Christiane Desroches Noblecourt, a pioneering French Egyptologist who prodded Gen. Gamal Abdel Nasser to help salvage Nubia’s vaunted antiquities, has died. She was 97.
Ms. Desroches Noblecourt died on Thursday at a hospital in Epernay, east of Paris, where she had been taken after a recent stroke, said Anne Francoise, treasurer of a retirement home in the nearby town of Sezanne where Ms. Desroches Noblecourt lived the last few years.
Born on November 17, 1913 in Paris, Ms. Desroches Noblecourt developed an early passion for Egypt after reading about the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in the early 1920s. She later studied at the Louvre and the Sorbonne.
After an initial trip to Egypt in the late 1930s, she became the first woman to be put on a stipend with the Cairo-based French Institute of Oriental Archaeology — cracking a male-dominated world of Egyptology.
In a statement, President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to Ms. Desroches Noblecourt as the “grande dame of the Nile,” who blended scientific rigor with the qualities of “the most passionate of educators.”
After Egyptian officials began planning the Aswan High Dam project on the Nile in 1954, Ms. Desroches Noblecourt met Nasser to air concerns that 32 ancient temples and chapels in southern Nubia were facing submersion.
In an interview with Le Monde newspaper in 2007, she recalled how she told him “let me handle it, I’ll go talk to UNESCO on your behalf,” she was quoted as saying. “He trusted me and let me do it. He was brilliant.”
Paris-based UNESCO then helped mobilise nearly 50 countries for a vast project in the 1960s to dismantle, move and reconstruct the antiquities — including massive statues of Pharaoh Ramses II at Abu Simbel, which were broken down into 1,000 pieces and rebuilt over four years.
Ms. Desroches Noblecourt helped organise a Louvre exhibit in 1967 about King Tut’s treasure that drew more than a million visitors.
During World War II, Ms. Desroches Noblecourt frequented some members of the French Resistance and was arrested in December 1940. “I thought I was done for,” she told Le Monde. “I told them what I thought of them, and I don’t know why, they let me go after two days.”
Christiane Ziegler, a former curator at the Louvre’s Egyptology department, called Ms. Desroches Noblecourt “very dynamic, but also very tiring — she wanted everything done in a minute! She had a lot of charisma and spoke well, and really cared for the greater public.”
Ms. Desroches Noblecourt wrote dozens of books, including The Fabulous Heritage of Egypt that was a best-seller in France in 2004 and 2005.
A funeral was planned on Monday in the nearby town of Mondemont-Montgivroux, according to Ms. Francoise, of the retirement home. She is survived by a son.