As their voyage progressed, Edwards became increasingly frustrated with the vandalism and exploitation of ancient Egyptian monuments, heralding many of our contemporary conversations about cultural heritage. ‘The tourist carves (the monument) all over with names and dates,’ she wrote, ‘The student of Egyptology, by taking wet paper ‘squeezes,’ sponges away every vestige of the original colour. The ‘collector’ buys and carries off everything of value that he can get… The Louvre contains a full-length portrait of Seti I, cut out bodily from the walls of his sepulchre in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings. The Museums of Berlin, of Turin, of Florence, are rich in spoils which tell their own lamentable tale.’
Edwards returned to England committed to on-site conservation of the Egyptian monuments, co-founding the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882 to support conservation expeditions. Some mocked Edwards’ work; Samuel Birch, keeper of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum, sneered at her ‘sentimental archaeology.’ But Edwards’ legacy far outweighs any derisory sexism of her time. The Egypt Exploration Fund remains a leading archaeological non-profit to this day, while the Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology is a professorial chair at University College London.