ARTEFACTS OF EXCAVATION

Crates of archaeological finds from excavations in the Fayum
Wooden crates packed with archaeological finds from Egypt Exploration Fund excavations in the Fayum, circa 1901. Image courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society

Between 1880 and 1980 British-led excavations resulted in the discovery of tens of thousands of ancient Egyptian objects. A large proportion of the recovered objects, however, were distributed to more than 300 different institutions around the world before they were fully documented or published. Artefacts of Excavation is an ambitious project currently tracing the movement of the excavated material so that these widely spread artefacts might be relocated and better understood. It is investigating for the first time the full scale of the international distributions and with the findings will create a centralised online resource for the relocation and re-contextualisation of dispersed collections.

Research aims

Through detailed investigation of the finds distributions and analysis of the information collected, the project aims to answer the following research questions:

  • What was the scale and scope of the distribution of finds from British-led excavations in Egypt between 1880 and 1980? Where are the excavated materials now?
  • What do the finds distributions reveal about the changing relationship between museology, field archaeology and research practice between 1880 and 1980?
  • How did the finds distributions impact on the negotiation of local, regional, national, international and colonial identities? What role did they have in shaping perceptions of Egyptian heritage?
  • How were the excavated artefacts accommodated within different museums around the world? How did these local narratives relate to developments at a global scale?

This comprehensive study provides an opportunity to examine the new relationships that were created between objects, people and places as Egyptian artefacts were transported around the world. It aims to transform our understanding of the impact of the distributions more broadly, investigating their role in the development of archaeology and museology and in the construction of international views of ancient Egypt. The online resource that is currently being created will bring dispersed collections back together virtually to facilitate further curatorial work. It will provide a permanent resource that will enhance the potential for professional knowledge exchange, impacting on the continuing investigation of Egyptian sites and the public display of Egyptian collections worldwide.

Project funders

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Project team led by

Professor John Baines, University of Oxford
Dr Alice Stevenson, University College London

Project team

Liam McNamara, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Dr Emma Libonati, University College London
Massimiliano Pinarello, University College London
Alice Williams, University of Oxford
Sarah Glover, University of Oxford

Research connections

This project has involved research into the histories of more than 350 individual institutions worldwide. There have been several key partnerships in this endeavour:

Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
Griffith Institute, Oxford
The Egypt Exploration Society, London

Project start

April 2014

Outputs

Artefacts of Excavation online resource

Project Conference 'The Object Habit: legacies of field work and the museum'. 7th–8th April 2017. Institute of Archaeology, University College London

Exhibition ‘Exporting Egypt: where? why? whose?’. 31st January–29th April 2017. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

Follow the project @excavatedegypt

Publications

Stevenson, A. and Libonati, E. and Williams, A. (2016). 'A selection of minor antiquities: a multi-sited view on collections from excavations in Egypt’. World Archaeology 48(2): 282–295. 

Stevenson, A. (2016). ‘Conflict antiquities and conflicted antiquities: addressing sales of legally excavated artefacts’. Antiquity 90: 229–236 DOI:10.15184/aqy.2015.188. 

Stevenson, A. (2016). ”Artefacts of Excavation": A transnational perspective on ancient Egypt in the modern world’. Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 11: 17–18.

Stevenson, A. (2016). ‘Artefacts of excavation: the international distribution of finds from British excavations in Egypt 1880-1990’. In Amijima, Takashi (ed.), From Petrie to Hamada: proceedings of the international symposium on Egyptian antiquities of Kyoto University, 32–37. Kyoto: Kyoto University Museum. 

Stevenson, A. and Libonati, E. (2015). ‘Artefacts of Excavations’. Egyptian Archaeology 46: 27–29 

Stevenson, A. (2015). ‘Between the field and the museum: the ongoing project of archaeological context’. Egyptian and Egyptological Documents Archives Libraries 4: 109–118. 

Stevenson, A. (2014). ‘Artefacts of excavation: the collection and distribution of Egyptian finds to museums, 1880–1915’. Journal of the History of Collections 26(1): 89–102.