- A short history of survey and excavation
- Survey work in the Eastern Desert (table)
- Academic research projects for future release (list)
- Return to Appendices Index
The main purpose of this appendix is to provide an easily digestible summary of the survey work that has been carried out in the Eastern Desert. I have preceded the table with a short history of Egyptian archaeology, in order to explain how desert archaeology fits into both the development and the current status of Egyptian archaeology. I have followed the table with a short list of academic research projects that I know are being carried out specific to the Eastern Desert, but the results of which will not be released for some time.
This short summary is designed to place the work carried out in the Eastern Desert in the the broader context of survey and excavation work in Egypt, in order to explain how desert archaeology became an important part of Egyptology, but also why it has not progressed as far as it might have done.
It is probably fair to say that Egyptian archaeology starts following Napoleon’s military expedition to Egypt accompanied by 167 experts whose job was to provide a complete record of all aspects of Egyptian life and history. The results of these activities were a series of volumes produced between 1777 and 1892 known collectively as the Description de l’Egypte (which can be found on the Gallica website by clicking here). These became available throughout Europe, and the images of temples, some semi-ruined, with wonderful art work, inspired considerable interest. The Rosetta Stone was also found on this expedition, but was confiscated by the British who removed it from Egypt to London where it now remains. Copies of it were available to scholars in different countries for study, and eventually all three texts (Greek, Demotic and hieroglyphic) were translated. The hieroglyphic texts were deciphered by Champollion in 1822 (100 years before the discovery of Tutankhamun), who spent 14 years wrestling with it.
Over the next decades Egypt was visited by a mixture of scholars (including Gardner-Wilkinson, Lespius and Mariette) and treasure hunters (the best known of whom is giovanni Battista Belzoni). Both scholars and treasure hunters were funded by foreign organizations and individuals until Mariette established the Egyptian Service of Antiquities, when Mariette gave himself exclusive rights to work in Egypt. Auguste Mariette is of considerable importance in the history of Egyptian archaeology and heritage, partly because he was one of the earliest excavators to introduce formal methods to archaeological excavation, but mainly because of his work in creating institutions to protect the Egyptian heritage and prevent it being transported wholesale out of Egypt. As well as the first National Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, he established the Egyptian Service of Antiquities, where he served as Director until his death.
Mariette was succeeded in 1880 by Gaston Maspero. As well as excavating extensively, Maspero opened up Egypt to foreign missions, and wrote a number of popular works which were published in Europe and helped to raise the profile of Egyptology in the west. One of the early organizations permitted to work in Egypt was the Egypt Exploration Fun (today the Egypt Exploration Society). This was set up by a famous Egyptophile named Amelia Edwards, who later established a Chair of Egyptology at UCL. The EEF employed two responsible archaeologists at different times – Henri Naville and William Flinders Petrie.
Petrie is an important name in Predynastic studies. Although he excavated sites from many different periods, and not exclusively in Egypt, he made a break-through for pre-Pharaonic studies with his work at Naqada, Ballas and Hu. He established new approaches to prehistoric data here, creating a typological sequence to provide relative sequences within sites, and brought to his survey and excavation work a formal and highly disciplined set of methodologies and practices. These aimed at maximizing the information that could be obtained from a site whilst minimizing unnecessary damage wherever possible.
Petrie’s work in the field of Predynastic studies was followed by a number of other systematic archaeologists during the 1920s and 1930s. In Upper Egypt, Caton-Thompson worked at Badari and Hemmamieh, whilst Brunton worked with Caton-Thompson at Badari and also worked at Deir Tasa and Mostagedda. In Lower Egypt Junker excavated Merimde, and the Faiyum was investigated by Caton-Thompson and Gardiner. In the Western Desert of Egypt, some of the first serious work in the Western Desert oases took place at Kharga, again undertaken by Gertrude Caton-Thompson. Prehistoric and Predynastic studies had really taken off.
At the same time, important discoveries were being made in Pharaonic archaeology, including the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. This find was an overnight sensation, raising the profile of Egyptian archaeology to new levels in Europe.
Work extended outwards into the Eastern and Western Deserts in the 1920s and 1930s. This was mainly due to the particular interests of a small circle of individuals. J.H. Dunbar in the 1920s and 1930s. Weigall before the First World War, Winkler before the Second World War.
It was Winkler’s work that highlighted the large number of boat drawings in the Eastern Desert
As well as the impact that the two World Wars had on archaeology in Egypt, there were logistical problems. Photographs of early expeditions from the 1920s and 30s can be hair raising. Winkler resorted to travel by camel in the Eastern Desert. Even as recently as 1980 Wendorf and Schild (Wendorf and Schild 1980) explain in fairly graphic terms some of the difficulties involved in exploring desert regions, particularly before the development of reliable desert vehicles.
Another impediment is the fact that some areas are still under military jurisdiction and are strictly out of bounds – and even in the cases of those that aren’t, special permits need to be acquired even to visit the areas, never mind to do survey or excavation work.
It is a sad fact that due to the useful but fragmented work carried out on Egyptian rock art, it is rarely included in any major review of the subject. It is particularly conspicuous by its absence in the 1998 publication by Chippindale and Tacon (eds) and in the 1999 publication by Chippindale and Nash in 1999, both of which dealt with rock art from a wide range of areas world wide.
A list of published surveys is provided in the table below. Anyone interested in some of logistical considerations in the design of a survey, and the decisions regarding recording standards and conventions should see Morrow and Morrow 2000 (p.13-14), where details are provided under the following headings:
- Site naming
- Definitions of a site
- Orientation / date and time recording
- Recording details
- Photographic limitations
- Francis Lankester, Durham (rock art)
- Tony Judd, Liverpool (rock art)
- Andie Byrnes (early use of domesticates)
Copyright Andie Byrnes 2007