The Archaeological Record: Flinders Petrie in Egypt
William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) first went to Egypt in 1880 at the age of 26, to survey the Great Pyramid. For the next five decades he was at the forefront of the development of archaeology in the country, before turning in the 1920s to the archaeology of Palestine. He worked at a much higher number of sites, and with much greater speed, than an archaeologist would today; he saw his life as a mission of rescue archaeology - to retrieve as much information as possible from sites that were shrinking dramatically in size as Egypt modernized.
The following table offers a year by year guide to his main archaeological activity.
Note on the column 'sponsors'
During the Petrie decades there was no government grant to fund excavation - money was needed to pay for travel, accommodation and food, packing costs, labour costs, photography, drawing, publication. Excavators had to seek funds, or work for societies that raised money for archaeological work in Egypt. In England, the principal society then as now was the Egypt Exploration Society (founded as Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882 - the name changed to Society in 1914). Petrie worked for the EEF until 1886, and again from 1896 to 1905. From 1887-1892 he relied on his own resources and the sponsorship of two wealthy enthusiasts - Jesse Haworth and Martyn Kennard. In 1893 Petrie became the first Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at University College London, and was able to form his own Egyptian Research Account to support excavation in Egypt. As in the case of the Egypt Exploration Fund/Society, the excavator was permitted by the Egyptian Antiquities Service to reward public museums sponsoring excavation by distributing to them a share of the finds allowed out of Egypt - the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, retained anything it wished for the national collection. From 1905 the Egyptian Research Account supported a new institution founded by Petrie, the British School of Archaeology in Egypt.
After the death of Flinders Petrie in Jerusalem in 1942, his widow Hilda sought to keep the School alive, but postwar conditions in London made this difficult, and the BSAE formally came to an end in 1954. The UCL Department of Egyptology continued to excavate in Egypt, for the Egypt Exploration Society and with government funding, and the division of finds continued to the 1980s, including substantial shares in the finds from work by Professors Emery and Smith at Buhen and Qasr Ibrim in Nubia, and at the Sacred Animal Necropolis of north Saqqara.
Table of Petrie seasons 1880-1938 (compare the map)
|year||site||type of site||sponsors||finds distribution||publication|
|1880-3||Gizeh||pyramid field||(survey)||Petrie 1883|
|1884||Tanis||town and temples||EEF||mainly British Museum||Petrie 1885, Petrie 1888|
|1885||Naukratis||town and temples||EEF||mainly British Museum||Petrie 1886|
town and temples
|EEF||mainly British Museum||Petrie 1888|
|(no sponsors)||(no excavation)||Petrie 1888|
pyramid field, cemetery
|Haworth, Kennard||Egyptian Museum Cairo, and to Petrie (now UCL), Haworth (now Manchester), and Kennard (dispersed)||Petrie 1889, Petrie 1890|
pyramid field, town
|Haworth, Kennard||Egyptian Museum Cairo, and to Petrie (now UCL), Haworth (now Manchester), and Kennard (dispersed)||Petrie 1890|
|1890-91||Meydum||pyramid field||Haworth, Kennard||Egyptian Museum Cairo, and to Petrie (now UCL), Haworth (now Manchester), and Kennard (dispersed)||Petrie 1892|
|1891-2||Amarna||town and temples||Haworth, Kennard||Egyptian Museum Cairo, and to Petrie (now UCL), Haworth (now Manchester), and Kennard (dispersed)||Petrie 1894|
|1893-4||Koptos||town and temples||various||distribution list||Petrie 1896|
|1894-5||Naqada||town, temples, cemetery||various||distribution list||Petrie/Quibell 1896|
|1895-6||West Thebes||temples, cemetery||various||distribution list||Petrie 1897|
|1897||Deshasheh||cemetery||EEF||distribution list||Petrie 1898|
|1897-8||Denderah||cemetery||EEF||distribution list||Petrie 1900a|
|1898-9||Hu||cemetery||EEF||distribution list||Petrie 1901|
|1899-1904||Abydos||town, temple, cemetery||EEF||distribution list|
town and temple
|EEF||distribution list||Petrie 1904, Petrie 1905|
|1904-5||Sinai||quarries, temple||EEF||(no distribution list in Petrie Museum)||Petrie1906|
|1905-6||East Delta||towns, cemeteries||BSAE||distribution list||Petrie 1906|
pyramid field, cemeteries
|BSAE||distribution list||Petrie 1907|
|BSAE||distribution list||Petrie 1908|
|1908-1913||Memphis||town and temples||BSAE||in other distribution lists||various|
|1908-9||West Thebes||cemeteries, temples||BSAE||distribution list||Petrie 1909|
|1909-10||Meydum||pyramid field||BSAE||distribution list||Petrie/Mackay/Wainwright 1910|
pyramid field, cemetery
|BSAE||distribution list||Petrie/Mackay/Wainwright 1910|
|1911||Shurafa||town, fort, cemetery||BSAE||distribution list||Petrie/Mackay 1915|
|1911-12||Tarkhan||cemetery||BSAE||distribution list||Petrie 1913|
|1912||Heliopolis||temple||BSAE||distribution list||Petrie/Mackay 1915|
|BSAE||distribution list||Petrie 1914|
town, pyramid field
town, pyramid field
|BSAE||distribution list||Petrie/Brunton/Murray 1923, Brunton1920|
|1921-2||Abydos||cemetery||BSAE||distribution list||Petrie 1925|
|1922||Oxyrhynchus||town||BSAE||distribution list||Petrie 1925|
1886: the work of Petrie at Naukratis was continued by Ernest Gardner: 'we found the site of the city already somewhat altered by the destructive operations of the Arabs, who are continually carrying off the earth from the ancient sites to spread it upon their fields. In this way the walls of the Great Temenos or Hellenion had almost disappeared, and the appearance of the mound that takes the place of the ancient city had in several respects been altered. But though, on the one hand, this process is destructive, it is also, on the other, of great service to the excavator, for the digging of the Arabs is constantly laying bare new strata and disclosing new sites, and a careful watching of their work and the objects they find will often supply far more information than large and numerous trial pits or trenches' (Gardner 1888: 10).
1890: Petrie excavated at Tell el Hesy in Palestine for the Palestine Exploration Fund: this was one of the first digs in which the different layers of a large city mound were recorded to reveal the sequence of occupation layers and so the history of the ancient city (stratigraphy).
1920s: by this time Guy Brunton was supervising much of the work of the British School of Archaeology in Egypt. For the seasons at Qau and Badari, Petrie contributed by excavating and recording one of the many cemeteries in the Qau area, and by examining the large rock-cut tombs of Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC) governors at Qau. Most of the finds of those seasons come from the work of Brunton and Gertrude Caton-Thompson, including the Badari cemeteries of the earliest farmers known from Upper Egypt, now designated the 'Badarian culture'. After Petrie moved to excavate in Palestine in the mid-1920s, Brunton and Caton-Thompson continued to work in Egypt for the BSAE and then for the Royal Anthropological Institute and the British Museum. The finds from the Petrie excavations in Palestine were also distributed widely; the Petrie share went not to the collections of the Department of Egyptology, University College London (now Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology), but to form a separate Petrie Palestinian Collection in the Institute of Archaeology.
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