State of the Field 2016: Archaeology of Egypt

The Joukowsky Institute will host a workshop called State of the Field: The Archaeology of Egypt from September 23-24, 2016. Our gathering builds on a tradition of “State of the Field” workshops hosted by the Joukowsky Institute to reflect upon trends in North American archaeological work and pedagogy in a range of geographic areas.

The workshop will have four sessions, each dealing with the ways in which boundaries are being broken in Egyptian archaeology.

Temporally, Egyptian archaeology is changing as it incorporates both new periods–pre- and post-pharaonic–and as it breaks free of its traditional role as the handmaiden of history.

Geographically, Egyptian archaeology is bringing increasing nuance to the exploration of relations between Egyptians and other places and peoples.

Methodologically, Egyptian archaeology draws on recent advances in technologies and techniques ranging from remote sensing to bioarchaeology.

Politically, Egyptian archaeology had and has to adapt to new regulations and changing policy within the Supreme Council of Antiquities, now Ministry of State for Antiquities, as well as to deal with increased security problems and looting due to post-revolution events. New projects also aim at involving local archaeologists and organizing field schools.

These four sessions are meant to highlight the ways in which the field is still struggling in each area, how it can improve, and why it needs to do so. We wish to appeal to a broad audience of archaeologists, and to take feedback from their experiences excavating outside of Egypt to inform the development of our own field.

The workshop is free and open to the public. No registration or RSVP required.

Please contact [email protected] for additional information.


Friday, September 23rd, 2016

5:30 pm
Welcome by Peter Van Dommelen, Director of the Joukowsky Institute

Introductory Remarks by Laurel Bestock (Brown University), Miriam Müller (Yale University), and Jen Thum (Brown University)

Keynote: Stuart Tyson Smith (University of California, Santa Barbara) – “Entanglements: Egypt and Nubia, Anthropology and Egyptology”

6:45 pm Reception


Saturday, September 24th, 2016

9:00 am
First session –  “Breaking temporal boundaries”: Introduction – Laurel Bestock (Brown University)

9:10 am Josef Wegner (University of Pennsylvania) – The Archaeology of Messy Politics: Recent Evidence on Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period

Many scholars have observed the inadequacies of the long-engrained division of Egyptian history into the Kingdoms and Intermediate Periods. Compartmentalizing long eras of cultural and social change under these single overarching terms fundamentally detracts from the understanding the dynamic political and social changes that span these large historical phases. Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1700-1550 BCE) is a phase where historical and archaeological evidence continues to challenge us. Standard interpretations of the era revolve around an essentially bipolar model: a territorial division of Egypt into a northern Hyksos Kingdom (15th Dynasty), and a southern Theban Kingdom (16th-17th Dynasties) which grew from the southward retraction of the final stage of the Middle Kingdom (the 13th Dynasty). The recent discovery of a royal cemetery at South Abydos consisting of the burials of eight Second Intermediate Period kings, and including the previously unknown ruler Seneb-Kay, provides new evidence for this period. Rather than a bipolar model we see indications a more complex mosaic of territorial and political division. The Second Intermediate Period emerges as an ever more complex era, determined by political forces of the Hyksos in the Nile Delta, the impact of the Kerma kingdom in Nubia, and competing factions within the Egyptian Nile Valley. New research by archaeologists working from the Delta to Nubia will help to further refine our understandings of this crucial phase in Egypt’s development.

9:30 am Elizabeth Bolman (Temple University) – The Red Monastery Church: Breaking Boundaries

The early Byzantine triconch sanctuary in the Red Monastery church, near Sohag in Upper Egypt, has been the subject of a fifteen-year project of conservation, documentation, analysis and publication funded by USAID and administered by ARCE. This dynamic monument breaks numerous boundaries: temporal, geographical and methodological. It contains an astonishing array of figural and ornamental paintings that cover the surfaces of an equally remarkable multi-tiered architectural ensemble. The sanctuary and its decoration date to the late fifth and sixth centuries, thus well beyond the standard temporal scope for Egyptology. The church, which was almost completely unknown before conservation, undermines the longstanding view that Upper Egypt was geographically and culturally isolated in this period. Instead, it demonstrates unequivocally that this region was thoroughly integrated into the early Byzantine world. This fact has gone unnoticed by art historians, and thus the conservation and publication of the building is radically altering our picture of visual production in the empire. Newer digital methods of documentation undertaken during the project, including an online, interactive 360 panorama of the triconch and the laser scanning of the entire church make the church available to a global audience and preserve a high-quality record of its state at the end of the project.

9:50 am Response: Ian Straughn (Brown University)
10:10 am Discussion

10:40 am
Coffee break

11:00 am
Second session –  “Breaking geographic boundaries”: Introduction – Susan Allen (Boston Museum of Fine Arts)

11:10 am Gregory Marouard (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago) – Excavating and Surveying the Coast and Marshes of Egypt in the Year 2010: Two New Examples of Harbors at Wadi al-Jarf (Red Sea) and Kom ed-Dahab (Mezaleh Lake)

Over the past 15 years, our understanding about the Egyptian seaports has seen a very fast evolution and a profound reconsideration. Before the early years of 2000 only the area of Alexandrian or the harbor site at Berenike were well known for their port installations on coastal locations. Since then, multiple projects mostly on the Egyptian Red Sea shore, for example at Marsa Gawasis and Ayn Sokhna, have revealed a regular occupation of this natural eastern border since the very beginning of the Old Kingdom (ca. 2500 BCE). More recently, thanks to extensive satellite remote sensing, two new untouched harbors sites have been discovered, at Wadi al-Jarf – the port of king Khufu on the Red Sea Coast and so far the oldest harbor in the world – and at Kom ed-Dahab – a lost Roman emporion located on an isolated island in the marches of the Menzaleh Lake (Eastern Delta). Still unknown until four years ago, those completely new sites are located in underrepresented parts of the traditional Egyptian heartland but excavations and surveys there led to the discovery of crucial documents and major monuments for their respective Periods. However, the launch of these new projects in a post-revolutionary Egypt and in quite distant areas from the major landmarks of the Nile Valley illustrates also the difficulties and complicated processes that unfortunately follow the breaking of the geographic boundaries in the field of Egyptian archeology.

11:30 am Neal Spencer (The British Museum) – Lived Experience in a Colonial Environment: Reconsidering the Impact of the Pharaonic State on the History and Function of Amara West in Upper Nubia

The British Museum’s Amara West Project, through a holistic programme of research that considers settlement areas and cemeteries as parts of an integrated sphere of lived experience, is providing new insights into lived experience within Egypt’s Nubian colony during the Ramesside Period. Excavations, complemented by archaeometrical, bioarchaeological, ethnoarchaeological and environmental studies, suggest the role of the pharaonic state in determining the history and function of such colonial towns may have been overemphasised, with local agency (individual/household/community) perhaps as important from early in the history of the town. Changes to the Nile regime were another important driver for change, prompting modifications to lifeways and ultimately the abandonment of the town in the early first millennium BC.

11:50 am Response: J. Andrew Dufton (Brown University)
12:10 pm Discussion

12:30 pm
Lunch break

2:00 pm
Third session – “Breaking methodological boundaries”: Introduction – Samantha Lash (Brown University)

2:10 pm Pearce Paul Creasman (University of Arizona) – Expanding Methodological Boundaries in Egyptian Archaeology by Land and by Sea (or River!)

As a result of the practice of ritually provisioning the dead for the afterlife and a climate favorable to preservation, ancient Egypt is today one of the most inspiring and alluring cultures in human history. Over the past two centuries, Egypt has been the subject of thousands of archaeological investigations that have added immensely to the collective understanding of its ancient culture and the world around it. While certain fundamental methodological advances in archaeology arose from these excavations (e.g., contextual seriation), archaeology in Egypt has yet to realize the full value of several other prominent and well-established modes of inquiry. This paper discusses the potential of two such disciplines and presents collaborative possibilities for moving forward with them: dendrochronology and maritime/underwater archaeology.

2:30 pm Willeke Wendrich (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA) – Real Data, Virtual Reality: Theories of Visualization

Egyptology has developed in a direction that is increasingly multi-disciplinary. When studying coffin texts, it is no longer sufficient to compare different printed text versions. In addition, the provenance, location of the text on the coffin, name and titles of owner, decorative schema and the materials used, all provide information relevant to the interpretation and the understanding of the religious and social context. Similarly, archaeology deals with sets of information provided by different specialists in various formats ranging from notebooks, spreadsheets, databases, maps and photographs to geophysical data and results of chemical and DNA analysis. To integrate and combine the results of complex research data visualization is an important tool, provided that it is used in a well-theorized way.

2:50 pm Response: N. Parker VanValkenburgh (Brown University)
3:10 pm Discussion

3:40 pm
Coffee break

4:00 pm
Fourth session – “Breaking political boundaries”: Introduction – Laurel Darcy Hackley (Brown University)

4:10 pm Monica Hanna (Arab Academy for Science and Technology) – Breaking Political Boundaries in Egyptian Archaeology

Since the events in 2011, a new form of advocacy related to Egyptian heritage has started. Due to the security vacuum and the political events, some of the sites, museums and storehouses were attacked and thousands of objects were stolen, as well as many archaeological sites illegally dug. Regular citizens in several parts of Egypt found themselves responsible for the security of many of the sites. Indeed, what made the difference to the fate of each site was how the local community reacted. For example, when the Armant prison, north of Luxor’s west bank, was opened and convicts were let loose in January 2011, the locals of al-Bu’airat and al-Qurna went out with their sticks and few rifles to protect the archaeological sites in the area. On the contrary, in the Memphite necropolis close to Abu Sir, Saqqara, Dahshur, and Lisht, villagers called in microphones for villagers to go out and loot. The same also happened to the urban heritage in many cities; several early twentieth-century buildings were brought down by contractors to build new constructions. The historic centre of medieval Cairo was also subjected to problems such as looting and thefts, destruction of buildings and illegal digging under the most important monuments. With the government not able to stop the widespread cultural desecration using their traditional methods, many groups have formed on their own to raise awareness of the problems and to put enough pressure on the political agenda of the Egyptian government in order to take action. Despite most of the efforts have had limited success compared to expectations, yet these groups have managed to create a very good public awareness of the different problems. They were even consulted when the new Egyptian constitution was being written in 2013 and were part in drafting article 50, aiming at the protection of Egyptian cultural heritage. The pressure these groups have created now gives them enough clout to change the future of Egyptian cultural heritage through collaborative efforts with the Egyptian government and international institutions.

4:30 pm Gerry Scott (The American Research Center in Egypt) – Addressing Economic and Social Needs through Cultural Heritage

Egypt’s recent revolution, with the resulting breakdown in stability, both real and perceived, brought various sorts of stress to different aspects of Egypt’s cultural heritage. Widespread looting of sites and museum break-ins and theft being widely reported. Another significant area of stress was the dramatic downward plummet of Egypt’s tourism sector, both an important component of the Egyptian economy and the major source of revenue for the Ministry of Antiquities. Luxor, in Upper Egypt, a town that relies almost solely on the tourist industry for its survival, was especially hard hit. This paper will examine an innovative project carried out by the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and supported with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to offer employment, while at the same time continuing ARCE’s tradition of offering training for Ministry of Antiquities staff and conducting monument conservation. It will also describe some other related projects.

4:50 pm Response: Robert Preucel (Brown University)
5:10 pm Discussion

5:30 pm
Closing: James P. Allen (Brown University)

6:30 pm


Download the State of the Field Egypt Poster

Watch Video Recordings of the Workshop Presentations