Archaeological Techniques

In the early years of the EES, two excavators were employed to direct missions in Egypt: Édouard Naville and Flinders Petrie.

Their approaches to excavation differed significantly: Naville, an academic, was interested mostly in inscriptions, and tended not to ensure that particular care was taken over collecting or recording any unspectacular objects; Petrie, however, was interested in sites as a whole, and insisted that no site could be properly understood without studying the objects found there, and the sequence and locations in which the objects were found. So began the development of archaeological techniques over the Society’s long history of excavating Egypt.

Naville Deir el-BahariCLEARING SITES

The technology required to excavate different kinds of sites varies. In Egypt, most desert sites are dry, and in the early years, the main focus at these sites was on clearing sand debris (as can be seen at Deir el-Bahari on the left), and more recent remains in order to get at the ancient archaeology, which required many local labourers to carry buckets of sand, and sometimes a set of side-tipping Décauville cars that ran on tram-rails to a designated dumping area.  However, excavators working in the Osireion at Abydos in 1925 were faced with the opposite problem of too much water, and were forced to install a large pumping system to deal with flooding in the subterranean complex caused by a rise in the underground water table brought on by an unusually high Nile flood.


… Sometimes archaeological sites can be hazardous, and excavation techniques can make the risks at various sites worse if archaeologists aren’t careful?

During the excavations at the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari in 1904, whilst a chamber cut into the base of the cliff overlooking the temple was being excavated, the workmen were forced to quickly take cover when part of the cliff collapsed in a rock-fall. The local limestone bedrock in Luxor is of notoriously poor quality, which may have been part of the cause of the rock-fall. Fortunately, no-one was hurt.

Footage of the 1950 EES mission to the rock-tombs of Meir led by Prof. Aylward Blackman and filmed by M R Apted

Queen Ahmose


The EEF Archaeological Survey of Egypt was established in 1890, with the grandly ambitious aim of surveying the whole of Egypt in order to discover new sites and record as much as possible of those known. After this was adjusted to the far more realistic project of making comprehensive recordings of known sites likely to be at risk of damage, so that their images and inscriptions would be preserved and available for study through publication, the first mission of the Archaeological Survey took place at the tombs of Beni Hasan and Deir el-Bersheh in Middle Egypt between 1890 and 1893, directed by Percy Newberry. To copy the reliefs and inscriptions of the tombs for publication, Newberry employed a team of artists and draughtsmen, including Percy Buckman, Marcus Blackden, and the seventeen-year-old son of a painter of animal portraits, recommended by Newberry’s acquaintance Lord Amherst, named Howard Carter (whose watercolour of Queen Ahmose at Deir el-Bahari can be seen on the left). Many of the watercolours painted by Blackden and Carter at Beni Hasan and Deir el-Bersheh that season remain in the collection of the EES Lucy Gura Archive, and some can be seen reproduced in this exhibition.

For a booklet presenting some of the Society’s watercolours, made especially for Excavating Egypt please click here.

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