Appendix B - Eastern Desert Research

180_8025bPage Contents


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.

A short history of survey and excavation

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
  • Co-ordinates
  • Orientation / date and time recording
  • Recording details
  • Photographic limitations

Survey Date

Name and Scope of Survey

Publication References



Sir John Gardner Wilkinson

Gardner Wilkinson, J. 1935



Richard Lepsius

Lepsius, R. 1852


Early 1900s

Arthur Weigall headed an expedition to the Wadi Hamamat and the Wadi Abbad

Weigall, A. 1909

Weigall recorded inscriptions, but did not attempt a detailed analysis of them (Morrow and Morrow 2000, p.179)


Couyat and Motet

Couyat and Motet 1912



Leo Frobenius
First detailed survey of the central Eastern Desert

Frobenius, L.1927; 1937

Re-interpreted in 1974 by Cervicek.


Robert Mond Expedition

Winkler, H. 1938

Hans Winker was a German explorer and pioneer in the 1930s, surveyed rock art in both Eastern and Western surveys but war forced him to take a break and died before able to return.  The Winkler archive was scheduled to be published by Bloomsbury Academy in Spring 2006


Pontus Hellstrom headed a survey around the 22degree parallel between Faras and Gamai in the Buhen area

Hellstrom, P. 1970



Walter Resch investigated the Kanais area in the Wadi Abbad, Wadi Mineh, and Wadi Barramiya.

Resch, W. 1967



Gold prospecting programmes in Egypt and Nubia by EGSMA, GRAS and Soviet Techno export group


Wherever the survey team found any economically viable source of gold they also found remains of ancient Egyptian mining


Pavel Cervicek recorded engravings in the Wadi el-Miyah, as well as four sites in the Nile Valley between Edfu and Kom Ombo

Cervicek, P. 1974



The Theban Desert Road Project

Darnell J. and Darnell D.


1984 – 1986

Susan and Donald Redford surveyed the Wadi Hammamat from el Lakeita oasis to the Schist quarries.

Redford and Redford 1989


1989 and 1991

The survey of Wadi Barramiya in 1985 1989 and 1991 by Gerald Fuchs in order to a) document selected sites considered to be typical for the region and b) provide a general survey of the main wadi in terms of site density, spatial distribution and preferred site locations (Fuchs 1991, p.60).  Found a number of new sites.

Fuchs, G. 1989


Fuchs, G. 1991




A preliminary survey in the Wadi Abu Had. The main objective was to discover a secondary route in the less well-known Middle Eastern Desert that would have served a number of purposes including trade, access to outlying mines and as a point of contact between Egypt and the Near East

Bomann, A. and Young, R. 1994

Sites were found from Lower Palaeolithic to the Graeco-Roman periods, and observations about current desert occupants. 


Eastern Desert Survey
The EDS Survey covered the areas from Edfu to Mersa Alam in the south and Qift to Quesir in the north.  Its objective was to provide a photographic record of predynastic rock art discovered by Wiegall in 1907 and Winkler in 1936, and Fucjhs in 1985-90.  The resulting catalogue, which included a number of new sites, provides a photographic and descriptive resource for others, and does not attempt to analyze the art. The wadis included in the survey include:  Wadi el-Atwani, Wadi Hammamat, Wadi el-Qash, Wadi Mineh, Wadi Abu Makab, Wadi el-Nes, Wadi Abbad, and Wadi el-Barramiya.


Rohl, D. (ed.) 2000

Contributors who have pap in the survey publication include Toby Wilkinson, Pete Cherry, and Mike and Maggie Morrow.


University of Illinois (headed by Douglas Brewer) Summer 2006


The project searched for sites using areas considered to be likely areas containing pasture in the past

1976 – Present

Belgian Middle Egypt Prehistoric Project

Research project of the Catholic University of Leuven created in 1976 by Professor Dr Pierre Vermeersch, who assumed its direction until 2003.

The present director is Professor Dr Philip Van Peer.

The project’s main aim is to provide new elements of reconstruction of the Palaeolithic occupation history of the Lower Nile Valley and the Eastern Desert through interdisciplinary field research.

During the last campaign in 2003, areas around Wadi Bili (Hurghada) and Denderah were surveyed.

See references in the Bibliography under Vermeersch, Van Peer and Moerysons.



The Theban Desert Road Project
Darnell J and Darnell D



2000 – 2002

Rock Art Topographical Survey
“The original objective was to concentrate on finding and recording unpublished locations and to resurvey published sites that would benefit from modern recording methods” (2002, p.13)  The survey took place in October and December 2000, and February 2001.

Morrow and Morrow point out that time constraints had an impact on their search techniques, which concentrated on “scrutinizing cliff faces from slow moving vehicles to identify likely areas for carvings, then examining promising faces on foot”.  They highlight that further major sites may well have been missed by adopting this approach (2002 p.13)

Morrow and Morrow 2002

Interpretation of the rock art is out of the scope of this project, and has not been attempted.  Excellent photographs are provided,


Sozzani, M

Work in Wadi Barramiya (findings presented at first meeting of Ass. Des Amis de l’art repustre Saharien




Pickett 1979 (mentioned in Vermeersch et al 1994)




Future Research


  • Francis Lankester, Durham (rock art)
  • Tony Judd, Liverpool (rock art)
  • Andie Byrnes (early use of domesticates)

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