It is a classic rivalry. The bookworm vs. the entrepreneur. The scholar who reads Latin and used a centuries-old travel chronicle to help identify -- or maybe not -- the remains of Alexandria's fabled lighthouse vs. the corporate-backed, media-wise adventurer who used a nuclear resonance magnetometer to find -- or maybe not -- the site of Cleopatra's palace.
The prize that Sorbonne-educated Jean-Yves Empereur and high-glitz arch rival Franck Goddio are vying for is no small matter -- bragging rights to the recovery of Alexandria's glittering Pharaonic and Hellenic history, one of the central undertakings in contemporary Egyptology.
Egypt has seen ambitious archaeologists before; it is a country so rich in antiquities that misdirected donkeys and stumbling security guards have been credited with recent finds. But the work of Empereur and Goddio is heightening interest in a city that long has been a bench player in the big leagues of archaeology.
Once the cultural hub of the ancient world, Alexandria was a place where -- for several hundred years after it was conquered and renamed by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. -- Pharaonic and Greek societies mingled in a creative splurge. But much of what was distinctive about this Mediterranean port either tumbled into the sea over the next two millennia or was otherwise lost.
The royal quarters fell into Alexandria harbor, for example, while the lighthouse -- one of the seven wonders of the ancient world -- collapsed on the site where a post-Islamic fort now stands. The library, at one time the Mediterranean world's central warehouse of knowledge, was burned by the Romans. Alexander the Great's tomb may well await discovery under a modern office building or, alternatively, beneath the raw sewage the city still pumps into the sea.
Despite their shared quest, the word on the street here is not to ask either Empereur or Goddio too many questions about the other. They share French nationality, but little else. And in the battle between their competing schools of archaeology, they give no quarter.
Empereur, who is ensconced here with his research team in a maze of apartments and runs his Center for Alexandrian Studies on patched-together annual budgets, scoffs at the premise that Goddio has found Cleopatra's palace. He scoffs even more at the television specials and other publicity that Goddio's work generated for his corporate underwriter, European-based Hilti International, a tool and building products company.
"If they had found a skirt, [they would call it] the skirt of Cleopatra. They need that for Hilti," Empereur said. He contended that what Goddio found in his excavation of Alexandria harbor was a submerged building in what was likely a royal quarter, but nothing that conclusively connected it with Egypt's suicidal queen.
Goddio, a government financial adviser before he switched careers, built a 70-foot catamaran and assembled a state-of-the-art battery of electronics to scan the harbor bed. He is only slightly less acerbic about Empereur's work near the site of the lighthouse.
The magnetometer, which plots variances in an area's magnetic field and is revolutionizing relic hunting, was developed by the French military but licensed privately to Goddio. From the hotel suite here where he lives between globe-trotting trips to tend to other projects, he said he urged Empereur not to muck around with the lighthouse site until he could scan the area with his machine.
"I don't want to criticize, but we see maybe it is not the lighthouse," but only some largish, underwater slabs near where the lighthouse was supposed to be, Goddio said.
The competition has sparked a debate over first principles in archaeological circles -- what role the study of the deep past has in an increasingly technology-driven world and what role money and the media have in that sometimes arcane science. If lost eras are important in their own right, as Empereur's ethic maintains, then the work should be left to specialists who concentrate on one find or one city to reach as complete an understanding of it as possible.
If it is also part sideshow, in which major finds are the chief attraction, then Goddio's approach fits: Gather a wad of money, get a television cosponsor -- in his case, the Bethesda-based Discovery Channel -- and go for the big bonanza, even if musty academics nag him for hopping from Cuba to the Philippines to Egypt and planning in the meantime a search for Magellan's flagship.
"We get tremendous press, a linking of the Hilti name with a very high-class, positive venture," said Georg Rosenbauer, who oversees the millions of dollars -- he refuses to specify how many -- that the Hilti Foundation has provided over the last four years to underwrite Goddio's research. Better even, he said, than sponsoring a tennis tournament.
Rosenbauer visited Alexandria to be on hand for yesterday's hoisting of a cannon from the deck of L'Orient, the flagship Napoleon Bonaparte lost, along with the rest of his fleet, to British men-of-war in the 1798 Battle of the Nile.
Amid a horde of clicking cameras and satisfied Egyptian bureaucrats -- whose permits mean life and death for researchers -- one face stood out as a testament to the team's media skills: that of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte-Wyse, a distant nephew of the French emperor, who was flown in for the event, as was Anna Tribe, a distant relation of the victorious British admiral, Horatio Nelson.
"Amateurish," sniffed Empereur, whose teams focus mostly on the "rescue" of underground sites, regardless of the public relations value, that are threatened by urban development. They are currently at work, for example, on a large necropolis that stands in the path of a new bridge.
"We need some private dollars, that is clear," he said. "But we are not here to create an event."
CAPTION: Members of Goddio's underwater search team raise an encrusted cannon barrel from the flagship of Napoleon's destroyed fleet off Alexandria.
CAPTION: Gold coins minted in prerevolutionary France were among the finds Franck Goddio's dive team made during a search of the wreckage of the flagship Napoleon lost to Britain in the Battle of the Nile.
CAPTION: Goddio admires a granite sphinx said to bear the likeness of Cleopatra's father that divers recovered from palatial ruins in Alexandria Bay.