The Abydos Temple Paper Archive Project
The Abydos Paper Archive is an archive depository of thousands of mostly Arabic language documents that belong to the Antiquities Inspectorate of Sohag and the broader Egyptian Antiquities Service. Dating from between the 1850’s to the 1960’s, the documents were recently discovered stored in one of the rooms of the temple of Seti I in Abydos, having been left there for many years and long forgotten. The records, consisting of incoming and outgoing correspondence, excavation reports and survey maps, shed light on the little known histories of the hundreds of Egyptian inspectors, excavators, and guards of the Egyptian Antiquities Service who were actively managing and working on archaeological sites during Egyptology’s formative years. With most of our present knowledge about the history of Egyptology based on western narrations, the Abydos archive promises to offer a more inclusive and holistic account of the field’s development.The cover of a ledger dating from 1914. The first page is a letter containing the cartouche of Neb-hebet-Ra
An incoming letter sent to the Antiquities Inspector of Sohag
Preliminary work on the archive project began last year and included the initial sorting of thousands of documents, their digitization, cataloguing, conservation and translation. This year, with the EES Centenary Award, we were able to continue work on the documentation and conservation of the reams of paper, ledgers and files that make up the archive, during a two-month season.
Assigning catalogue numbers and sorting documents in the archive
Carrying out conservation of the paper documents
Two local MSA team-members, Ahmed Abdel-Kader and Yaser Abdel-Raziq, were in charge of assigning catalogue numbers to several hundred more documents. Ayman Damarany, the team’s photographer, carried out the photographic documentation of the records to produce high-resolution images, which would later be uploaded to our database. Abdel-Ghafour Motawe, a local MSA conservator, treated the documents by stabilizing the ink, fixing folds and tears and placing the conserved documents in suitable acid-free folders for long-term preservation. Finally, Nora Shalaby translated the documents from Arabic to English (and vice-versa in some cases) and entered their contents into the custom-designed database. The database records both the physical attributes of the document, such as paper size, material and ink color, but also the specific contents contained within, including sites and names mentioned, and the topic being discussed.
Photographing, translating and database entry
A letter dating from 1909 with a very distinct stamp and watermark
During these two months, we were able to better understand the often underrepresented contributions of Egyptians to the development of Egyptology from the end of the 19th century to the mid-20th century, particularly within the context of colonialism and western domination of the field at the time. Not only were Egyptians actively engaged in the organization and protection of ancient sites, as gleaned from the documents, but they also held prominent administrative and scholarly roles within the Antiquities Service, at times superseding that of their western peers. Additionally, we have begun to uncover archaeological sites, that whilst lost to us today, have been documented in the archive, thereby contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of Abydos’ modern and changing archaeological landscape.
Map (prior to conservation) showing the area of Girga and the new archaeological sites, shaded in green and red, acquired by the Antiquities Service
The ATPA team would like to thank the following Ministry of Antiquities officials for their continued support: Dr. Khalid el-Anani, Dr. Mostafa Waziri, Dr. Mohammed Ismail, Mr. Mohammed Abdel-Badea and Mr. Ashraf Okasha.
ATPA Website: https://abydosarchive.org/
Shalaby, N., Abu El-Azm, H., Damarany, A., Kaiser, J., Abdallah, H.S., Abu El-Yazid, M., Abd El-Raziq, Y., Baker, F., Hashesh, Z., Ibrahim, W., Minor, E., Regelein, R. and Tarek, A. 2018. The Lost Papers: Rewriting the Narrative of Early Egyptology with the Abydos Temple Paper Archive. Online ARCE Bulletin 2018: https://www.arce.org/abydos-paper-archive