Digging is not the end of the story, but the beginning...

Digging is not the end of the story, but the beginning...
Dr Mohamed Gamel Rashed discusses the disconnect between artefacts and contextual records.
While many objects are left in their countries of origin, the people who dug them up have kept the records of the excavations in their own archives or have gifted them to institutions that are not of the country of origin. A few of these recipient museums have partially published on these objects, but their archival records largely remain unpublished, separated from the objects that they pertain to.

It's a huge problem for Egyptologists: how to understand objects and their place in the wider context of ancient Egypt without detailed excavation records.

In simple terms: objects separated from their original sites lose meaning. Without context we are severely limited in our ability to understand the significance and function of objects because they can carry less meaning when considered in isolation.

But there is good news. Institutions are increasingly making efforts to consolidate information about their collections, and to document dispersed collections more fully and make them available online.

Some of these projects are huge and difficult to realise, requiring the participation and cooperation of various institutions to complete and document fully. Here's an example of one such project that's on my radar as an alumnus of the University of Manchester:

"The first Archaeological Survey of Nubia (1907-1911) is the subject of a new joint project between the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at The University of Manchester and the Natural History Museum, London. When it began in 1907, the Archaeological Survey of Nubia represented one of the earliest surveys into the demographics of health and disease in an archaeological population. Under the guidance of Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, the project’s anatomical advisor, around 8000 bodies were carefully excavated, studied and preserved for future generations.

Now, over a hundred years since the survey began, we are seeking to reaffirm the importance of this collection and begin a reinterpretation of the outcomes of the project in light of modern archaeological and palaeopathological research into ancient Nubia.

Since the completion of the survey, the artefacts and related documentation have become widely dispersed, across several continents including Africa, Europe, North America and Australia. This dispersion now poses a significant threat to the collection: as time goes on damage to the artefacts becomes more likely, as does the risk of artefacts being separated from their provenance.

One of the major aims of the current project is to locate the surviving human and animal remains from the Archaeological Survey of Nubia and to bring them back together electronically in an online database. We hope to produce a valuable research resource for those studying the ancient Nubian population, reaffirming the desire of the original excavators to conserve this collection for the future." (http://www.knhcentre.manchester.ac.uk/research/nubiaproject/)

I'm looking forward to more institutions making their records available online for both scholars and an interested public; and for the trend in the analysis and publication of information about the materials they already have in their collections continuing.

By sharing knowledge there is great potential for many more gaps in our understanding about ancient Egypt will be 'filled in' at last.

h/t: @chrisnaunton Christopher Naunton


  1. Pues en todos lados los que excavaban o los ladrones de tesoros por conservar solo para ellos distintos objetos, no han permitido que se inventigue correctamente las diferentes culturas antiguas, en América sucede lo mismo, cuando descubren una nueva pirámide primero se llevan todo los tesoros que pueden y ya luego dan a conocer lo que para ellos tiene menos valor. Tan así, que muchos arqueólogos estadounidenses o europeos tiene piezas en sus museos personales.

  2. I was in Egypt ! Amazing country !
    Ancient Beauty & History !!!!!!


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