Getting started

Archaeological expeditions require careful planning, organisation, and a team capable of adapting to difficult circumstances.  Since its founding, The Egypt Exploration Society has directed its activities from headquarters in London and depended on support from the broader interested public. Things have changed little today and, with 19 funded projects in 2015, preparation is more crucial than ever!

Before work can commence in the field the necessary permits must be obtained from the Egyptian authorities. In this case a ‘concession’ is applied for which allots a specific, bounded geographic area to the team. Often these areas are in remote locations, necessitating the careful supply of provisions for the dig team. Often these will be sought from the nearby villages and a relationship between excavators and locals prove fruitful in these situations. Crucial to any expedition is the team itself, and the expertise that individual members bring to the site.

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The dig team from Amara West during the 1937-38 season


Excavation teams have to include individuals with a wide range of skills and specialisms such as archaeology, geomorphology, bioarchaeology, palaeopathology, anatomy, epigraphy, philology, architecture and much more. The necessity of having these skills on your team depends on the nature of the site.

Why do you think an architect would be an important team member?

Essential for the expedition to take place are your excavators. In the past these were usually employed from local labour or specially trained archaeologists from the town of Quft (known as Qufties/Gufties). Today, many of the excavators still descend from the original Quftie families, but Egypt’s vast number of trained archaeologists means that more than ever are we able to work together with the people of Egypt to unlock more of their cultural heritage.


W B Emery directing work  during the dismantling of the New Kingdom temple at Buhen


Crucial for successful execution of any excavation is the role of the dig director. They are usually expected to have considerable subject knowledge about the culture, archaeology and history of the site, as well as about the most adequate excavation techniques and methodologies. They are also tasked with the responsibility of managing the speed and progress of the excavation, and the organisation of the work force. Additionally, they are also required to interpret, write up and publish the results of the work undertaken – a process which can often take quite some time! The Egypt Exploration Society, however, set a precedent for itself very early in its existence, through the work of William Matthew Flinders Petrie, for producing an impressive quantity of published excavation reports, at a very fast rate. The first person appointed by the (then) Egypt Exploration Fund as their principal excavator and dig director, in the summer of 1882, was the Swiss scholar Édouard Naville. He would be the first of a long line of professionals to carry out field work on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Society. You can read more about some of the Society’s dig directors in a booklet made especially for Excavating Egypt here.

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