Egypt’s Archaeology and Revolution

1 min read

Chris Naunton, Director of the Egypt Exploration Society

A scene from the mortuary temple of Ramesses III, Medinet Habu, showing the ceremony of the severed hands.
A scene from the mortuary temple of Ramesses III, Medinet Habu, showing the ceremony of the severed hands.

It is worth reminding ourselves just how thrilling archaeology in Egypt has continued to be, despite the widely held belief that there probably isn’t much left to find. My personal highlights in recent years include: evidence at Tell Ed-Daba by Manfred Bietak that corroborates the well-known iconography showing that the Egyptians cut off the hands of captured enemies; the first ‘tomb’ to be discovered, by Otto Schaden, in the Valley of the Kings since Tutankhamen’s in 1922 (CWA 16); the excavation by Krzysztof Cialowicz at Tell Farkha of solid gold late Predynastic anthropomorphic figures of a previously unknown style; and now, Angus Graham’s pioneering work in Luxor showing that the site of the temples of Karnak may have been an island when they were originally built.

Angus’ work exemplifies one of the most significant trends of the last decade: a shift towards understanding sites and monuments in the context of the wider natural landscape. The focus of archaeology has shifted away from the minute details – copying hieroglyphic inscriptions and excavating tiny objects – towards archaeological reconnaissance covering less detail but more ground, made possible by the increased use of satellite imagery (thanks in no small part to Google Earth) and other remote sensing techniques, especially magnetometry.

The January 2011 revolution will probably turn out to be the most significant event to have occurred during CWA‘s first ten years. In the short term, it has been damaging: the rise in opportunist crime, specifically looting, has led to sites and monuments being damaged, and artefacts and information being lost. But looting has always been a problem. Perhaps the heightened awareness of it brought on by the revolution will be positive if it leads to action, encourages the public to provide support to organisations like the EES, and improves understanding of the practicalities of protecting the country’s heritage.

A great success of the last ten years has been the concerted effort to train Egyptian archaeologists in modern field techniques. Egypt’s historical legacy deserves to be stewarded by the best people the world has to offer, and needs every last bit of help it can get. Now is the time.

1 Comment

  1. Found this article in the forum pages and thought “I have books by this guy. He’s no crackpot. Let’s see what he has to say”
    Great stuff.
    As an enthusiastic amateur and prolific reader and collector of books on Ancient Egypt and Egyptology I’d just like to say that there are people like me out there who take this subject very seriously and passionately.
    The civilisation of Ancient Egypt is something that’s captivated me since childhood. So, for some years. As I’m retired now I can devote even more time to the subject and exasperated my wife by buying even more books (have to have hard copies as I cross reference all the time). For example in recent times the study of Thutmose 3rd and his remarkable feat of developing the idea of “Combined Operations” in The Levant to further his “security wall” and increase his sphere of influence. Fascinating! Can’t get enough of that.
    Charlotte Booth’s book on Horemheb, very enlightening but left me puzzling why he’s not the 1st King of the 19th Dynasty instead of the last King of the 18th. He was “the new broom” after all. Probably an academic reason that I’m unaware of.
    Read a lot of Aiden Dodson and after reading your Lost Tombs and Egyptologist Notebook have started to reexamine The Middle Kingdom. Artistic style took off like a space rocket at that time and a lot of consolidation on what they had learnt thus far.
    So, what I really want to convey here is my support for you and your colleagues in the world of Archaeology and your desire to find out new and interesting things about civilisations that were not so primitive and unadvanced as people might generally believe. They were, in fact, remarkably advanced in technologies, philosophies, social sciences and a plethora of other disciplines. And, as you publish your findings, we, the enthusiastic amateurs, learn more and more. So I can’t wait for the next episode.
    Perhaps one day we may find out whether Smenkhkare and Nefertiti were one in the same ( a pet theory of mine which is probably very suspect and deeply flawed to a professional like you.).
    The very best of luck with your current and future explorations of the Civilisation of Ancient Egypt and if you ever need an enthusiastic pair of hands………always available.

    Very best,
    Mark Witney.

    (I worked at The Clarendon Laboratory, Department of Physics, University of Oxford as a Scientific Instrument Maker retiring in 2018. So the technology of Ancient Egypt is of particular interest and, yes, I have read Lucas).

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