C. W. Ceram and Me

One of my favorite books as a child was C. W. Ceram’s Gods, Graves, and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology.* I checked it out from the Springfield public library over and over. It was one of the first books I bought with my own money.** I still have it and dip into it on occasion when I want to refresh my memory or just enjoy Ceram’s story-telling one more time.

Ceram gave me some of my earliest heroes: Schliemann, Evans, Champollion and Carter.*** He made deciphering Linear B as enthralling as discovering King Tut’s tomb. As an adult I was thrilled when I saw Mesopotamian artifacts at the Oriental Institute in Chicago and the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum. When My Own True Love and I traveled to Turkey for the first time I insisted on visiting the site of Troy, even though my ankle was in a cast and I needed a cane.

Ceram wrote with adults in mind, but his book was the perfect introduction to archaeology for a nerdy child. In his foreword, Ceram says his “aim was to portray the dramatic qualities of archaeology, its human side.” He succeeds. In his hands, archaeology was made up of “all manner of excitement and achievement. Adventure is coupled with bookish toil. Romantic excursions go hand in hand with scholarly self-discipline and moderation.” He took a subject often buried in technical language and found the stories at its heart. Is it any wonder that I was hooked?

Gods, Graves and Scholars has been continuously in print since it was first published in Germany in 1943 and translated into 28 languages.  As a writer of popular history, I could do worse than take Herr Ceram as a role model.****


*What can I say?  I earned my history nerd membership early.

**Let me pause for a brief moment of silence in memory of the indie bookstore of my youth, the Heritage Bookstore in Springfield Mo.  It was a small store in a neighborhood strip mall, but Aladdin’s cave had nothing on it as far as I was concerned.

***This actually began as a blog post about Champollion and the Rosetta Stone.  Then I pulled Ceram off the shelf….

****Except for that stint of writing propaganda for the 3rd Reich under his real name, Kurt Wilhelm Marek.  Sometimes Google gives you unhappy surprises.


  1. […] Archeological Museum at Knossos:  This one’s been on my list since I was a kid. (Thank you, C.W. Ceram.)  English archeologist Arthur Evans. like Heinrich Schliemann* before him, used ancient legends […]

  2. Larry A. Singleton on September 5, 2017 at 12:27 am

    I just finished Gods, Graves and Scholars. It read like an adventure novel.

    I wish to hell that that there was a website that features what was written in this book. Even when I went to the British Museum website to track down some of the artifacts mentioned in the book, the rotten format made this impossible. Same with just about everything else I tried to look up via Google, which is really next to useless.

    I just tried looking for information regarding the “Sacred Well”. Frustrating because I’ll end up sitting here searching for hours. I would like to find pictures of Thompson in his dive gear and some of the things they pulled out of the water. Or information on what damage, if any, they did when using that “dredge”.

    Anyway, I wished I’d found this book as a kid. But it’s books like this that make you feel like a kid again.

    • pamela on September 5, 2017 at 12:42 pm


  3. Sandra Marrujo on February 3, 2018 at 12:02 am

    Yes, I loved this book, read it first when I was about 13 (that would be 1958!) and just checked the catalog of the private library I belong to and am delighted to see they DO have copies of it AND the March of Archaeology and several other of his archaeological books. I know what I’ll be checking out next time I visit. Not archaeological, but a couple of other books I enjoyed at that stage of my life and would wish to re-read are The Century of the Surgeon and the Triumph of Surgery by Jurgen Thorwald, but the library does not have them, and I find on line that copies are either unavailable or extremely expensive.

    • pamela on February 3, 2018 at 9:26 pm

      Glad to meet another fan!

  4. Eddie Beato on August 11, 2018 at 1:51 am

    I have a copy of his Gods, Graves and Scholars, it is far superior to any book of science fiction as produced by the quick hacks of success of our times, and I don’t know whether there is a writer today as objective, encyclopedic and punctilious as Kurt William.

    Kurt Wilhelm was a true scholar, and one cannot but love the episodic moments of life through the ever-stretching fresh streams of such a tireless writer. Before he reached his 40th Spring, the young German Traveler achieved worldwide fame.

    He became a millionaire in one single stroke of genius: a fascinating book on archeology. Much to our surprise, he was not an archeologist by profession, but a free-lance writer in Germany. To survive, he penned down articles for magazines and local editorials dealing with the arts and other relevant affairs in the heydays of Hitler’s regime.

    It is quite a marvel that Wilhelm produced a bulky book of such extraordinary depth, scholarship and brilliance at the young age of 34 (1949).

    What is even more striking was his absolute confidence in the superior quality of his writings. As a clever man, upon arriving to USA, Kurt Wilhelm changed (anglicized his name), to avoiding any unfortunate connection with the Third Reich.

    He died at the age of 57 in 1972.


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