If one studies the history of scientific research in the Middle East, one begins with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798. Though most famous for the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, the campaign included a team of draftsmen and scholars who studied and recorded the land’s temples and tombs.
The publication of their study awakened Europe to the treasures of the ancient past and spawned modern Egyptology and biblical archaeology.
The original manuscript of Napoleon’s Description de l’Egypt has been kept in Cairo at the Institute for the Advancement of Scientific Research. In an attack by protestors on Saturday, 166,000 works were reportedly destroyed including the Napoleonic work.
If you’re interested in the beautiful drawings from the French campaign, a new edition published in 1987 made the work much more accessible to the public. A nice two-volume box set with all 421 plates from the original edition was published by Princeton Architectural Press. I had the happy opportunity to pick up Monuments of Egypt: The Napoleonic Edition some years ago, and I see that Amazon still has a few copies available.
UPDATE: Reuters has published a story today with the latest details. It notes that there are four other handwritten copies of Napoleon’s work. (HT: Jack Sasson)