco wrote a lengthy letter to Caminos asking him for advice for how to become an Egyptologist. This student was studying his fourth course of History at the time, and Ricardo kindly responded with the best methods to fulfil his wishes. In many cases these students, following Caminos’ suggestions, became Egyptologists and have further enriched this discipline.
This modus operandi of Ricardo was defined by Stefan Buzas as 'somewhat old fashioned politeness', in his reading for Caminos' memorial service. Buzas was both Ricardo’s friend and architect, and is subsequently responsible for the shelving within the EES Ricardo Caminos Memorial Library in 4 Doughty Mews (quotation courtesy of the Ancient Egypt and Sudan Archives, British Museum).

 

Figure 3: Reply of Caminos on the left, and the five pages letter from a Spanish student on the right.

Another characteristic of the Argentinian Egyptologist is that he was extremely hardworking and passionate in his work. Many of his friends in their letters highlighted his exhaustive way of working. A colleague and friend from Valencia defined Caminos in one letter (figure 4) as “es usted la persona más laboriosa que he conocido en mi vida. Su capacidad siempre me ha asombrado”, literally, “you are the most laborious person I have ever met in my life. Your ability has always amazed me”.
His friend Stefan Buzas said, in the document mentioned above; 'This single-minded man sat at work from early morning, after his six o'clock cold shower and frugal breakfast, until late evening. He retired after the day's work and a carefully planned constitutional walk that never varied, to his small bedroom and its narrow bed.'

 Figure 4: Personal letter from Spain to London, where a friend of Ricardo praises his way of working.

As I continue to catalogue the EES Lucy Gura Archive I can give comment on Caminos’ well-organized and meticulous working methods. During his lifetime he had numbered and organised all of his working documents precisely according to their provenance and date. It wouldn’t be a lie to say that Ricardo Caminos would be the perfect archivist!

 

Figure 5: Part of Gebel es-Silsilah archive organized by Ricardo Caminos.

Today, 26nd May 2014, is the 22nd Anniversary of Caminos death, and we still have much more to learn from this fascinating Egyptologist.
Here, I have only hinted at what could be discovered in the Caminos archive at the EES and it is likely that there is much more to be found! 

 

Figure 6: Caminos copying the text and scenes at Gebel es-Silsilah on behalf of The Egypt Exploration Society.

For further information regarding the friendship between Ricardo Caminos and Alan H. Gardiner see: Williams, A. 2011. ‘An Egyptological Friendship’, Egyptian Archaeology 39, 10-11. pdf here
For the obituary of Caminos see: James, T.G.H. 1993. ‘Ricardo Caminos’, JEA 79, 227-237. pdf here

For a Spanish version of this story please click here.

 

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