Leaving the EES

After more than fifteen wonderful years working for the Egypt Exploration Society, as Director for the last four-and–a-half, I have decided to step down with effect from October this year. My last official engagement will be the Annual General Meeting on 15 October.

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I’m off! (Thanks to Geoffrey Tassie for the photo).

The Society has changed a great deal in the last few years, and I like to think I will be leaving it in good shape. More importantly though, I will be leaving it in the very capable hands of the Trustees and staff and, of course, of my successor, who will be appointed in the next few weeks.

This has been a big decision for me, one I have arrived at after a great deal of thinking over the course of several months. But it is the right one for lots of reasons.

A new challenge

I was appointed to lead the Society on a certain journey because I had the skills required. That journey is now complete, and it is time for the Society to embark on a new phase.

The EES would never have existed without the passion and enthusiasm of its founders, and their ability to inspire the same feelings in others. Its achievements are the result of the commitment of its archaeologists, staff, supporters and others. In the same way, the EES needs a Director who is bursting with ideas and energy. That was how I felt a few years ago when I began the job, but it’s impossible to sustain that level of energy forever, and it’s time for a new challenge.

That challenge is ready and waiting in fact. I’ll be leaving the EES to focus on the various pieces of work (a book or two, more media work etc.) and organizations (including the International Association of Egyptologists) to which I have committed in recent years but which, while they are complementary to my EES role, I have been unable to pursue to the extent that I would like. The challenge will be to tackle a few of these projects as a freelancer while exploring a few new possibilities as well.

The next EES

As I mentioned above, the EES is about to embark on the next phase of its history. My role as Director was to create the busy, dynamic, modern and eminently supportable organisation we all wanted the EES to be. In the last few years my colleagues and I have:

  • Overhauled the way we support fieldwork in Egypt
  • Modernised our publications and communications, especially online
  • Dramatically improved out activities in Egypt and support for Egyptian colleagues
  • Raised awareness of the Society and its work through the media and online
  • Professionalised our research facilities – the archive and library in particular
  • Professionalised our systems and processes and improved efficiency

Just about all of this has been undertaken with a view to making the Society more supportable and/or financially sustainable. However the financial situation remains very challenging, and having explored all the possibilities we had wanted to explore, and fixed a number of problems behind the scenes, it is now time for us to look at alternative means of ensuring the Society can continue to deliver its mission “to explore ancient Egyptian sites and monuments, to create a lasting record of the remains, to generate enthusiasm for, and increase knowledge and understanding of, Egypt’s past and to raise awareness of the importance of protecting its heritage.”

A fond farewell

I was 22 years old when I became Librarian and Membership Secretary at the EES, just three months after finishing my Master’s degree in Egyptology at the University of Birmingham. It was my first and so far only real job. Doughty Mews has been a home of sorts for almost half my life since then. It’s been a wonderful experience, richly rewarding in far more ways than I could ever have imagined. I arrived as an aspiring Egyptologist and leave as an experienced charity CEO. I have enormous affection for the Society and would not be leaving if I did not think that it had a very bright future ahead of it. I will of course continue to be a loyal subscriber and have every confidence that I will be able to enjoy my membership just as much as I did when I was a student. Knowing the Society’s supporters as well as I do, I am sure they will all want to continue supporting the organisation through the transition to the next phase. Lastly, I’d like to thank those supporters. Although I have thoroughly enjoyed my work for the EES I cannot pretend that every single day has been a walk in the park… There have been frustrations, disappointments and difficult characters to deal with, but these things have always been outweighed by a near-constant stream of smiles, messages of support and positive comments about the work the Society is doing. The EES would not exist without its supporters and it has been an absolute privilege to work for an organisation which inspires people around the world to offer that support. It keeps us going, and propels us forward, spiritually, emotionally, and financially(!). Thank you.

The Daleks Visit Ancient Egypt (confessions of an Egyptologist, pedant and Dr Who fan)

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A little while ago, Dr Who writer, information goldmine, and pal, Simon Guerrier, sent an unusual question to mission control at the EES: when did the Daleks’ visit to ancient Egypt in the epic story The Daleks’ Masterplan take place? There is no official line but I thought I could give Simon a view, so I set about watching the one episode in question, and made a few notes. I had suspected the designs would be too bad for it to have been clear what dateable sources they were based on, but in fact they were pretty good. It’s just unfortunate that the sources used range across a couple of millennia of Egyptian history, leaving the Egyptologist shouting ‘the Egyptians never…!’ and ‘anachronism!’ at the TV a few times… Still I managed to give Simon a date and thought the evidence I used to make my case might be of interest.

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As the episode opens, the viewer finds themselves inside the stereotypical, richly decorated Egyptian-style interior. The painted walls are inspired by the Tomb of Nefertari (b. 1291 d. 1256 BC, so says Wikipedia), reign of Ramesses II, early 19th Dynasty, as in this photo of the real thing:

Tomb_of_Queen_Nefertari   Image from here.

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The room is cluttered with treasures, as in the tomb of Tutankhamun (reigned 1332-1323 BC, late 18th Dynasty) when it was first discovered. The pair of ears(?) in this shot recalls the glorious reclining Anubis buried with the boy king.


Image (copyright, The Griffith Institute, Oxford and gloriously reconstructed in colour by Dynamichrome) taken from here.

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The inscription on the pillar here appears to have been neatly done but is difficult to read. Its appearance is that of beaten gold, echoing more of Tutankhamun’s treasures especially the massive golden shrines perhaps. I can’t think of any evidence of pillars this thin having been encased in beaten gold however…



Image from here.

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The supposed mummy here is in fact the story’s bad guy, the Meddling Monk. The humour in our heroes’ realisation that they are not about to be menaced by the living dead after all, is intentional, but the flimsy metallic appearance of the coffin presumably isn’t. The design on the outside isn’t bad, however, and recalls coffins characteristic of the Middle Kingdom (2000-1700 BC), such as this one now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Image from here.

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I got quite excited at this point because of the very visible horizontal cartouche in the background. The signs seem good which is unusual for a TV / film set but I can’t quite make sense of them. I think they are a slightly fudged version of Nefertari’s cartouche, and therefore in keeping with the decoration visible elsewhere here. The beginning of the vertical cartouche with the yellow (presumably) background visible beneath, confirms it.

Images from here and here.

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Slightly later in the episode we find ourselves outdoors, apparently amongst a group of monumental stone buildings. The relief on the wall to the right (although it ought to be on the inside of the building not the outside) is reminiscent of the classic Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BC) scene of the deceased seated, typically, before a table piled high with offerings, like this one from the tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep at Saqqara:


Image from here.

The row of cobras along the top of the building in the background recalls the south tomb in the Step Pyramid enclosure (3rd Dyn, 2650 – 2575 BC):

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Photo my own (at last!).

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The style of the wigs here recalls an Old Kingdom (2686-2613 BC) type, as depicted in this famous statue from Saqqara:

185735135 Image from here.

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An aerial shot seems to confirm that we are at a pyramid site. One very large pyramid with two smaller ones visible suggests this is probably intended to be Giza but the entrance is ‘wrong’, being of a kind only found later in much smaller tombs e.g. at Deir El Medina (19th and 20th Dynasties, 1292-1077 BC), like this one:

pyramid tombs

Image from here.

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This relief seems well done and has the feel of the Late Period (Dynasties 26 to 30, 672-332 BC) – but I’m struggling to find a clear parallel (can anyone help?). This kind of scene would normally, I think, be found on smaller scale, inscribed on e.g. a naos or other kind of shrine. The inscriptions, though generally well done, do not obviously give anything away.

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The buildings below and to the right of the pyramid in this shot strongly recall the reconstructed chapel buildings in the Step Pyramid enclosure (3rd Dynasty, 2686–2613 BC):

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Photo my own.

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Towards the end of the episode we return to the location of the opening scenes. As the Doctor approaches the TARDIS (at right) he passes a wooden cabinet(?) with a metallic image of pharaoh, presumably intended to look like gold. Although it looks like no genuine artefact I know of, the iconography is obviously that of Tutankhamun, as this coffinette of his shows:

5_2_s_Exhibits_PastExhibits_Tut_Cofinette.jpg   Image from here.

One final bit of something to go on occurs in dialogue, at approx. 10.00: “…the same mortals that build war machines that throw fire. When Hyksos returns, you’ll see the end of your.. gods.” The Hyksos were a race of foreigners who settled in Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period (1650-1550 BC) and came to rule at least the Delta and northern Nile Valley if not the entire country. They introduced horses and chariotry and other military tech which may be where the ref to ‘war machines’ comes from. ‘Hyksos’ in the story seems to refer to one individual however; the words ‘hyksos’ derives from the ancient Egyptian ‘heka khasut’ meaning ‘ruler of foreign lands’ and it may just be that this was the name given to this particular individual by the Egyptians in the story, but in that case there may be no connection with the Second Intermediate Period group. In any case the reference should probably be disregarded as a dating criterion.

So, in conclusion…

There’s quite a clash of sources from different periods. The opening scenes appear to take place inside a New Kingdom tomb, but also feature a Middle Kingdom coffin (it could have been re-used…). The exterior shots show the episode to have taken place at a pyramid site, the pyramids probably being of the Old Kingdom; these scenes exhibit mostly influences from that period – 3rd through 6th Dynasties (2686-2181 BC) – as you’d expect for a pyramid site, but also one or two things that seem much later. Such sites were in use until much later periods so it could be that the episode takes place at a site dominated by Old Kingdom architecture but in a much later phase of its history. Having said that, the Old Kingdom stuff all seems in pretty good nick, so I prefer to think of it as having been set at that time, as most of the evidence suggests, and just to accept that the other stuff is anachronistic and the mistake of the BBC set designers… Sooo, I gave Simon a date of 2,300 BC – late enough in the period for considerable numbers of smaller, non-royal mastaba tombs to have sprung up around the pyramids, but not at the very end of the period when such sites were falling out of use. Does that seem fair? Do let me know what you think 🙂

By the way, Simon was asking as part of some research for a forthcoming book which I’m really looking forward to seeing: Whographica by Simon Guerrier, Steve O’Brien and Ben Morris will be published in September (2016) by BBC Books.


Communicating Egyptology in the Internet Age Part 1: fieldwork and social networks

If there is anyone out there who has read any of the posts to this blog, or been a follower of my tweets etc. they will probably be aware that I have a particular interest in the way archaeology and Egyptology are communicated. I’ve probably said this before but information and communication are the very essences of archaeology and Egyptology. Aside from the preservation of the physical remains – the curation of objects in museums or the conservation and protection of sites – just about everything else, from the moment the spade goes into the ground, is about gathering information, then documenting, interpreting and communicating it.

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Archaeologist Günter Dreyer explains the German excavations at Umm El-Qaab, Abydos to an audience of EES members

Communication can take many forms. There are many different media, all suited to different purposes. The most familiar to academics – as both creators and consumers – would probably include scholarly articles and monographs, and lectures. The wider public, meanwhile are probably more familiar with television and radio programmes, magazine and newspaper articles, exhibitions, and, these days, the internet and social media. Archaeologists and Egyptologists are the gatherers, interpreters and communicators of the information. Readers, viewers, listeners, surfers of the net are the consumers.

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The wider public are far more likely to consume their Egyptology through mass media such as television or social networks than the scholarly articles most specialists are more familiar with producing

One of the essences of the EES’ work is to provide a bridge between scholars and the wider public. This has led us, in recent years in particular, to try to embrace as wide a range of these media as possible. I have dabbled in a number of them myself. While our primary means of communication, particularly when it comes to the research the Society itself supports, remain lectures and scholarly print publications, we have made extensive use of online, particularly social, media, and communicating this way is now firmly embedded within the activities of the staff team.

A different way of thinking

Years ago, when I first started wondering how we (EES) could improve our online presence, I had initially thought that what we need was a flashier website, perhaps one of those blogs I’d heard about, and an electronic newsletter. The big institutions had that kind of thing, and we should too, I thought. Something I hadn’t realized immediately, but that quickly became apparent, was that we would need to have a think, not just about the means of conveying the messages, but what messages we would need to have in the first place. Initially, I found it very difficult to think about what ‘news’ we might have for people. There were two reasons for this: First, up that point, our ‘news’ had been generated according to a print schedule. Printing and mailing journals, magazines, leaflets etc. is expensive so we didn’t do it very often and we weren’t therefore reporting anything more regularly than twice a year, and in between times we didn’t really think about it at all. Second, most of our news focused on our fieldwork, and other developments elsewhere in professional Egyptology – this is what the Journal, the magazine and our lecture series were for after all. And historically, the work of the office staff had always been kept in the background. Initially, I thought, ‘sh*t, we in the office don’t do anything…’ but then I began to realize that that wasn’t true, and there was quite a lot going on in the office which I thought might be of interest to people, but which we didn’t really talk about.

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A page of EES ‘news’ from 2009 reporting on the first EES / MSA Delta Workshop

Most obviously, it seemed to me that the Society’s archive was an unexploited treasure trove of interesting material and activity, with the added benefit that it was on hand for staff and much easier for our members to visit than our fieldwork projects. But more generally, I realized that we were doing things that might be of interest. In the first few months after establishing a new ‘news page’ for our website we had reported on the project to gather new information and information images for a new edition of Who Was Who in Egyptology, the award of a medal for the Society’s participation in the UNESCO rescue campaign in Nubia, the gathering in Cairo of specialists for the first EES/MSA Delta workshop and a members’ trip to the Gilf Kebir.

Busier, more active, more personable

All of this, I like to think, showed the Society to be much busier and active than previously; it showed that we were doing much more work than perhaps anyone would have realized previously. No bad thing. Another important aspect of this, I think, is transparency. One of the defining aspects of the internet revolution has been in the voice we use to communicate. It’s much less formal than it used to be, much more personal and personable, more human, friendly, even. This has brought with it a shift away from the passive voice, of the faceless institution – ‘it has been agreed…’ etc. – to the active first person plural ‘we have agreed’, and eventually ‘I’ as in ‘I believe…’ etc. I talked about this in my first blog post as EES Director.

Social networks and blogging demand this. There are of course accounts set up for institutions – we at the EES have them – but individual voices are often very evident, and many institutional accounts are often explicit in saying exactly which individuals are responsible for posting to them. I think this is all a very good thing. I sense that audiences want to get to know the people doing the work they read about. The EES is an organisation of people, and we have worked hard to make sure those people’s faces and voices are familiar to our audience. It helps us to engender a spirit of participation, involvement, and that is very important.

And now for the archaeologists…

As I mentioned above, one of the challenges for us is in trying to convey the archaeological work the Society supports to the wider public. As well as creating the means for those of us at Doughty Mews to communicate via social media and encouraging the staff team to think constantly about which our activities are newsworthy, I have also tried to extend this practice to the our teams in the field. We’ve had a lot of success with this but there’s still room for improvement perhaps.

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The home of the Delta Survey’s online dig diary maintained by Pat Spencer 

The Society provides financial and other assistance to almost twenty projects in Egypt now. We can only do that thanks the generous support of our members,* most of whom are ordinary members of the public with an interest in ancient Egypt. We depend on them for almost all the funding we have to keep the operation going, and it is therefore vital that we are able to show them what we are able to do with that money in order to keep the subscriptions and donations coming. It’s a long time ago now that the Society’s Trustees accepted that we couldn’t afford not to have a presence on social media, given the number of people using Facebook, Twitter and the rest (one billion unique users in a single day on Facebook recently…). The pact between the Society and its archaeologists which requires that regular scientific reports are submitted for publication if funding is to continue, is also long established. I wonder how long it will be before we are no longer able to accept that any one of our teams ‘does not do social networks’.

Don’t just do Facebook and Twitter, do it well

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The landscape at Quesna has become very familiar thanks to the numerous photos Jo Rowland has posted to her Minufiyeh Survey page

Most of the Society’s longer established teams do now have a presence on social media, most obviously the series of ‘blogs’ we have set up using Tumblr as a platform, although they are more like ‘dig diaries’ than blogs – which seem to me more for personal views and opinions – at the moment. These have been great: regular photographs have given us all an idea of the setting for and the people involved in the work. I feel I really know the, previously unfamiliar, Delta sites that Jo Rowland or Pat and Jeff Spencer have been working in over the years as a result. They also convey a sense of the work in progress, and of the way information is gathered and a picture of an ancient site, people, or ways of life is built up over the course of a season, in a way that an end-of-season report cannot. Again this is about a sense of involvement. Many of our members have told us that they would have liked to have been archaeologists themselves; there’s no possibility for them to work on an archaeological site in Egypt – a dream for so many people of course – but being able to support the work of our teams, and to feel that sense of involvement, is the next best thing.

A vision for the next few years / the perfect online excavation?

So, I think we’ve made great strides. But, not all of our teams’ are allowing us this insight into their activities yet, and it’s very interesting to see how some are doing certain things very well, while others have different strengths. Here’s my tuppence worth on the things I think make up the perfect field project online:


Our subject and photography go together perfectly. It’s no coincidence that Egypt was the setting for one of the first great photographic expeditions, that of Francis Frith in 1856; the light in the country is fabulous, the monuments and artistic canons are bold and exotic (to the western mind at least), and in any case a photograph conveys so much more than a description or even a drawing can. In fact they are often all that’s needed – just a photo and a short caption.

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We’ve been asking the online community to send us the photos that they think best represent the EES in the 21st century lately, using the hash-tag #MyEESPic. More info here.

Short form (Twitter, Instagram)

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An image and a simple caption, in less than 140 characters, can be a very effective way of engaging an audience

Twitter and Instagram are perfect for this kind of thing. Twitter imposes limits on the number of characters available (140) so you have to be very concise in what you say; this is a constraint but it can also be useful – it helps focus the mind on what you really need to say, and this also makes posting quick and easy. And there’s no limit to the number of posts you can upload of course, if you have a lot more to say. The British Museum’s Amara West team (including project director, Neal Spencer) has made excellent use of photos as a quick and easy way to show what they’re doing. Both Twitter and Instagram offer huge potential audiences, of people who want to consume content of exactly this kind: quick, easy and very visual. These are people who may simply not want to read longer pieces, who, in other words, would be lost to us if we weren’t embracing these media.


The other thing that Twitter in particular does very well is to provide ‘headlines’ or ‘teasers’ leading to further information through hyperlinks. Twitter is a brilliantly effective way of sifting quickly through the information-overload for the things you want to learn more about, a bit like flicking quickly through the entire newspaper then turning back to spend more time on the stories you really want to read. I would suggest that those archaeologists who simply don’t want to write in 140-character text-speak, should nonetheless be using Twitter to post links to their longer pieces, because for many people Twitter is the best, if not the only, source of information about such things. Some Twitter accounts are nothing but aggregators and redistributors of content from elsewhere. Some of the best for our subject are ‘Talking Pyramids‘ and @SusanLlewellyn (an EES Trustee!).


There are multiple social networks of course and some might be put off by the need to keep them all up-to-date. The simple way around this is simply to have your accounts set up so that they automatically post content to all your pages. I have accumulated 2,000 followers on my professional (as opposed to my separate, personal) Facebook page in the last 8 months or so, and yet I barely ever post anything directly to it – almost everything I do is posted to Twitter and automatically also appears on Facebook.

A sense of the day to day

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Pat Spencer’s post on the Delta Survey team kit

Some of my favourite archaeological blogs are those that give you a sense not just of the subject matter but of the process; not just the archaeological material, but the people uncovering it and how they went about it, and also what it’s like to work on an excavation in Egypt. I was really struck the first few times I joined such projects that the experience was not just about the archaeology, but at least as much about where we lived, the food, the journey to work, the people we worked with, the Arabic words and phrases you pick up – none of which is available in the reports I had read up to that point (and which made up most of the EES’ output about its work until a few years ago). Most of our teams have got to grips with this very well now – recent favourite posts of mine include Pat Spencer’s on the Delta Survey team kit (which reminds me of the ‘what’s in your bag’ meme), Jo Rowland walking the dog in Shibin el-Kom, and the eating of cakes during the Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Survey Project.

Interestingly this is, I think, what so many people find so fascinating about the 1930s EES work at Amarna: the team found some wonderful things, connected with one of the most celebrated and popularly fascinating periods in history – the Amarna Period –  but we also know more about the team members and their daily lives thanks not only to a rich archive of archaeological documents, but Mary Chubb’s account, Nefertiti Lived Here, and the films that John Pendlebury and co made. They tapped into the same popular fascination with how things are done that has led the BBC to conclude its wonderful David Attenborough films about he natural world with ten-minute shorts about ‘the making of…’

…while not forgetting the archaeology itself

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While ‘life on the dig’ is important, the archaeology itself should not be forgotten

None of this means we should exclude the archaeology however, and this should remain the main theme. We at the EES have to be a bit careful here as the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities requires that it be notified of new ‘discoveries’ before they are announced, however this generally means the more sensational finds of the kind that interest the media , not the every-day material. The best blogs are those that convey a sense of the story of the site unfolding. Pat Spencer’s account of the Delta Survey’s investigation of the temple at Tell Buweib is a good example. The Facebook page for the Amarna Project, and  iMalqata and Amara West blogs are excellent. Notably in both these last two cases, the blogs are authored by different team members from one post to the next, providing different perspectives and different voices, but very explicitly.

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Screen capture from the Amarna Project’s Facebook page showing a wedjat eye-ring recently discovered in the North Tombs Cemetery

Get involved – come to lectures, support or work etc.

I’d also like to see some of the EES’ blogs linking more to content elsewhere. As I said above most of them function diary-style, day-by-day accounts and all are inactive outside the field season. All field projects have a life outside the fieldwork however. I’d like to see more accounts also providing links to reports on previous seasons (Penny Wilson’s page on the work at Sais is very good for this) further reading, other complementary work, and opportunities for people to engage with the work such as notices about public lectures, and the occasional note encouraging readers to support the work would also be very worthwhile; again engendering that idea of involvement is very important, especially if it leads to an increase in financial support!

Last thoughts:

There is a skill to all this; I’m not suggesting that everyone will be good at it. This reminds me that around fifteen years ago when archaeologists were only just beginning to become aware of the internet and long before Facebook and Twitter were created, the Amarna Royal Tombs Project recruited a journalist, the much-missed Paul Sussman, specifically for the purposes of communicating with a public audience online. I think it’s a shame that this hasn’t been taken up by more archaeological projects since. In the same way that I think it’s a shame that John Pendlebury and his team’s efforts to capture life on excavation – which continue to fascinate us all over eighty years later – weren’t repeated. I think archaeology would be better off if these examples were followed!

If you’re not already an EES member, please consider helping to support our vital archaeological work by joining (see here) – we’d be delighted to welcome you!

The tomb of Nefertiti, concealed within Tut’s?

Wouldn’t it be great?

A sculptor's trial piece with an image of Nefertiti. Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society
A sculptor’s trial piece with an image of Nefertiti. Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society

News of a new theory that has been circulating since the end of July hit the mainstream media last week (see e.g. The Economist, The Guardian and the BBC). Dr Nicholas Reeves, a highly regarded Egyptologist specialising in the history of the late eighteenth Dynasty, has suggested that new images of the interior of Tutankhamun’s tomb, show evidence of two, previously unknown doorways. Even better than that, according to Reeves, the doorways were deliberately concealed in ancient times, and have never been breached since; one leads to a chamber containing further burial equipment belonging to Tutankhamun, the second to a corridor, itself leading to a second burial, of none other than Nefertiti herself.

The burial chamber of the tomb of Tutankhamun
The burial chamber of the tomb of Tutankhamun

I’m not nearly as expert in such things as some of my colleagues but when I was asked to provide some comments on BBC Radio 5Live last week, I began scribbling some ideas and thought they might be worth airing a little more fully here. Initially, I guessed the media had already oversimplified things, making Dr Reeves’ suggestions sound far bolder than perhaps they really were. However, his paper, which is freely available online, is entitled ‘The Burial of Nefertiti?’. He’s not beating around the bush here…

The Amarna Period: a perfect storm

I’ve admired Dr Reeves’ work for a long time (this paper on ‘An Eighteenth-Dynasty Burial Reassembled’, which I saw him present at a conference in Providence, Rhode Island, is a riveting masterpiece of detective work). He is one of half a dozen or so academics who specialize in scrutinizing the material relating the royal family of the Amarna Period, a family that included Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, and others whose identities remain the subject of intense debate. By going over the evidence in the very finest detail, Nick and others have been able to tease new information out of it, altering our understanding of the period, which is at once perhaps the most dramatic in Egyptian history and also one of the most obscure, at least in the finer points, which fuels the fascination.

As a result, the Amarna period is perhaps the most closely examined of any period of ancient history and certainly the most popular among Egyptophiles (Dominic Montserrat’s excellent book, Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt is a brilliant study of the continuing fascination with this pharaoh and his times). This is hardly surprising given it presents something of perfect storm: we know enough to show that this was clearly a fascinating era of extraordinary goings on – an entirely new religion, a revolution in art and iconography, a brand new capital city, a very odd looking king, an incredibly beautiful queen, and a boy buried with the most fabulous haul of archaeological treasure. But there’s enough that we don’t know, sufficient gaps in our knowledge, to provide the very most fertile ground for speculation and interpretation, and for forensic analysis of the evidence to change the picture, often quite dramatically. Three examples:

  1. In 1968 a first X-ray examination of Tutankhamun’s mummy was undertaken by Dr Rex Harrison of Liverpool University. Harrison detected a tiny fragment of detached bone within the cranial cavity leading him to suggest that the king had suffered a blow to the head, which was the interpreted by the media to mean that he was murdered. (This idea has since been discredited – the fragment is now thought to have detached after the king’s death and is therefore nothing to do with how he met his end).
  1. In 2004 Professor Jim Allen of Brown University recognized that the epithet ‘Akhetenhes’ (3xt-n-X.s) which followed the name of an Amarna period pharaoh named Ankheperure, should be read as ‘effective for her husband’ indicating that this ruler of Egypt was not male, but female…
  1. In recent years Reeves’ own close inspection of the iconic death-mask of Tutankhamun led him to suggest that it was reworked into the boy king’s distinctive portrait having originally been made for someone else, specifically Nefertiti (see this report in The Times and also the forthcoming papers here and here).
Was the the death mask of Tutankhamun originally made for Nefertiti?
Was the the death mask of Tutankhamun originally made for Nefertiti?

Tut was murdered! Ankheperure actually a woman! Death mask was really made for Nefertiti! There is no other period of Egyptian history about which such minute observations generate such excitement.

The case

Reeves’ new paper is a riveting read. The story starts with his examination of new, very high resolution images of the surfaces of the walls in Tutankhamun’s burial chamber created by Factum Arte as part of their recreation of the tomb. These provide a picture of the shape of the walls, their contours and texture, and reveal a series of unexpected ‘shadows’ on the western and northern walls, which Reeves believes are the evidence of the two sealed doorways.

Screenshot of one of the high resolution images available from Factum Arte: http://www.factumfoundation.org/pag/210/High-Resolution-Image-Viewer
Screenshot of one of the high resolution images available from Factum Arte: http://www.factumfoundation.org/pag/210/High-Resolution-Image-Viewer

Starting from the premise that these are doorways, Reeves then builds a case for what might lie behind them over the course of just over 11 pages. He argues that the chamber opening from the west wall of the burial chamber would have been used to store further burial equipment belonging to Tutankhamun, in similar fashion to the ‘Annexe’ and ‘Treasury’ discovered by Howard Carter. Other royal tombs of the age incorporate four such chambers, positioned approximately at the four corners of the full extent of each tomb’s plan, at ‘2, 4, 8 and 10 o’clock’ to use Reeves’ analogy. The proposed new chamber would give Tut’s tomb three such chambers; a fourth would be impossible however as the ‘4 o’clock’ position is occupied by the entrance passage.

The shadows on the north wall of the burial chamber are altogether more significant in Reeves’ estimation. He believes they indicate not only a sealed doorway, but that this was set not into solid rock but a screen wall which forms the blocking to a corridor. And this, in its dimensions and alignment, corresponds to, and is a continuation of, the antechamber of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Reeves’ conclusion is that the burial chamber of Tutankhamun was simply an enlargement within what had previously been a single corridor, leading to an earlier tomb. Reeves goes on to argue that the architecture suggests it must have been the tomb of a Queen, but that the dimensions of the corridor – larger than that of the descending entrance passageway – suggest it was enlarged at a certain point to allow the ingress of a larger set of funerary shrines than had originally been anticipated – due to a change in the status of the royal woman in question. It is Reeves’ belief that Nefertiti became pharaoh first as a co-regent with Akhenaten, and subsequently, following her husband’s death, as sole pharaoh under the name Ankheperure Smenkhare. So, as Reeves would have it, we should be looking for a female pharaoh who status was elevated at a certain point necessitating a change to the design of the tomb, and this could only be Nefertiti / Smenkhare.


Reeves provides plenty of evidence for his case and his argument proceeds clearly and logically. However, objections to his theory will no doubt be raised (and already have been see e.g. here); although I am not a specialist in this bit of Egyptian history myself I suspect they might include some of the following:

Central to the theory is that we have not yet discovered either the tomb, burial equipment or mummy of Nefertiti. However…

  1. There are other candidate tombs already known, e.g. among the royal tombs at Amarna and those in the Valley of the Kings.
    Main entrance passageway inside the royal tomb at Amarna
    Main entrance passageway inside the royal tomb at Amarna

    Nefertiti’s tomb may might also yet lie undiscovered elsewhere in the Valley. Reeves himself has previously suggested that an ‘anomaly’ beneath the surface in an unexcavated part of the Valley of the Kings may be the tomb of a royal woman of the Amarna period, perhaps Nefertiti (see here). This theory cannot be conclusively proven one way or another until the area in question has been completely excavated.

  2. We should not expect burial equipment to survive – in the case of the Egyptian royals it generally hasn’t – Tut’s is the exception – although Reeves’ point that almost nothing of Nefertiti’s other than what was reused by Tut has turned up anywhere is nonetheless interesting.
  3. Claims have been made that the mummy of Nefertiti has already been discovered, and should be identified with the ‘younger lady’ of KV 35.

And of course even if Reeves is right, and we haven’t already found these things, there’s no conclusive proof that they must have survived. We only have a fraction of what material must have existed in the past of course. It also seems reasonably likely that such things would not even have survived much beyond the end of the Amarna Period. The jumble of material discovered in KV 55 suggests that some of the Amarna royals’ burials were disturbed and reinterred. This may simply have been due to the shift back to Thebes and the Valley of the Kings after the brief period during which the royal court and cemetery transferred to Amarna, but might it not also have been connected with the Egyptians’ deliberate attempt to remove all trace of the ‘Amarna heresy’ from the records? Tutankhamun clearly was given a proper burial, despite having been sufficiently close to the Amarna heresy for his name to have been omitted from official kinglists such as that at the temple of Sety I at Abydos.

The cartouches of Amenhotep III and Horemheb side by side in the Sety temple king list at Abydos. The names of the Amarna pharaohs including Akhenaten and Tutankhamun who lived in between these two have been omitted as they were considered not to have been legitimate rulers only a short time afterwards
The cartouches of Amenhotep III and Horemheb side by side in the Sety temple king list. The names of the Amarna pharaohs including Akhenaten and Tutankhamun who lived in between these two have been omitted as they were considered not to have been legitimate rulers only a short time afterwards

But he was the pharaoh during whose reign the old ways, including Amun worship, were reintroduced, as his ‘restoration stela’ and change of name (he was TutankhATEN – ‘beloved of the Aten’ – before becoming TutankhaAMUN – ‘beloved of Amun’) show. So there may be some justification for arguing that we might not expect Nefertiti’s burial to have been left undisturbed, even though Tut’s survived intact.

Detail from a throne discovered in the tomb of tutankhamun whose name is here given as TutankhATEN - a relic from the time before the worship of Amun was restored and the king changed his name
Detail from a throne discovered in the tomb of tutankhamun whose name is here given as TutankhATEN – a relic from the time before the worship of Amun was restored and the king changed his name

One aspect of the argument which has already been contested elsewhere is Reeves’ identification of Nefertiti with Smenkhare; they may not have been one and the same. And one thing that I find particularly puzzling: how and why was the proposed ‘new’ doorway in the western wall so well concealed when those leading to the annexe and burial chamber were not at all hidden, and the entrance to the Treasury not sealed at all? Reeves makes a good case for the ‘corridor entrance’ in the north wall having been quite different but why would the third storage chamber have been so much better concealed than the other two?

Of course the entire case will collapse if the shadows apparent in the new images turn out not to be the evidence of a concealed chamber and corridor, but rather natural faults or the beginnings of architectural features that for one reason or another were then aborted.

A very good thing for Egyptology

In any case though, I love the story. Egyptology needs hooks like this, things that will draw people in, lead them to read a book they wouldn’t otherwise have picked up, visit a museum when they might otherwise have taken a day trip elsewhere, or choose a holiday in Egypt when another destination might otherwise have seemed more appealing.

There is also an awful lot to learn from Reeves’ paper. Even if he’s wrong about the doorways, his argument is mostly very sound and he brings in lots of good evidence, with all the appropriate references to further literature which readers might otherwise never have come across, and will now be encouraged to follow up. The paper was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, which arguably undermines the case somewhat and will lead some to criticise, but it is clearly argued, very well illustrated, and generally very well presented in an entirely scholarly fashion. The advantage of avoiding the peer-review process is that the paper is now freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection, and much more quickly than it would have been had it appeared in the pages of a recognised journal. This has undoubtedly contributed to the reader statistics: as I type it has been viewed over 72,000 times, and that, I can tell you, is far more attention than any scholarly paper in Egyptology would normally get. Full credit to Dr Reeves then for publishing a sensational idea and having the in-depth argument to back it up ready for anyone to consult. The availability of the very high resolution images online thanks to Factum Arte is an added bonus (and it’s great fun playing with them too).

Until we know for sure, the possibility is tremendously exciting. There is no other branch of archaeology I can think of that could generate such excitement. Tutankhamun, Nefertiti, undiscovered treasure and an untested theory: it all makes for precisely the kind of story that fascinates so many thousands of people, puts ancient Egypt in the news, and draws people like me into doing what we do for a living. It occurs to me though, that if ‘tis better to travel than to arrive’, it actually might be better while we don’t know – if there’s nothing there at all then the story will disappear entirely; and even if Nick is right, I suspect something will be lost in knowing… For now, it’s a very exciting possibility.

The future of EES publications / making a backlog of unpublished fieldwork available

There is no point in doing archaeology unless you publish. We were beaten over the head with this doctrine as undergraduates – appropriately, of course, as this is one of the most important principles of our subject. Archaeology, or excavations at least, are destructive. They are unrepeatable experiments. Once the deed is done only the records remain. Any benefit there is to be gained in terms of knowledge is lost with the excavator unless the records can be preserved and much better still of course, shared as widely as possible – through publication.


Some of the earliest Excavation Memoirs in the EES library

The Society’s contribution to the establishment of standards in archaeology publishing is among its greatest achievements. Beginning with the first expedition – albeit driven by reasons that were financial as much as intellectual – it was agreed that the results of the work should be circulated to subscribers in the form of an ‘Excavation Memoir’.

“It was the intention of the Council to print M. Naville’s memoir on Pithom-Succouth and to present it to every subscriber, or donor, for 1882-3, of £1. Mr. Poole suggested the advantage of small subscriptions, and that friends should club together and send in a subscription of £1 under a single name, in order that no-one should lose the opportunity of reading this memoir.”

– From Egypt Exploration Fund. Report of First General Meeting and Balance Sheet (1883), p.4.


Naville’s volume on The Store City of Pithom and The Route of the Exodus, the very first Excavation Memoir

The Society has now published over one hundred such Excavation Memoirs, a further century of Graeco-Roman Memoirs (GRM), and dozens more in the Archaeological Survey of Egypt and other series. Other than the many sites and monuments uncovered by our explorers and excavators, these books are the most tangible legacy of the Society’s 133-year history. They have been the most enduring of all the many means the Society has used to disseminate the results of its work, and to have been able to remain so true to the way the Society operated at its very beginning is something of a source of pride, comfort even. However, they are not the be all and end all; they are not the ends in themselves, but the means. It is nice, perhaps, that the Society is still producing what it calls ‘Memoirs’ – the arcane name emphasises the association with the past but confuses the uninitiated, allowing the initiated to indulge in the exclusivity of being in the know. However, not to ask whether they represent the best way of sharing information in the twenty-first century would be to abandon our founders’ creativity and innovation, and embrace of new ideas, and we must therefore be wary of prioritising the maintenance of tradition over staying truthful to our mission.  

The current review

In recent years it has become increasingly difficult to publish the results of the Society’s work in memoir-form, for various reasons, and a review of our outstanding publications commitments is now underway. This is designed to ensure:

• That the results of the Society’s research reach the scholarly community – now, and in the future;
• That those results are accessible to as wide a variety of audiences as possible.

During the years (late 1940s to 2009) when the British Academy grant provided ample funds for fieldwork but little for the resulting publications, a considerable backlog of unpublished material was allowed to build up. Over the last few years steps were taken, successfully, to reduce the backlog, and many more memoirs were produced than had been the case previously: 42 in the years from 2005 to 2014, compared to 13 in the ten years prior to that (excluding the GRM).


Recent Excavation Memoirs on sale via the Society’s online bookshop

Nonetheless, a substantial amount of material, arising from several field projects, remains outstanding. In the past it had been considered essential that this material be published in monograph form. However, we can no longer consider this as our only approach, firstly because of the cost, and secondly because this may not be the most effective way to ensure the results of our work reaches a significant audience, now and in the future.

Although we are still in the very fortunate position of being able to rely on our authors to give up the time to write up their work without any payment from the Society, the cost to produce our memoirs is now very high. At the same time, demand has fallen. In the past the sale of Memoirs represented a lucrative source of income for the Society. We are now rarely able to recover the full cost to produce these volumes however, and each year the publications programme represents an investment of income raised from other sources such as subscriptions and targeted donations, through the ‘sponsor a book’ model.

The volumes are very expensive to purchase. Moreover they are highly technical, requiring a lot of prior knowledge, and as a result we sell very few copies directly to our members. We now print very few copies of each volume – it is not economical for us to retain stock for longer than two or three years at most – each title is generally only available for a year or two before it goes out of print and afterwards it is then only accessible through libraries (including those of the EES).  

Publication in this form is therefore not allowing the results of the work to reach as wide an audience as we might hope for…

Egyptology in the Digital Age

The digital revolution has transformed the ways in which information is circulated and consumed, affecting what libraries will buy, what students will read, how people come to be interested in ancient Egypt and crucially for us, whether or not this leads them to read our publications, attend one of our events or take out a subscription. There is now far more available to scholars, students, our members and others in interested in archaeology and Egyptology, and we face much greater competition from a bewildering variety of content-creators and media than we ever have before. The demand for ‘open access’ publication is another challenge, the nature and extent of which is not yet entirely clear but you can be sure it will not make it any easier for the Society to benefit financially from publication.


Egyptological literature is increasingly consumed in electronic form, to the extent that print is becoming irrelevant to some audiences. It will soon be possible to read The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology this way as soon as it is published

The backlog and how to turn transform it into something positive

The backlog of unpublished material amounts, currently, to over fifty proposed memoirs. In the present circumstances the Society cannot afford to produce more than a certain limited number each year – roughly five – therefore without taking any decisive action we would be stuck with the backlog for a very long time.

We are now determined to find another way; to balance the benefits of traditional publication against the responsibility we have to make the material accessible without any further unnecessary delay. We have resolved to make good on all the outstanding publications commitments, some of which have been with us for decades, within a realistic timeframe. Our intention is that a clear and achievable plan should be in place that will allow us to make all the material in the backlog accessible within the next three years. We anticipate that much of this material will be published in the traditional format, however, alternative solutions will be sought in other cases.

We see there being three basic options:

1) Publication in the traditional form, as an EES memoir;
2) Publication in abbreviated form as a summary article to be published in JEA (or another specialist journal if more appropriate); any scholars requiring greater detail will be encouraged to consult the original documentation in the archives;
3) No publication (by the EES) but any scholars wishing requiring greater detail to be encouraged to consult the original documentation in the archives and to publish themselves.

Option 1 requires no explanation but as we have seen, it will not be viable or desirable for the Society to publish all of the outstanding material this way. 

Option 2 presents a viable and desirable alternative: JEA is widely circulated – much more so than our Memoirs at present – and, we anticipate, will be available in electronic from 2016 onwards (negotiations are presently underway). It also now includes abstracts in Arabic allowing us to engage with previously untapped audiences in Egypt. In general the Society’s archive is now better equipped to receive this ‘new’ material, than it has before as a result of the efforts of Carl Graves, Maria Rubin, Alice Williams and others who have led the process of cataloguing the collection according a new information framework and internationally recognised standards, and re-housing the material in newly refurbished, temperature- and atmosphere-controlled spaces at Doughty Mews, in conservation standard cabinets, boxes, and folders.


The Society’s collection of archival material is now better looked-after and more accessible than ever before


Researchers in the Society’s library

Option 3 is least ideal from the scientific point of view: clearly the information is most effectively presented to the reader, and is therefore most accessible in that sense, when ‘worked up’ for publication, ideally by those responsible for creating the documentation in the first place, i.e. the field director and his/her specialist team members. Furthermore, copies of any such publication can be widely circulated, whereas the original documentation can only be consulted ‘on the spot’ in the archive (although this is changing, see below).

As we have seen, publication, at least in the traditional sense, is no longer financially viable. Nor is it as effective as it once was in conveying the information to an audience. Making the material available through the archive is significantly cheaper than traditional publication. Moreover, it is no longer always essential to visit the Archive in person in order to consult the collection: the process of digitising the archive was begun several years ago; it will be no small task to cover the entire collection but the selection of material for this process is often driven by researchers’ requests. In the future we will be able to make it our priority to digitise material which had been intended for publication but for which option three, above, was instead chosen, according to the needs of the scholarly community.


The Society is rapidly digitising its archive allowing material to be circulated quickly and easily without any need for researchers to visit its offices in person

Crucially, even if option 3 seems less than ideal, we must recognise that it may be the only realistic option in some cases and most importantly, it is much better than the present situation in which the material is not available to anyone at all while publication is awaited. In some cases, such publications have been awaited for many years, and it remains unclear if or when they might be produced. It is this unacceptable situation that the current review is designed to address. 

The need to plan for the long term

In addition to this need to avoid keeping information from people, there is a second driver of this review: the need to plan for the future. Currently, the Society is financially healthy, in terms of its assets – in other words we have a good amount in the piggy bank. This has meant we have been able to plan to spend more money each year than we have expected to bring in – in subscriptions, donations and publications or ticket sales. It has allowed us to keep all of our activities going (see e.g. fieldwork and research), and to expand many of them (see e.g. events, the archives, communications and ‘in Egypt’ – here and also here) while also making significant and necessary changes behind the scenes.

We are in a very good position at the moment, and the organisation is probably doing more than it ever has before. If things proceed as we expect them to, we will be able to sustain our activities at the current level for the next three years. After that point, however, things are less certain; assuming subscription revenue follows the trends of the last few years, costs continue to rise, and we don’t get any further substantial legacies – and we have to plan on this basis of course – we will have to consider changing the way we do things in order to continue making the best use of the resources we have available.

Now is therefore the time to clear the publications backlog, to make good on our obligation to make all the information our teams have gathered available, and to give ourselves the best chance of transforming the Society into vibrant, dynamic, useful, vital, but crucially also sustainable, organisation we all want it to be in the future.

Finance and collecting: fascinating but neglected aspects of the history of Egyptology

*This piece was originally drafted in mid-2012 but was held up pending publication; this never happened so I decided – much later, in 2015 – to post the original here in the hope that it might still be of some value / interest.

Two seminars

A little while ago I attended two fascinating seminars, each on an important but poorly understood aspect of the history of our subject.

The first, held on 2 May 2012, was organised by Amara Thornton, of the UCL Institute of Archaeology History of Archaeology Network, and dealt with ‘Financing Archaeology: the economic history of archaeology – perspectives of the past for the future’. I contributed a paper entitled “… of universal, profound and very touching interest. My topic is money.” The Egypt Exploration Fund and the financial imperative (for the full programme see http://goo.gl/B32Dv).

Stephen Quirke of the Petrie Museum and I organised the second, ‘Beyond the Usual Suspects: less well-known and unknown collector and sponsor names in the ‘acquisition history’ for antiquities from Egypt and Sudan’, which took place at The EES on 9 May 2012, on behalf of the Association of Curators of Collections of Ancient Egypt and Sudan (ACCES).

Funding is a constant issue for archaeology and Egyptology: money for research is generally in shortly supply, and the need to identify and cultivate sources of it is an essential part of the job for most who are actively engaged in the field, perhaps never more so than in today’s troubled economic times. The extent to which these concerns have affected work undertaken in the past, and in turn how this has affected what we know about the history of Egypt and other countries, is a crucial aspect of the study of our subject.


Left: a three-coffin assemblage discovered by Edouard Naville on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Fund at Sidmant in 1891. Right: the innermost coffin, made of cartonnage which was ‘divided’ by the EEF to the McLean Museum, Greenock where it remains to this day. See further here.

Archaeology is a very important contributing factor in the development of our understanding of the ancient past, as is the distribution of objects from ‘source’ countries such as Egypt to Museums and other collections around the world. Collectors of antiquities, and the objects they amassed, which often subsequently passed to Museums, played an important role in this. Collectors needed money to buy their objects of course, and in many cases the same people also helped to finance organisations like the EES whose primary aim was the recovery of information, but which also acquired and distributed objects – the material remains of the civilisations they were devoted to – as part of the process. Of course, in some cases these collectors may have not have been motivated purely by a desire to support scientific endeavours alongside building their own collections but also in the hope of influencing the movement of objects if not to their own collections then to public institutions in their local area, whether that be a particular country or even more specifically to a particular town or city. And so, collectors and excavating institutions were intimately linked – by money and in the process by which objects came to be scattered across the world.

The was a good deal of synergy between the two seminars therefore.

My particular interest, as always, was in the history of Egyptology and the EES’ contribution to this. At both events I was keen to emphasise the potential offered by material in the EES library and archives for improving our understanding of these issues, while also conceding that I hadn’t yet had the chance to make as much use of them myself as I would have liked.

To what extent did collectors of Egyptian objects also wish to support the EES financially?

Who were the people who did both? How do the amounts provided to the EES by such individuals compare to the amounts they spent acquiring objects? To what extent was their support of the EES motivated by a desire to influence the acquisition and distribution of objects as opposed to a ‘no-strings’ desire to further the Society’s scientific endeavours?

Is there a correlation between the amounts contributed to the Society by individuals and institutions, and the distribution of objects (individually in the case of ‘star’ pieces, or interns of quantity or type)?

What was the geographical distribution of the collector/supporters? How did this influence the distributions of objects, or the establishment if centres of interest e.g. in the North-west?

The Society’s Annual Reports include lists of the names of subscribers and the amount each contributed, and in some cases an indication of their geographical location as they are divided according to which local honorary secretary received their subscription. These could in future be compared with the distribution lists which record the destinations to which each object ‘divided’ to the Society was then dispatched to see to what extent there was a correlation as described above.

Other questions include:

What proportion of EES funds were expended on:

  • Excavations (and in what proportion from one project to the next)
  • Publications
  • Lectures, exhibitions and other educational/promotional activities
  • Overheads

How were these choices made, by whom and according to what strategy?

To what extent were the activities of each ‘fund’ (Excavation Fund, Archaeological Survey and Graeco-Roman branch) all funded discreetly/separately from one another, and when were they all amalgamated so that contributors no longer made the choice as to which fund their money was put?

What was the circulation of publications: how many individuals, institutions and public libraries, and where – in the UK and beyond?

One of the most interesting aspects of all this, for me at least, is how much of it is still so relevant today!

A New Way of Supporting Fieldwork

Despite being Director of the Egypt Exploration Society, I haven’t written a lot about fieldwork on this blog but, as you might expect, I have probably given more thought and time to this aspect of our activities than any other in the last couple of years.


The excavation of a Third Dynasty mastaba by by Dr Joanne Rowland and her EES team at Quesna

Right now, is perhaps the most exciting time for the Society’s fieldwork programme for several years. In the last few days the news that one of our teams, led by Dr Joanne Rowland at Quesna, has discovered, uniquely, a Delta mastaba dating to the reign of king Khaba, has hit the news. With less fanfare, though it is important in its own way, we have also recently announced a series of new grants for fieldwork, allowing the Society to extend its reach to a greater number of sites throughout Egypt than ever before.


The Society will be supporting a wide range of projects throughout the Delta and Nile Valley in 2015-16 (see here for an interactive map)

We’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years overhauling the way we fund fieldwork in Egypt. The previous situation amounted to something of a ‘closed shop’ in which we funded a group of individuals and projects based on agreements made long ago in the past. The projects were largely open-ended, and collectively they absorbed all the funds we had available for field research, which meant the Society was quite restricted in what it could do. We had no possibility of funding other projects or work elsewhere, except in small ways, through, for example, the Centenary Awards, or when additional funds have been available as in 2008 and 2009 when we were able to make small grants from the Excavation Fund for work at sites including Amarna, Ismant El-Kharab, Sesebi and Tell Basta.


An EES grant from the Excavation Fund supported Dr Kate Spence’s work at Sesebi in 2009

Don’t get me wrong, this was nobody’s fault, it was just a situation which had arisen organically over many years. I don’t mean to imply any criticism of anybody, and absolutely not of the field directors or their work. We have been extremely fortunate to have some of the finest archaeologists and some of the most important sites on our books, and that we have been able to retain them all despite the withdrawal of the British Academy’s support which had provided most of the funding required to keep them going for over half a century up to 2009, is a testament to their resourcefulness and loyalty. Everybody at the EES can be very proud that thanks to their expertise, imaginative and innovative approaches, and their willingness to share their work so freely and regularly with our members, we remain among the most highly regarded institutions carrying out archaeological fieldwork in Egypt today.


Dr Angus Graham and his team have been pioneering the use of a variety of techniques to improve our understanding of the ancient environment and how it affected, and was manipulated, by the people of the past

The old situation of the British Academy days was glorious in its way. The annual grant-in-aid allowed the Society to put down roots at a series of the most important sites in Egypt over a number of years – Amarna, Memphis and Saqqara, Qasr Ibrim and others – investigating those places to an extent that would have been impossible otherwise, and our knowledge of ancient Egypt is much richer as a result. It also meant that the EES could be the major supporter of these projects in all aspects: not just funding for fieldwork, but publication, an archive to house the original documentation, and an opportunity to engage with ordinary members of the public through the Society’s membership on a scale that was the envy of most, if not all, of the other institutions overseas that the Academy supported.


Professor Bryan Emery’s numerous discoveries at North Saqqara in the 1960s and 70s were funded by the British Academy grant

The withdrawal of the Academy grant, understandably, had immediate consequences. Most dramatically, the Society’s involvement with fieldwork at two of its most important sites – Amarna and Qasr Ibrim – ceased, although we continue to be involved the publication of the results of EES work at both sites. Fortunately for everyone, Professor Barry Kemp was able to continue his work at the former site independently, and his expedition continues to thrive (and is now supported again by the Society, see more below) as The Amarna Project. Unfortunately, the long-running fieldwork at Qasr Ibrim had to cease altogether.

For the last few years we have been able to maintain the remaining projects, and have even added one or two more, but all at a much-reduced level in financial terms. Nonetheless, to have achieved this in the face of such a dramatic cut in funding – the amount received from the British Academy each year when we last received it in 2007 was roughly double what we are able to spend now on fieldwork and equates to around one-third of our total income now – represents quite a success I think. We have done so by making savings elsewhere, drawing on reserves and doing everything possible to raise additional funds e.g. for the Excavation Fund, and The Amelia Edwards Projects have also allowed us to provide additional funds for our field teams while also giving our members more of a say in the work that gets done, and our ever-reliable supporters have responded with characteristic generosity to this way of doing things.


Dr Penny Wilson at Tell Mutubis where her research has been funded through donations to the Amelia Edwards Projects

I had felt for some time however that in addition to doing everything we could to find more money to support our existing projects, we also needed to give ourselves more flexibility to choose where to spend our money each year. Aside from removing a very substantial amount of money from our annual income, the withdrawal of the grant also made things much less certain. In this brave new world, although I was confident that we would be able to raise good amounts of money, I knew we couldn’t rely on it and that some years would be better than others. In a very good year we might be able to provide our teams with everything they needed but in other years we might be forced into making some very difficult decisions as to which projects we could fund and which we could not. It seemed prudent, to say the least, to prepare for that eventuality sooner rather than later.

In any case, by this time, the EES could no longer act as the sole supporter of its own projects, as has in fact been the case for several years. Our field directors have all been extremely active in raising funds of their own to supplement what the Society has been able to provide. For example at the beginning of this century Penny Wilson succeeded in getting a major grant from the AHRC for work at Sais which, since that time, has been co-branded as a joint project of the EES and the University of Durham; the Society’s Delta Survey headed by Jeffrey Spencer has for many years been funded by a small grant from the British Academy; Jo Rowland’s work at Quesna has regularly received support from a variety of sources including the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust and the German equivalent of the British Academy, the DAAD through her connections to the Freieuniversität Berlin.


Patricia and Jeffrey Spencer’s Delta Survey work is an approved project of the British Academy from which it receives an annual grant

These projects have, thanks to the efforts of the field Directors, shown how what the Society’s can offer can be made to go so much further in partnership with other institutions and funding bodies.

There were two further reasons for wanting to give ourselves a little more flexibility.

Firstly, since the Arab Spring it has been very clear that ancient sites and monuments remain as threatened perhaps as they ever have been. I felt very strongly that it we were to remain true the vision of our founder, Miss Edwards, we needed to give ourselves every opportunity to direct what resources we have available to the sites and projects that most urgently require them.


Penny Wilson training local Ministry of Antiquities inspectors in survey methods at Tell Mutubis

Secondly, doing archaeology in Egypt is just different now. There is a much greater appreciation now that research is only one part of the process and that other things must be considered. The Ministry of Antiquities has prioritized the training of its employees in field techniques and provided foreign missions like ours with opportunities to play a part in this. There is also a growing appreciation of the importance of ensuring that the results of these investigations can be used to help local communities understand and appreciate the ancient remains all around them, and of the potential this has for helping to ensure their long-term survival.

We began the process of changing our process at the beginning of 2013. Thanks to a generous legacy received in 2011 we were able to make £100k available over two years to sustain the existing projects under the old way of doing things. But this came with the difficult message that we could not guarantee to provide them with funding after this point. The new EES grants, which were advertised at the end of last year, represent the new way of doing things. Thanks to further generous legacies received in recent years and members’ continuing generosity in supporting the Excavation Fund, we have been able to set aside approximately £50k in each of the three years beginning on 1 April 2015. We invited applications for grants of up to £15k, stipulating that the applicants must be UK citizens or affiliated to a UK institution – including the EES, meaning any of the existing projects working in the Society’s name would be eligible to apply.  I had expected that we would receive applications from the existing EES projects as usual, and hoped we would also receive a good number from projects that were new to the Society, giving us the opportunity to choose from a wider pool, and to compare those that were familiar to us with some that were less so.

The outcome, which was announced very recently here, is very satisfying. The existing EES projects have in several cases received funding from elsewhere and this has allowed us to support several new ones, at sites in the Delta and Nile Valley, including Tell El-Amarna, representing a very welcome return to a site with which the Society has had very close connections for over a century. Furthermore, we have been a bit more ‘joined up’ in our thinking than in the past: having received (as always) more worthy applications for Centenary Awards in 2014 than we have funds available to support, we decided to fund one or two more of the applications through the main grants and also from some surplus funds available from the British Academy grant for the Delta Survey. All in all, we are now involved in supporting more projects in Egypt at the moment than ever before. The interactive map here provides further details.


Dr Eva Lange drawing what may be the dromos of the temple of Bastet at Tell Basta

Our work here is by no means done, however. We will be keeping a very close eye on the portfolio of projects to ensure that the resources we have available are being put to best use, and that the Society’s impact on archaeological research in Egypt is as great as possible. I will be doing a lot more thinking about this in the coming months but this seems like a good time to share the thinking so far and to celebrate what we have been able to do at this point. But watch this space for more…

And in the meantime, if you’re an early career researcher we’d love you to apply for a Centenary Award; we’re currently inviting applications, but the deadline – 1 May, 5.00pm BST – is rapidly approaching. And for anyone eligible to apply for one of the new EES grants, the next round will be announced this autumn.

Reinventing the Society: exploring, recording and sharing knowledge

What does the EES do?

Our mission statement can be found on the home page of the Society’s website and reads as follows:

“Since its founding in 1882 the Egypt Exploration Society’s mission has been to explore ancient Egyptian sites and monuments, to create a lasting record of the remains, to generate enthusiasm for, and increase knowledge and understanding of, Egypt’s past and to raise awareness of the importance of protecting its heritage.”

We should also remind ourselves of the objects of the Society as they are set down in the Memorandum of Association. This document governs what the Society does and cannot be changed without the approval of the UK Charity Commission. According to the Commission’s website, “’Objects’ is the term we use to describe and identify the purpose for which your charity has been set up. They do not say what it will do on a daily basis. If the objects clause allows your organisation to do something which the law does not recognise as charitable, or the wording used is unclear, your organisation is not considered to be a charity”

“The Charities Act 2011 defines a charitable purpose, explicitly, as one that falls within the following list (see here) of thirteen descriptions of purposes and is for the public benefit.” In the Society’s case its objects fall under the headings ‘The advancement of education’ and ‘The advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science’.

Those objects are:

“(A) to advance the education of the public with reference to Ancient and Medieval Egypt and countries in the same region; and

(B) to promote art, culture and heritage by raising the knowledge, awareness and understanding of the language, history, arts, culture, religion and all other matters relating to Ancient and Medieval Egypt and countries in the same region.”

Interestingly, the preservation of sites and monuments is not explicitly mentioned, although ‘the advancement of environmental protection or improvement’ is recognized as a charitable purpose and provides for the establishment of “bodies set up for … the preservation of … historic buildings in general” (see here). In any case, to my mind, the preservation of Egypt’s ancient sites and monuments, is, ultimately, the reason why the EES exists. Every part of our very diverse programme of activities ultimately feeds into this aim albeit some more directly than others.



Some might be undertaken with other, secondary aims in mind such as promotion, fundraising, or encouraging people to become members but as I have attempted to show in the diagram above everything in some way is a response to the threat that the physical remains of Egypt’s past stand to be lost along with the knowledge they provide if efforts are not made to ensure they survive. This of course was what spurred Amelia Edwards into founding the Society in the first place and her rationale for doing so remains as relevant today.

I have been thinking about this a lot in the last few months as my colleagues and I have recently agreed a series of strategic priorities for the next three years. Now is the right time to be doing this for several reasons:

First of all, following the Organisational Review, the new staff team has been in place for over a year now and has had a chance to get to grips with the day-to-day business of running the Society, and can now turn its attentions to longer-term, strategic issues, making the changes that will ensure the Society can continue to flourish for many years to come.

Secondly, we are changing the way in which we fund archaeological fieldwork in Egypt. During the last couple of years we have been asking ourselves some fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of what we are doing in Egypt, and how we can continue to maximize impact with what little resources we have available. I will talk about this in more detail very shortly…

Thirdly we have recently been able to offer, in open competition, a series of opportunities to archaeologists and Egyptologists, particularly those of the younger generation and/or those in Egypt. These include the long-established Centenary Awards – financial support for small research projects – , places on English-language courses through the British Council in Cairo, and scholarships for Egyptian researchers to visit the UK. In the last couple of years we have received over 400 applications for these opportunities; going through them was a lot of work but it has given us a wonderful opportunity to get to know many more of the most promising and talented people in our field than we would have done otherwise. Part of the benefit of this has been that it has shown us a little of what people are doing in terms of research, or their day-to-day work, for example at the Ministry of Antiquities; moreover, it has shown us what could be achieved, with a little support, for example from a research grant, or a scholarship.

This has set my mind racing: having ‘met’, whether in person or on paper only, so many of the next generation of archaeologists and Egyptologists, I have a much better idea of where the challenges and opportunities are and this is crucial from the EES’ point of view because it is helping shape my thoughts on how we should steer what we are doing in order to maximize the impact and benefits of what we can do in partnership with these people and others like them.

Over the course of two further posts (one written one to come), I want to explain how all this rethinking is going to shape the Society’s activities in terms of the two main ways in which we are helping to safeguard Egypt’s heritage for the future: 1) fieldwork in Egypt and 2) gathering and sharing archaeological information.

Stay tuned…

The 2014 EES Scholars


L-R: Reham Zaky Mahmoud, Mohamed Youssef Aly, Moamen Saad, Afaf Wahba, Rabee Eissa and Mohamed Gamal Rashed

The 2014 EES Scholars have been and gone. The last, Dr Mohamed Gamal of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, departed a week ago last Friday. My colleagues and I have now had a good amount of time to reflect on the programme – in what ways it has been a success and, crucially, how we can improve for next time. What follows is a much more expansive ‘think piece’ than I had originally planned. It includes a series of observations I have made about the scholars, but also the unsuccessful – but mostly very worthy – applicants, and by extension the wider field of young Egyptologists studying for higher degrees in the subject at Egyptian universities. I am not a specialist in higher education, but thanks in large part to the scholarships I have come to know the field perhaps better than most, and this experience has given me a lot to think about. I want to set my thoughts down so that I can show them to others who might know better and who might be able to improve my understanding of the situation. This is important because I sense that we have the opportunity to make a positive difference, and I hope that by offering my thoughts I might at least help move the discussions forward. There are no doubts others who have had similar experiences and who may have contrasting views, or who might conclude that mine are somewhat naive, but I’ve not yet across very many others who have made their thoughts and if nothing else this is meant to be a way of starting the conversation.



The Ricardo A. Caminos Library at the Society’s offices in London

In September, six of the brightest, young Egyptian archaeologists, Egyptologists and Museum curators visited London to take advantage of the Society’s extensive library and unrivalled archive for their research, and to visit colleagues and institutions throughout the UK. From the outset, the basis of the offer was quite straightforward: we were very aware that we had resources available in London, particularly our world-class Egyptology library, which were not at all times stretched to the limit, while at the same time there are many in Egypt working with ancient sites and monuments on a daily basis who have no access to any such facilities at all. Simple. We have certainly succeeded in helping the scholars by providing access to such resources, but the programme has been beneficial in far more ways than this alone.

The expression of intent was well-received from the outset. I first mentioned wanting to bring “more Egyptians to the UK, to contribute to and/or to benefit from our own education programme and from visits to other Egyptological institutions" in a blog post written a few weeks after I became Director, in March 2012. The idea of ‘scholarships’ was put to the membership as a project we would like to undertake should sufficient funds be forthcoming in late 2013 (see here) but only really became a reality in Spring 2014 when the British Council, Egypt agreed to support the idea by providing the funds to bring first three scholars the UK. The Council subsequently offered to extend its support to allow us to increase the number to six. The announcement of the competition for places was warmly received as a clear sign of our intention to maximise the impact and usefulness of the Society’s work in Egypt.


The Society’s Cairo Rep, Essam Nagy, outside the EES Office within the British Council buildings in Cairo where the interviews took place. The Council provided the necessary financial support for the scholarships.

Getting to know the field of candidates

The response to the announcement was overwhelming: we received approximately 100 applications for the six places. Going through them took a long time but it was an enormously interesting and useful process. I realised straight away that this was a golden opportunity to get to know some of the brightest young heritage professionals in Egypt: to know what they were working on, what their aspirations were, and what challenges they faced in trying to reach their goals. We interviewed nineteen, and whittling that number down to six was very difficult indeed. The candidates we selected all brought excellent research projects and had clear ideas about how they would use their time in London, but also how the scholarships would be of benefit to them in their work after they returned to Egypt.


With Egyptology students at Cairo University, with which are developing closer links, in March 2014

One of the most interesting aspects of the process to me was that the vast majority of applicants were postgraduate students, affiliated to one of the half dozen or so universities that offer Egyptology tuition at that level, but were also, at the same time, working within the Ministry of Antiquities (MSA) either as antiquities inspectors attached to particular sites in Egypt, within the central administration in Cairo, or as curators in the major museums. Although we have a longstanding and very good working relationship with the MSA and have only recently begun to develop relations with the universities, principally Cairo and Faiyum Universities so far, I had thought that it would be a good thing to extend the scholarships to university students as well as MSA employees, who would normally be our priority. I hadn’t realised that this would make little difference as most grad students were MSA employees anyway.


Many MSA Inspectors such as Mohamed Abuelyazid of the Sohag Inspectorate, here showing me around the temple of Athribis / Wanina, are studying for higher degrees while working full-time

Many had been working for the MSA for some years in fact. It is not the case in Egypt that you finish your studies before starting your career in the profession, as is usually the situation in the UK and elsewhere, where these days most who are able to find work within the subject have obtained a doctorate before beginning the process of applying for jobs, for many of which a degree at that level is a minimum requirement. It will come as a surprise to some therefore, just how many Egyptian professionals are already in gainful employment in the field in Egypt apparently far earlier in the process of gaining qualifications than their British counterparts.

The academic vs the practical part I: a competitive advantage missed?

It should be borne in mind, that most of these MSA jobs do not require the same skills that are developed through graduate research in Egyptology, but more practical skills, in heritage management, field archaeological techniques, or object handling etc. (as is also the case with most Egyptology jobs elsewhere – Egyptological research is rarely more than one part of most Egyptologists’ jobs).

It was nonetheless very interesting to see that in many cases the applicants’ research did not relate directly to their day-to-day work at the Ministry. Despite the distinction between academic research and practical skills as outlined above, it seems a missed opportunity that more students are not connecting their research with their day jobs, given how many are already working with ancient material at first hand, even while studying at Master’s degrees level. In fact, despite all the challenges faced by Egyptian research students by comparison with their counterparts from elsewhere in the world, the one obvious advantage the Egyptians might, in theory, have over everyone else is in the access they have to primary material and the unique opportunity to study sites and monuments in situ. And yet, as the scholarships have shown, many are undertaking essentially library-based research, and are heavily dependent on published material, much of which is simply unavailable to them in Egypt. This, of course, is one of the things that has given us the opportunity to help. But we can only do so much: the are many more promising young Egyptologists with jobs to go to – vital jobs on the frontline of Egyptology, caring for the sites and monuments – than we can accommodate on the programme, and even for those we can bring to the UK, one month, massively helpful though it is, is not the same as having access to those libraries etc for years on end as students in the UK do.


Rabee Eissa at work at the EES

I wonder if Egypt could make more of the competitive advantage it should have in being able to offer its students such unrivalled access to the sites and monuments. Rather than having its students try to compete with the rest of the world’s by pursuing library based research, in which they are at a considerable disadvantage, dissertations should be more closely focussed on the primary material they have to hand in a way that no student outside Egypt could ever have.

Safeguarding Egypt’s Heritage

This would be doubly beneficial of course given the likely impact on one of the Society’s main priorities: from the EES point of view particularly, but also more generally perhaps, it seems to me that helping to preserve and document primary material, particularly that which is still in situ as this is the material that is perhaps most vulnerable, should be a higher priority than reinterpreting material that has already been documented and/or is kept in the relative safety of museum collections.

The ultimate aim for the scholarships and other initiatives like it which have the aim of helping with the development of young Egyptian professionals, collectively, should be to ensure that Egypt’s sites and monuments are looked after by the best people in the world. Nobody really wants to admit to this but achieving that immediately would mean the Ministry employing an awful lot more foreigners than it does at present, as in general, Egyptologists, archaeologists, museum curators, heritage managers etc are better trained elsewhere than in Egypt. But for other reasons it would not be appropriate or practical for the Ministry not to be staffed, at least in the main, by Egyptians. Our aim is to help redress the balance for our Egyptian colleagues by providing them with opportunities, training and exposure to the best practices and specialists we have to offer in the UK. Ideally, our Egyptian colleagues should be able to compete with their foreign counterparts for jobs anywhere in the world, and one might even expect them to have an advantage over their colleagues from elsewhere given their exposure to the primary material as argued above.

Two ‘Egyptologies’, one international, one isolated

One important point of note here is that for most foreign Egyptologists the discipline is thoroughly international. We all are required to read books and articles written in languages that are to some extent foreign to us. We all travel, to Egypt of course, but also to other countries, for conferences, to study in other institutions or to examine particular objects, and, for many, to find employment. Most job opportunities in the subject around the world will attract an international field of applicants, and as a result many professionally employed Egyptologists work in countries other than the ones they were born in.


PhD theses written in Arabic in the Egyptology library, Faculty of Archaeology, Faiyum University

This seems to be much less the case for our Egyptian colleagues. Travel is much harder for economic reasons, and access to the international literature is limited. A body of literature in Arabic has developed instead, and the two are mutually exclusive, which cannot be healthy – the ‘gene pool’ for Egyptology would be much stronger if the two were combined. My knowledge of the literature in Arabic is next to non-existent but I suspect this isolated, separate strand of the subject is probably, dare I say it, not on a par with the international literature. And many Egyptologists in Egypt are trained using this alone as it is so much more accessible both in terms of the books and the language within Egypt.

Our Egyptian colleagues need to join the international community in a way that they do not at present if this balance is to be redressed. So what’s my point here? Well, firstly, the international community has the opportunity – and therefore the responsibility – to help by providing opportunities, and I’m pleased that we have made a small contribution to this through the scholarships.

A lack of time

Another obvious challenge faced by the applicants was that, as they were working full-time at the same time as studying – and many also had families to look after – they had very little time left to get on with their academic work. With the result that many take years longer to complete their higher degrees than would normally be the case elsewhere. It was interesting to note that many used the word ‘registered’ to describe their status as students, as if they were students on paper, but in reality had not time to do any studying at all. In fact, several applicants admitted openly that one of the benefits of getting a scholarship would be that it would allow them time away from their work to concentrate on their studies. Could the Ministry perhaps find some funds to allow even just a select group of its most promising employees paid leave to complete their dissertations, perhaps in partnership with overseas institutions which might assist financially and/or in the provision of library and other resources? I don’t have the solution to this of course, but the greater the awareness of the issue the more chance there is of finding that solution.

The academic vs the practical part II: day-to-day work

Although I had originally thought we would be awarding scholarships to those with the best research projects, most of the applicants brought both research projects and entirely distinct day to day responsibilities with them, and it therefore became clear by the time we had finished the interviews that we would have the opportunity to help in other ways as well.

In fact, in the end, having six places to offer gave us the opportunity to reward candidates on varying bases: some simply has excellent research proposals, in line with our original intention; others were among the few whose research dovetailed very nicely with their day to day work; in other cases, we wanted to reward candidates working in key roles within the Ministry, connected with, for example, the current problem of the illicit excavation and trade in antiquities.


Elizabeth Miles of the Griffith Institute, Oxford explains how new information on objects in private collections is added to the Topographical Bibliography which could be a crucial aid for Reham Zaky and her colleagues in the Repatriation Department at the MSA in their efforts to track the movement of Egyptian antiquities 

Our experience with the successful applicants over the last few weeks has helped develop our ideas on this too. My colleagues, Essam Nagy in Cairo, and Carl Graves and Hazel Gray in London took on the organisation of the scholars’ stay in London. Hazel, in particular, organised a very busy programme of visits to Museums around the country, mostly to see their Egyptian collections and to talk to colleagues. What was interesting about this was that the more museological aspects of what they saw – the arrangement and display of the objects, interpretation, signage, visitor facilities etc. – were as useful and interesting to the group as the Egyptology.


Liam McNamara of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and Mohamed Gamal discussing the re-display of the Egyptian collections at the Museum

Previously I would perhaps have tended to think of what the EES has to offer in more narrowly Egyptological terms; we do not do heritage management, museum studies etc. That is the job of other organisations like English Heritage or The National Trust, at least in this country, but perhaps we should see our role more in those terms where our activities in Egypt are concerned. Egyptological research is only one aspect of what is needed in Egypt and probably not the most urgent by any means, and we are already beginning to think about how we can build more than just research into our expeditions to Egypt, most of which have been doing much more than this on their own initiative and/or with prompting from the Ministry, but we will be doing this in a more coordinated way in future. And in terms of how we can assist our colleagues, we might not think that heritage management is really our thing, but if we don’t provide this kind of assistance, who will? The British Museum’s International Training Programme provides assistance on the museums front, but we have the opportunity to act as a gateway between our Egyptian colleagues and heritage professionals of all kinds in this country. Our scholars’ visits to non-Egyptological sites such as Stonehenge and the city of York, and a very productive meeting with one of Trustees, Susan Daniels, who works for English Heritage, has shown how useful we could be in this way.

The next steps

So what next? I very much hope that funding will allow us to repeat, or expand, the programme and in the basics in fact there is not a great deal that I would change. The first group would have preferred a longer stay; the many excursions and meetings we arranged were very well received but it left the group with less time than they would have liked to get on with their research in our library and archives. We would like to extend the duration of the stay from one month to six weeks next time, and will aim to tailor the programme more closely to each candidate’s needs so that each visits only those people and places that are most useful to them, and they do not all feel obliged to join every excursion.

I think we also have an opportunity to help provide some non-subject specialist skills of the kind that are taken for granted among student in the UK, and which would allow potential future scholars to maximise the benefits of a visit to London. To this end the next round of Amelia Edwards Projects – a diverse group of innovative, small-scale, new initiatives we put to our members each year – will include a project to send one or more experienced Egyptologist researchers to Egypt. They will be based in the Society’s Cairo Office for three months, to contribute to the Society’s programme of lectures and classes, and to assist our Cairo staff member in the development of other educational activities, particularly the provision of training in writing applications, preparing and delivering oral presentations, making the most of library and archive resources with the use of research tools such as the Online Egyptological Bibliography, the Topographical Bibliography (‘Porter and Moss’), Who Was Who in Egyptology and so on, and writing up their research for publication.

It is enormously gratifying that something which began as an idea a couple of years ago quickly attracted the support – from an organisation with as much reach and influence in Egypt as the British Council – we needed to put it into action, and that it has been such a success. It’s just as exciting to think about what it might lead to next, and that in making the most of our resources and contacts to assist in the development of those on the frontline of Egyptian Archaeology, at the sites, monuments, museums and storerooms of Egypt, we may only be at the very beginning.

Watch this space!

UPDATE 29 Oct 2014: The scholarships featured in the following piece published in The Guardian last week: ’New generation of archaeologists takes ancient Egypt into 21st century

The EES and the Trade in Antiquities


EES Excavations underway at Oxyrhynchus

The Egypt Exploration Society’s connection with the trade in Egyptian antiquities is as follows:

1. The Society’s mission is: “to explore ancient Egyptian sites and monuments, to create a lasting record of the remains, to generate enthusiasm for, and increase knowledge and understanding of, Egypt’s past and to raise awareness of the importance of protecting its heritage.”

The illicit excavation of and trade in ancient material clearly runs contrary to these aims, for the following reasons:

  • It renders any information about provenance / archaeological context – which is crucial to the interpretation of objects and they information they themselves provide – entirely unknowable;
  • It renders those objects that never appear on the open market unknown themselves;
  • It poses a risk to objects and the sites at which they are found, which may be damaged by the excavators who, we can assume, are not trained in the appropriate techniques for removing ancient material safely;
  • It deprives scholars and the wider public of the opportunity to study or enjoy the objects;
  • The ‘success’ of such illicit activity, as defined by the amount of money to be made from the sale of the objects excavated, encourages the proliferation of similar activity elsewhere in Egypt, exacerbating all the above problems.

Furthermore, although not directly related to the Society’s aims, it is worth noting that such activities also deprive Egypt of the opportunity to benefit from objects which are a part of its heritage.

2. The Society has in the past been responsible for the distribution of material, which its archaeologists excavated and recorded scientifically, to public collections around the world, with the blessing of the Egyptian authorities. It was intended that such material would remain in public collections in perpetuity. However, in some cases, the institutions to which material was distributed have chosen to sell the objects in question on the open market, potentially to private collections, compromising the Society’s intentions. As above, such sales:

  • Deprive scholars and the wider public of the opportunity to study or enjoy these objects;
  • Encourage the proliferation of similar sales and, potentially, illicit excavations, to generate further profits.

Allow me to elaborate…

The Society has conducted excavations, surveys and other archaeological work in Egypt under license from the Egyptian authorities from 1883 to present. Many thousands of objects (‘portable antiquities’) were uncovered during the course of this work and transferred for their safety and preservation to secure locations, usually the Egyptian Museum, now situated on Tahrir Square in Cairo.


Objects from the EES’ 1931-2 excavations at Amarna being sorted by representatives of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Taken from the moving images presented here

Under the ‘partage’ system the Society, and other excavating institutions, were, until the 1980s when the system was stopped, regularly allowed to retain a portion of the objects removed during the course of its excavations, at the discretion of the antiquities service. These objects were transferred to London and exhibited to the public as a record of the Society’s work during the year. 


View of the EES exhibition of 1931

They were subsequently distributed to museums and other public institutions in accordance with the following clause in the Society’s Memorandum of Association:

“"(c.) To make, maintain and exhibit illustrative collections of antiquities and other things relative to, or connected with, any of the objects of the Society, or to present any such antiquities or things to any public body, university, school, library, or other similar institutions.”

This was initially, in 1888, listed among the ‘objects’ of the Society but was subsequently included instead under the ‘powers’ the Society might exercise in furtherance of its objects. In other words it changed from being something the Society should do, to something it could do if that were to help it achieve its aims. This clause is still there today (for the current version see here). In practice though, there has been no possibility of the Society doing any such thing for many years. A change in Egyptian legislation ended the ‘partage’ system in 1983 and all objects excavated by the Society since that time have remained in Egypt, in the care of the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA, previously the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Egyptian Antiquities Organisation (EAO) and Service des Antiquités). The Society has never acquired antiquities any other way and certainly not through purchase. In fact, even prior to 1983, it was never the Society’s practice to retain objects but rather to distribute everything it received from the Egyptian authorities, shortly after the end of each summer exhibition. The important part of the clause, and that which is relevant to the sale of antiquities today, is the second part: “…to present any such antiquities or things to any public body, university, school, library, or other similar institutions.”

The intention here is clear, I think.

The sale of objects from Harageh by the St Louis AIA


The tomb group from Harageh. Image from www.bonhams.com

Recently a group of objects, a ‘tomb group’ excavated by Flinders Petrie at the site of Harageh, near to the Faiyum Oasis in Egypt, was put up for sale at auction by Bonhams of London. The objects had been in the collection of the St Louis branch of the American Institute of Archaeology (AIA) to which Petrie had sent them in exchange for a financial contribution towards his ongoing excavations. (It is important to note that the St Louis branch is distinct and separate from the national AIA – see further, below). Although Petrie was not working for the EES at this point but under the auspices of his own organisation, the British School of Archaeology in Egypt (BSAE), this was typical of the way both institutions worked. Clearly, the offering of these objects for sale went against Petrie’s intention that they should remain in a public collection, and against what the Society and other organisations like it is trying to achieve today. Public collections offer the best hope that ancient objects are safeguarded against loss or deterioration to their condition, and that they will remain accessible to scholars and the wider public for study and enjoyment. Objects which are sold on the open market may be transferred to collections which are not required to provide such safeguards, and which have no obligations to make the material they contain accessible.

Shortly after learning of the sale (and with little time left to lose before it took place) it was agreed that a statement objecting to the sale should be issued in the name of the EES and the UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, as the successor organisation to the BSAE. Our two institutions were founded and run along very similar lines, and the system of partage was in fact established following discussions between Petrie, then working for the EES, and Gaston Maspero of the Egyptian antiquities service (see Drower, ’Gaston Maspero and the Birth of the Egypt Exploration FundJEA 68 (1982)). Most importantly, many thousands of objects excavated by the BSAE and EES were distributed to public collections in the UK, USA and elsewhere and remain in those collections today. Much stands to be lost if further material of this kind is offered for sale. It was not only the case of the Harageh objects that was of concern therefore, but the potential for further such sales in future.


‘Bonhams criticised for Egypt treasure sale’, The Daily Telegraph, 2 October 2014

My colleagues and I felt it was crucially important to adopt a clear and robust stance against the sale, and to make clear the grounds for our objection. In other words, for once we wanted not to take it for granted that everyone would know why it was bad that these objects were being sold, but to spell out as clearly as we could why that was. We hoped that our names (personally and institutional) would give the message some clout, and did what we could to ensure that the message was circulated as widely as possible, succeeding in getting it picked up by the mainstream media (in e.g. Medavia and The Daily Telegraph – see above image). We considered raising the possibility there may also be legal grounds for objecting to the sale but as the situation from this angle was unclear we felt it better to focus on the ethical case; we also chose not to mention any of the other high profile cases when Egyptian objects have come up for sale, such as the auction of the Northampton statue of Sekhemka (see the excellent piece by Mike Pitts, here), which involved similar but not identical issues. 


The objects are withdrawn from sale at the last minute…

On the morning of the sale, the objects were withdrawn. We later learnt that negotiations, unbeknownst to us, had been underway in the States, to arrange for the objects to be sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was a good outcome in that they will remain in a public collection, of the very highest order in this case. It was not all good however. It led to very positive statements being released by both Bonhams and the St Louis AIA (quotes here) celebrating the role they had played in bringing this about. However, it seems very unlikely that this would have been the outcome were it not for the actions of others, principally the negotiators in the US. And let’s be clear, both had other reasons to celebrate: both must have made considerable amounts of money from the sale of these objects to the Met. And worse, there was a second lot, a headrest which had also come from Petrie’s excavations at Harageh, which was sold at auction and has now disappeared from view – the worst case scenario. The St Louis AIA did not respond to our petitions, nor to those of the central AIA which has also now issued a statement expressing its “grave concern” at the sale. The statements from St Louis and Bonhams ignored all of this and in fact suggested that there was nothing wrong with the sale after all, perhaps to clear the way for further sales in future. This is very dangerous; our aim was to stop the sale on ethical grounds, partly for the sake of these particular objects but moreover to create a precedent that would deter any other organisation in a similar position to the St Louis AIA from disposing of their objects in the same way. The triumphalism of the St Louis and Bonhams statements may, on the contrary, encourage further sales.

Again, let’s be clear:

  • Ancient objects like this should be maintained in public collections;
  • They are not there for anyone to profit financially from their sale;
  • Such sales encourage others to act in the same way, and, worst of all, encourage illicit, criminal activity – looting – in ‘source’ countries such as Egypt.

Still work to do…

Several of those involved in the campaign in the UK are continuing to investigate the legal situation to try to establish whether or not organisations like the St Louis AIA which received objects from the EES and/or BSAE have the legal right to sell those objects. The regulations of both suggest not, but it is not yet clear whether these have any legal force. There is a frustrating lack of documentation, not a single example of a signed contract relating to the transfer of ownership to the receiving institution for example, to help clarify things.

There are many positives to take from this case however. It is a significant step forward for the Society that we have given such consideration to the issues which we have always been aware of but only perhaps in general terms, and adopted such a clear and robust position. We have a momentum now, and will be better equipped if and when another similar sale occurs. I hope we have helped raise awareness of the issues as well (this post is also intended to play a part in that) and the reasons why sales such as this are problematic. It has also thrown into focus how fragile and impermanent our own actions can be. As Egyptology has reached sufficient age that it has gained its own history, the archaeologists of the past come to be seen as historical figures themselves, actors in an ongoing narrative. It is now clear that the distribution of objects, such an important past of the EES’ legacy, may also be much less permanent, and more vulnerable and transient than those who found the objects might have hoped. Objects of incalculable value for the story of humanity were lost until they were dug up by Petrie and his successors so that the whole world could come to know them again. We have them back, he might have thought, and we won’t lose them again. Or will we? That is exactly what is at stake here. How much better off are we when objects that have been recovered from the sands simply disappear again into anonymous, untraceable collections?

Lost … then found … then lost again …


The Society’s distribution lists show to which public institutions the objects were sent

The truth is that the cavalier manner – this is how it seems to us now – in which the distribution of objects was handled – the lack of documentation is sadly, characteristic of the way a great deal was and handled in the past – has meant that that the EES and BSAE gave away, at that point, any control they might have had as to what happened to the objects. Fortunately, the vast majority of the objects concerned went to institutions that have endured and operate according to similar principles, and have remained in those collections. We are aware of exceptions however, going back to the middle of the 20th century at least, and there may be other cases we are unaware of. In fact it came to my attention while we were working on the Harageh case that a relief fragment excavated by the Society at Amarna had previously been sold by the St Louis AIA in the 1970s. We have no effective means of keeping a track of all the objects distributed by the EES over the years, although Dr Stevenson’s new project, ’Artefacts of Excavation’ may retrospectively provide us with a picture.


Amarna relief fragment. Image from www.bonhams.com

So this isn’t a new issue but our recent efforts are nonetheless vital, as the problem seems to be getting worse. Looting in Egypt has undoubtedly increased since the revolution of January 2011, and is exemplified by the horrors witnessed at El Hibeh and described by Prof Carol Redmount in the most recent issue of Egyptian Archaeology. We cannot know what has been lost as a result – this is part of the problem – but it is a safe bet that material has been sold onto the market as a result; much will have entered private collections entirely under the radar of Egyptologists and the authorities; in a few cases such material has appeared more publicly and been returned to Egypt (see e.g. ‘A collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts recovered from London’). The Repatriation Department at the Ministry of Antiquities has been successful enough in this to stage an exhibition of recovered pieces in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo recently.


The Egyptian Museum, Cairo, June 2014

Two papyri in that exhibition were excavated by the EES at Saqqara in the early 1970s and stolen from a storage facility no later than 1996 at which time they entered a private collection. That they were no longer at Saqqara where they should have been was spotted by Demotist, Cary Martin while he was working on the texts for publication. With his assistance, and the full cooperation of the owner, Martin Schøyen, the Society arranged for them to be returned to Egypt via the Egyptian Embassy in London.* The papyri will be published in the next volume of the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology later this year (H S Smith, Cary J Martin and Sue Davies, “The Horhotep Letters’ from The Sacred Animal Necropolis at North Saqqara’ JEA 100 (2014), forthcoming).

In the last few weeks alone several further cases have come to my attention. I was contacted by a friend in the Abydos inspectorate pointing out that a head of Ramesses II, part of a group statue, and still in place on the king’s shoulders, in situ in the small temple of that king in the early 1980s, was currently on sale in London. Another statue excavated by a project connected to the EES in 2011, and presented at a conference in London in September, was subsequently revealed to be on sale in Brussels. This apparent rash of cases may be coincidence but we cannot afford to take that chance.

*I am grateful to 2014 EES Scholar Reham Zaky for confirming that the papyri in the exhibition were those from Saqqara. 

UPDATE 30 Oct 2014: I presented some of the thoughts in this post at the conference, ’To publish or not to publish? A multidisciplinary approach to the politics, ethics and economics of ancient artefacts’ on 25 October 2014. The slides from my presentation are here.