I came across a question while practicing for my GRE.

That Egyptologists believe the ancient Egyptians’ memory of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun quickly faded after his death is based on the fact that the Pharaoh’s tomb was not _______ in antiquity, but rather was found nearly intact by twentieth-century archaeologists.

Options: defamed, denigrated, depredated, derided, developed

I chose depredated by method of elimination. (it is the correct choice) but upon checking the reason -

The clue phrase here is "found intact." Because of the pivot word "but rather" before the clue, we know the first blank will disagree with the clue. Thus we're looking for a filler like "robbed" or "destroyed."

I can't get my head around why depredate is the filler. It doesn't make sense as whole in sentence. Can anyone elucidate on this ?

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    It's an appalling example sentence! But the only credible choice is the relatively rare word depredated (plundered, ravaged, laid waste to). Any reasonably literate native speaker should be able to decipher the "tortured syntax" of the sentence, but I suspect many of them would need to consult a dictionary (as I just had to) to check that particular definition. Are they testing people's ability to handle cumbersome phrasing, or the breadth of their vocabulary? – FumbleFingers Sep 8 '18 at 17:42
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    Semantically deconstructed: The assertion The ancient Egyptians’ memory of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun quickly faded after his death is something Egyptologists believe. That belief is based on the fact that the Pharaoh’s tomb wasn't plundered in antiquity (presumably because the ancients forgot about that Pharaoh, so it never occurred to anyone to find and loot the grave). – FumbleFingers Sep 8 '18 at 17:52
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    (As you'll see from this NGram, depredated virtually "flatlines" when compared to the more natural term looted.) – FumbleFingers Sep 8 '18 at 17:55
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    Looted is the word that would be correct in the blank. But I agree it's a terrible sentence. – John Lawler Sep 8 '18 at 19:27
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    Although I "looted" may be clearer, I see nothing wrong with someone's tomb being depredated. The dictionary definitions I find give the meanings of "plunder", "pillage", "steal, without necessary connotations of violence or predation in the predator-prey sense. That's a very fitting word for someone who robs a tomb or a grave, because apart from the actual connotation of stealing, it also has a connotation of wrongfully disturbing a site, as would be the case if you robbed a tomb/grave. By the way I'm pretty sure his tomb was robbed twice in antiquity. – Zebrafish Sep 9 '18 at 5:23

The simplest way to make sense of this question is to winnow out the answers that can't be correct.

The test question's sentence asserts a logical opposition between finding the tomb intact in the twentieth century and having the tomb X in antiquity, where X stands for one of five words: defamed, denigrated, depredated, derided, or developed. So the task is to figure out which of the five words works in direct opposition to "found intact."

The words defamed, denigrated, and derided share a similar sense of insult, mockery, or unfair criticism—but there is no obvious connection between a lack of defamation, denigration, or derision toward Tutankhamun and the historical fact that his tomb remained intact over the millennia. Likewise, the fact that the tomb was found intact has little connection to whether it was "developed" in antiquity—unless we imagine that parceling it out into condominiums would have resulted in considerably more wear and tear to the structure than it actually endured.

That leaves for our consideration the choice depredated—which means ransacked or plundered. Clearly, "remained intact" stands in strong opposition to "was depredated"; so the only remaining test is whether the whole sentence, with depredated in place, is tolerably logical. In my view, it is: the writer argues that the fact that the tomb escaped the depredations of grave robbers (and so remained intact through many centuries) is evidence that people living in the area quickly forgot about Tutankhamun and his tomb, and so were not inclined to seek it out and pillage it.

Maybe so, maybe not. But unquestionably an argument that links a tomb's intactness to an absence of depredation makes far more sense than an argument that links the tomb's intactness to an absence of defamation, denigration, derision, or development.

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"I can't get my head around why rob/depredate is the filler"

In the title to your question you referenced only depredate, but in the body of your question you reference rob/depredate.

To depredate does require more than basic use of and understanding of English, but to rob does not. As a test GRE test question, it appears apropos. It was not 'robbed' in antiquity.

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