A Short History of Tomb-Raiding

Available here and here

Screen grab from Assassins’ Creed Origins (2017, UBISOFT)

Ancient Egypt’s ideological conceits regarding immortality begat richly appointed tombs, which in turn begat tomb-raiders, the original outlaws and most thorough of transgressors. They hailed from every walk of life: farmers, bee-keepers and trumpet players, priests, generals and pharaohs themselves. Medieval Egypt delivered a different cast of characters:  polymaths, alchemists, conmen and professional seekers, all hell-bent on finding treasure. Then came the western collectors and museum agents and tourists galore, generating trade for indigenous diggers. Today’s computer games and children’s toys (not to mention film etc.) perpetuate the treasure-finding narrative because hitting the jackpot is a timeless dream.  Join me for a romp through several millennia of a dogged pursuit redolent of human idiosyncrasies: ingenuity, cupidity, gullibility, treachery, and against-all-odds survival.

Read an except, selected by Lapham’s Quarterly here – one of LQ’s most read postings of 2022…


The New Criterion, Critic’s Non-Fiction Pick

In A Short History of Tomb-Raiding, [Golia] has created a treasure house that teems with wonderful stories, both extraordinary and plaintive, of banditos, bathos, feats of daring. She chronicles graft, exploitation, bittersweet laughter, the will to survive, power and its ultimate powerlessness. Beneath and beyond it all she sees—creates—a salvific wonder. Sukhdev Sandhu, 4 Columns.

An exhilarating masterpiece of social and intellectual history. — Robert Irwin, author and Arabist

The beauty of this book is that it is Egypt from the other side: it is tomb-raiding as a social and cultural phenomenon …[as such] it is also a short history of Egyptians…. a grown-up, holistic account of tomb-raiding, with a relevance and immediacy that is as unusual as finding that fabled cache of gold. Debbie Kilroy, Get History

Creatively and accurately connects the ancient with the modern to narrate an engaging history of Egypt through the greed of pilferers and treasure hunters, the collusion of rulers and the swell of popular revolts.’— Alaa Al Aswany, author of The Yacoubian Building

Vividly written…a must for anyone interested in Egypt, the secret books of treasure hunters and the antiquities trade.’ — Salima Ikram, Distinguished University Professor of Egyptology, The American University in Cairo, and author of Ancient Egypt: An Introduction

Maria Golia is a deeply informed chronicler of Egypt ancient and modern, and this is a panoramic and gloriously illustrated survey of its fabled secrets, treasures and wonders.’ — Mike Jay, author and cultural historian

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My biography of musician/composer Ornette Coleman (1930-2015) has struck a chord…paperback edition to be released in April 2022

Ornette nominated Best Book of 2020 by the Jazz Journalist Association, along with Philip Clark’s Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, Will Friedwald’s Straighten Up and Fly Right; Phil Woods with Ted Panken’s Life in E Flat, Mark Ruffin’s Bebop Fairy Tales and Kevin Whitehead’s Play the Way You Feel. Ornette also nominated for JJA’s Robert Palmer – Helen Oakley Dance Award for Excellence in Writing in 2020.

Roughtrade.com, catering to music connoisseurs of all stripes, named Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure one of its ten favorite books of 2020, along with The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America, Chris Frantz, Remain In Love (Talking Heads), and Barack Obama’s Promised Land (?!).

The elegantly leftist Counterpunch.org also named Ornette one of the top books of 2020, along with Eric Holthaus’s Future Earth, Oliver Stone’s Chasing the Light, and JoAnn Wypijewski’s What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About #metoo.

‘One of the book’s virtues lies in its foregrounding of Coleman’s voice and the voices of his contemporaries…an important contribution to Coleman scholarship…a thoughtful and eminently readable account of a monumental artist.’ -Mark Mahoney, Jazz and Culture, pdf here.

‘A labor of love and a thoroughly researched, righteous homage…. Golia gets Coleman’s ravenous intellectual curiosity. Her prose is sometimes dense with context, sometimes poetic and exalted, sometimes punchy (“Jim Crow could not dictate what kind of music a person listened to.”). She gets that Ornette was never only a jazz musician. He was a thinker, a futurist, a cultural revolutionary.’ – Kathelin Gray, Los Angeles Review of Books. Gray produced of several of Ornette’s records, including “In All Languages” (1987) and of the film “Ornette Made in America” (dir. Shirley Clarke, 1986). Full review here.

‘Fittingly unconventional. . . . Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure is an atlas in prose, a guide to the territories of varied sorts—social, racial, aesthetic, economic and even geographic—that Coleman came out of, traveled through, lived near, occupied, left behind or transformed.’  – David Hadju, New York Times Book Review.  Full review here.

‘[Ornette Coleman] was the shock of the new… Golia writes scenically about Coleman’s birthplace, Fort Worth, Texas, where Jim Crow and music were everywhere… With a pointillist’s talent for detail, [she] shows how Coleman’s origins in Texas blues gave way to abstraction on landmark records … ultimately leading him to create the musical paradigm he called “harmolodics.”… The “free” in [Coleman’s] “free jazz” is an ambivalent word. It doesn’t refer to the absence of oppression or musical rules, but instead the struggle to imagine a place beyond them both. In that sense, Coleman’s definition of freedom was radically inclusive, both politically and musically.’ – Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic   Full review here

‘One of the finest books on the power of place and influence in a musician’s life.’ — Andrew Male, Mojo (UK)

‘Golia marshals her account with a deft touch and in very fluent and elegant style.’ – Jazz Centre Newsletter, Centrepiece (UK).

Ms. Golia aptly outlines the aesthetic dilemma, when “jazz had become aware of itself and its strengths” …[and] writes with demystifying clarity about the manifestations of compassion and rigor behind Coleman’s search for “unison” and the musical system he called “harmolodics.” [She] notably grounds Coleman’s identity in his hometown, reconstructing an “idiosyncratic collage of radio broadcasts from Harlem, Western Swing fiddlers, Tejano two-steps, high-school marching bands, and the rhythm and blues that issued from storefront churches”…[Ornette Coleman, the Territory and the Adventure] opens ears yet further to the transformative power of Coleman’s music. – Larry Blumenfeld, Wall St. Journal  Download PDF  here.

‘A professional account of a heady dude, without cosmic junk and jargon.’ -Colin Fleming, Jazz Times, (USA)

“Ornette Coleman” by Frederick J. Brown, 1992. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute.

‘[Unlike previous books about Ornette]  Golia takes a broader approach, situating the great saxophonist and composer in his cultural, social and geographical contexts. Each of the four sections pivots on a particular time and place, establishing the territory then striking out on an adventure in a manner akin to a Coleman solo  . . . By deftly tracing these connections and transformations, Golia has created a valuable and highly engaging survey of Coleman’s harmolodic life.’ – Stewart Smith, The Wire (UK)  Download PDF Oc.review.theWire

‘A wide-ranging biography of the great saxophonist, and musical tendencies that converged to make him the “patron saint of all things dissonant and defiant.”‘  Julian Lucas, Harper’s Magazine

‘Golia takes us on a guided tour, not just of Coleman’s mind and music but of the country and state that birthed him and made him into a permanent outlaw and outlier. She clearly designates the framework of the biography of this titanic figure, demonstrating that the individuals who may be said to define an era have generally distilled its characteristic forces and possibilities into a consistent body of work that has in turn transformed the times in which they lived and worked. In other words, Ornette is a mirror of the very America which often found it so hard to incorporate him into its artistic, musical and cultural fabric.’  – Donald Brackett, Critics at Large, here.

‘An invaluable contribution not only to Coleman scholarship but also to the history of African-American music, culture, and commerce of mid-twentieth-century Fort Worth.’ – Alan Schaefer, Journal of Texas Music History

“A marvelous and unique biography of an equally unique artist. [Golia] covers his entire life in vivid detail with emphasis on the man, his associations, and his artistic methods.”– Michael Cuscuna ― Mosaic Records Daily Jazz Gazette

“Golia’s forensic, scholarly, original Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure is a very welcome book. . . . Golia—perfectly placed to write this book as one-time manager of the Caravan of Dreams—expertly outlines Ornette’s place in a distinctly Texan musical heritage. . . . A fascinating, formidable study of Ornette, with all the seriousness and rigor his life and music deserve.”― Sounds of Surprise

“The freedom that Golia describes is the freedom and openness to form friendships with artists from other areas of the arts. It is the freedom of someone who would go off to Morocco to seek out the musicians of JouJouka. These musicians had a profound effect on the way that Coleman developed multiple unisons and the harmolodic melding of the blues to create the Prime Time band. . . . The research that Golia has done is impressive and her book will be essential.”― Jazz Views

‘Eloquently describes the Ornette phenomenon in a book laden with musical and social insights.’ — Chris Searle, The Morning Star

‘There are lots of fascinating anecdotes, stories and previously unpublished photographs in Golia’s book. She has compiled a detailed, interesting story of his career.’ — Martin Chilton, udiscovermusic.com

Finalist– Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research ― BEST HISTORICAL RESEARCH IN RECORDED JAZZ

‘The history of jazz is often told as a geographical adventure in which a great art enlightens and assimilates a chain of territories in the course of world conquest. Maria Golia revitalizes that narrative in exploring the life and genius of Ornette Coleman. This is the most incisive portrait we have of him – a joyous addition to the literature of music.’ — Gary Giddins

‘Following Ornette’s departure from the planet, his presence in the world only seems to increase and his music’s influence will no doubt continue far into the future. The poetic conception of music, sound, and life in the broadest sense that Ornette embodied is addressed here through the terrific writing of Ms. Golia. This volume is an excellent addition to the ongoing study of one of the greatest improvising musicians of all time.’ — Pat Metheny

‘It’s always good to learn more about one of America’s greatest musicians, and Golia’s work has much that is new, especially (at last) a proper overview of Ornette’s experience in his hometown of Fort Worth, both in his youth and the 1980s. The Territory and the Adventure is the best book on Ornette Coleman yet.’ — Ethan Iverson

Interview with  Richard Eeds, KTRC, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 3, 2020.

Interview with Joe Maita, of jerryjazzmusician.com

Interview with Mark Lynch, WICN, Massachusetts public radio, July 13, 2020

Podcast with Matt Hanson of The American Interest, and Matt’s review here.

About the book: 

Few people in any given age may be called its true contemporaries, for embodying the strivings and achievements of their time, distilling its characteristic forces and possibilities into a body of work and experience. African-American composer and musician (alto and tenor sax, trumpet, violin) Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman (March 19, 1930 – June 11, 2015) was zeitgeist incarnate, not only for his music but the places and people that influenced it and the ideas that drove it forward. Born in segregated Fort Worth, Texas during the Depression, Ornette and jazz grew up together, as the brassy blare of big band swing gave way to bebop, a faster music for a faster, post-war world. A defiant young man, he turned to free jazz, a break-away art appropriate to the Space Age that challenged the musical boundaries of the known.

Click here to order.

Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure describes the places, situations and encounters that informed Ornette’s struggle for creative expression, an effort that lies at the heart of the human experience. The virtuosity, receptive listening and calibrated response his ensembles demonstrated were intended as a model not just for jazz, but all genuine communication and his influence is acknowledged by artists of every discipline. Ornette remarked: “The theme you play at the start of the number is the territory. And what comes after, which may have very little to do with it, is the adventure.” This book explores the themes behind the work of one of America’s most adventurous artists. 

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Reviews and Press

met.coverRead an excerpt from Meteorite (“It Came From Outer Space”) published in Cabinet Magazine.

Meteorite does a splendid job … illustrating the religious, social, literary, artistic, political, economic and even culinary impact of meteorites, with the help of reportage and anecdote as well as site photographs and portraits . . . Maria Golia writes vividly and wittily … and ample science is elegantly slipped into the book. – Claudio Vita-Finzi, Times Literary Supplement, June 1, 2016

Author’s interview re: Meteorite for National Geographic.

Meteorite – has arrived… Sky at Night Magazine, October 2015 Book of the Month

This is a beautifully written, well-researched book that looks at the science, history, and social aspect of meteorites. Here is the story of stones from space, and I recommend it to anyone interested in these fascinating bits of other worlds which have landed here on Earth. Christopher P. McKay, NASA astrobiologist

Maria Golia has brought to her truly wonderful subject  a matching spirit of wonder,  and has  explored the science and magic, art and uses of ‘lightning rock’, ‘iron rain’, and sacred betyls, with passion, wit – and fiery compression. Marina Warner, president, Royal Society of Literature

“[who] would have ever expected that rocks falling from space would be such an important contribution to humanity’s intellectual evolution? If you want to understand the landscape of meteorites in the 21st century, then Golia’s book is your one-stop-shop to get you up to speed.” Professor Martin Horejsi, Meteorite Times

‘an extremely well-researched book, with its focus away from the scientific details, and squarely on the place of meteorites in various aspects of human culture.’ John Rowlands, Astronomy Now

 (See my ‘about’ page for more information on Meteorite)

Product Details

Photography and Egypt (Reaktion Books, London 2010)

…An admirable and precise historical analysis and critique of the conditions under which photographs were produced [in Egypt], as well as an assessment of their impact on the region.  Catherine David, chief curator, Musées de France, exhibition catalogue for Paris Photo, November 2009

…strikingly observed. Golia’s relaxed prose belies her careful research. Her history of photography can also be read as a challenge to [Egypt’s] people and their problematic search for authenticity. – Eleanor Kilroy, Times Literary Supplement, London April 2010

…Photography and Egypt is a treasure….Golia is a terrific writer… [the book] thrives on her intense and unyielding affection for Egypt, an ardor balanced with humor and the occasionally brutal critique of…the current regime… – Bidoun Magazine, New York/Dubai, Winter 2009-2010

… Swift-moving,  sophisticated and serious, Maria Golia’s narrative  comes right down to the present day.  – John Rodenbeck, Association  for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East (ASTENE)

…conjures the real Egypt to life before the reader, and unfolds the development of a vernacular photography from topography, middle class posturing and propaganda, to political and social activism bearing witness to contemporary events. –F/22 Magazine

Product Details
 Cairo: City of Sand (Reaktion Books, London, 2004)

It’s 2022, and at the distance of nearly 20 years my contemporary history of Cairo is getting some press: in the New York Times, and here, on shepherd.com

…a magnificent, multidimensional, eloquent and, above all, intelligent portrait of one of the world’s most enigmatic places.     – Anthony Sattin, Sunday Times, London

…packed full of observations of enduring worth…She writes with wit, immediacy, intimacy and humor.       – Barnaby Rogerson, Times Literary Supplement, London

…is it possible for a foreigner living in Cairo, even for many years, to know the soul of this city? …you will be astonished when you read Maria Golia’s book.   – Rushdi Abul- Hassan,  Sabah El-Kher Magazine, Cairo

…the extent of Golia’s insider status really shows… not just regarding matters specific to Cairo, but to matters of Egyptian-ness in general. – Motaz Attalla, Beirut Daily Star

…astonishingly astute, skillfully critical and deeply empathetic. – Cherine Badrawi, Daily Star, Egypt

Press Bits:




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It seems Ornette Coleman, the Territory and the Adventure, will soon appear in a Japanese edition…and for the Swedish speakers among you, an essay on taxidermist/big game hunter and inventor of the first hand-held action movie camera, Carl Akeley, is available in an audio version here. The original English essay may be found here. A Short History of Tomb-Raiding, is also about to go aural, the spoken version available here.

illustrations by Philip Henry Gosse, British naturalist (1810-1888)
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E Pluribus….

Here’s Joshua Jones writing for the Prague Writers’ Festival taking my books, unusually, all together.

Mike Vasquez and Sukhdev Sandhu (of the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture) did the same at a reading last week (5/19/22) at the Square Diner called ‘The Ornette Effect’, organized by Negar Azimi for Bidoun Magazine. It was good…and ephemeral.

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5000 years old, and counting…


The building of the Asyut Dam, c.1938

Asyut, Guardian City, published by the British Museum, surveys the little-known history of this 5000 year-old Nile-side city from its origins to the present. Based largely on papers delivered at the Annual Egyptology Colloquium at the British Museum (“Asyut through Time: conflict and culture in Middle Egypt”, July, 2017), the book makes this scholarly work accessible to a wider audience of readers who love Egypt. Rather than a comprehensive history or academic treatise, the book illustrates varied facets of Asyut’s special character, with topics ranging from the rock-hewn tombs and animal cemeteries of the ancients, to the monasteries of early Christianity and the vernacular architecture of today.  As on-going excavations and research continue to improve our understanding, this book celebrates Asyut as the guardian of Egypt’s cultural memory, a city and region whose far-reaching influence has only begun to be revealed.

I edited the book with Ilona Regulski, curator of the Museum’s Egyptian written culture department.  It’s full of wonderful illustrations and available for free download in English and Arabic  here ( scroll past photos to ‘books’ heading).

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Tomb Raiding

Tomb-raiding in Egypt – from antiquity to the years just after the 2011 uprising – is a topic I’ve researched at some length.  Here’s an essay from Cabinet Magazine‘s ‘Desert’ issue, entitled “Grave Matters” (2017) from A Short History of Tomb-Raiding, to be published by Reaktion Books in November 2022,  100 years since Howard Carter’s unearthing of Tut’s tomb, and the bicentennial anniversary of Champollion’s deciphering of the Rosetta Stone.

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A deliberate online presence slowly materializes….

photo: sherief alkatsha

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