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01.08.2016

Current British Archaeology in Egypt: Thoughts from the Director

Earlier this summer, the Society organized the first Current British Archaeology in Egypt conference to showcase the projects that members and donors have supported over the last year. It was a wonderful celebration of research and fieldwork, and here EES Director Dr Chris Naunton shares his thoughts.

All the projects represented over the weekend – by 17 speakers and 8 posters – were all supported by the Society in some way: logistical and administrative support through the Cairo office, liaison with the Ministry of Antiquities, the loan of equipment, publication in a widely distributed, peer-reviewed journal, or with financial assistance.

Through Fieldwork and Research Grants, Centenary Awards for early-career researchers, and the redistribution of a British Academy grant for the Society’s Delta Survey project, the EES is now providing funding to more research projects than ever before (interactive map here).

Dr Chris Naunton opening the Current British Archaeology in Egypt conference

Our aims in introducing the new grants were manifold: we wanted to be more open, available and useful to wider range of people and projects, and crucially, for the money we had available to go further. In particular we wanted to be sure that if necessary we could extend the assistance we were providing to those sites where work is most urgently needed.

As a result we are now providing support to a varied range of experts, from some of the most highly regarded and senior professionals in the field, to scholars at the beginning of their careers. The support we offer to younger researchers through the Centenary Awards, has been augmented recently by a familiarisation tour of Egypt for UK graduates, and the Egyptian Archaeology Skills School for trainee field archaeologists. Participants in these related projects were also invited to the conference in order to liaise with field archaeologists as well as members supporting the work.

Attendees enjoying the summer weather in the 'Winter Garden' at UCL's Institute of Child Health. L-R: Dr Brigitte Balanda (speaker and Society volunteer), Carl Graves (Education and Public Engagement Manager, London), Essam Nagy (Fieldwork and Engagement Manager, Cairo)

We have also made a concerted effort to provide as much assistance as possible to our Egyptian colleagues who are working on archaeological sites and material every day, again through the Centenary Awards, but also through our scholarships, and the recent ‘research skills workshops’ in Cairo.

We were determined to bring as many of those who have been involved in our work through these schemes to the conference and delighted that so many were in attendance at the conference, including Yaser Mahmoud, Hassan Ramadan, and Mohamed Kenawi along with Essam Nagy, the Society’s Fieldwork and Engagement Manager in Egypt.

Fieldwork is only one part of the archaeological process of course, and much of the work discussed at the conference has already been published in some form, with much more on the way. The Editors of JEA and EA were both present at the event, in part to take the opportunity to discuss future articles, deadlines etc. with the field directors. This helps us to continue bringing you more information from the field and the work supported.

Archaeological projects have a life even after publication as well of course, as the growing amount of work on archival documentation demonstrates, and it was entirely in keeping with the full range of research projects with which the Society has an involvement that the Society’s Lucy Gura Archive, and Oxyrhynchus Papyri were both also the focus of talks during the weekend, along with a paper on an unpublished archive in the IFAO of material relating to a 19th century epigraphic mission at Amarna.

As one of our speakers commented at the beginning of their talk, CBAE represented ‘a breadth and quality of research not paralleled by any other institution in the UK’. Such a full programme of activities demanded a two-day celebration of this kind, and all those involved should be very proud of their achievements: staff, volunteers, Trustees, the members of the Field and Research Committee who have helped to shape the programme by building and implementing the new grants process, and of course the researchers themselves.

The evening reception provided an opportunity to talk with field directors and researchers - as well as enjoying a glass of wine and the posters!

One of the reasons why it was essential for us to introduce a new way of funding fieldwork was that we do not have as much money available as we would like; we have had to make some very hard decisions about how to spend our money in recent years, and we also owe the Society’s field directors a great debt for the skills and energy they have put into acquiring funding other sources to supplement what the Society has been able to offer.

Finally of course we must thank you, our members and supporters, whose subscriptions and donations provide the funds with which we are able to support this rich array of projects.

We named the conference ‘Current British Archaeology in Egypt’ as our support now extends to most UK-affiliated research projects in Egypt, but the model, in which that support comes from ordinary members of the public, is an important part of that Britishness too. Long may it continue and flourish.

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Publication date: 01.08.2016
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