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The Delta and Deir el-Bahari

The Fund’s first excavation in early 1883 was directed by the Swiss scholar Edouard Naville at the Delta site of Tell el-Maskhuta, which Naville promptly claimed was the biblical city of Pithom. This identification of one of the biblical cities of Egypt, though no longer accepted by scholars, encouraged further donations to the Fund and the next expedition was mounted in November 1883 to the Delta site of Tanis (modern San el-Hagar), the biblical Zoan. Naville was not available to direct this excavation and the Fund selected instead a young British archaeologist, William Matthew Flinders Petrie. Petrie is often regarded as the founder of modern archaeology, particularly in Egypt and the Near East, and his association with the Fund, though not always harmonious, helped establish its reputation as a serious archaeological body.

Petrie's dig house at Tanis, 1883

Naville and Petrie, with their very different methods of excavation and recording techniques, dominated the Fund’s fieldwork programme for many years. Naville, who preferred sites with well-preserved stone monuments and paid little attention to small objects and sherds, excavated at other sites in the Delta, including the ancient city of Bubastis and then moved in 1893 to Upper Egypt, to the temples at Deir el-Bahari on the west bank at Thebes. Petrie was horrified that Naville was to be allowed to work on such a rich site, where the ancient temples were buried in deep layers of later archaeological deposits, including a Coptic monastery, and suggested that Naville should be redirected to Karnak where he could ‘do a minimum of harm: which ought to be a first consideration to anyone with a conscience on the subject’.

Petrie’s appeals went unheeded and Naville worked at Deir el-Bahari until 1907, first clearing the temple of Hatshepsut and then the earlier temple of Mentuhotep Nebhepetre.

Naville's workers clearing the uppermost terrace of the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari, 1894

Among his team in the 1890s was Howard Carter who was responsible for copying the finely-painted reliefs which decorate the walls of the temple of Hatshepsut.

Petrie, meanwhile, together with his young assistant Francis Llewellyn Griffith, continued to work in the Delta, at the Greek city of Naucratis, then at Tell Nebeshah and Tell Defeneh.


The Delta and Deir el-Bahari Tell el-Amarna
The Archaeological Survey Nubia
The Graeco-Roman Branch Saqqara and Memphis
Abydos and Armant Further information

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