Archaeology/ Egyptology

Archaeological expeditions from the Netherlands and Flanders for which the NVIC acts as the primary facilitating institution in Egypt.

The Leiden-Turin Excavations at Saqqara

Update : August 2017

Dr. Lara Weiss / Dr. Christian Greco / Dr. Paolo Del Vesco

From 1975 to 1998 the joint mission of the National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) of Leiden and the Egypt Exploration Society (EES, London) have excavated over 10 elite tombs in the New Kingdom necropolis south of the pyramid of Unas, dating from the time of Akhenaten to the early Ramesside period (dynasties 18-19, c. 1350-1200 BC). Since 1999, the role of the EES has been taken over by the department of Egyptology of Leiden University and 6 further tombs were added. From 2015, the project has a third partner in the Museo Egizio of Turin.

Apart from the original aim to find background information on tomb fragments and statues in the RMO, the abundance of the data makes it possible to formulate penetrating research questions on the underlying conceptualisation of the necropolis (e.g. patterns of spatial/chronological distribution, of offering cults, of access and communication, of architectural and iconographic design, of social status, of demography and of reuse in later periods), revealing the dynamics in various subsystems of the Egyptian culture. The project has a website created and hosted by the supporting society, the Friends of Saqqara.

Among the most important finds were the tombs of Horemheb (1975), Maya (1986), and Pay (1994) - all of them high officials of king Tutankhamun - and Meryneith (2001) and Ptahemwia (2007), who served under king Akhenaten. In 2011, the site was opened to visitors, following an extensive site management and consolidation project. Several galleries dating back to the Early Dynastic Period (c. 2800 BC) and found under the tombs of Maya and Meryneith are still being studied by Dr. Ilona Regulski. In 2017 professor Maarten Raven finalized his work in the sector south of the tomb of Meryneith and decided to retire as a field director after 43 fruitful years. Dr. Christian Greco will continue his work as field director together with Dr. Lara Weiss and Dr. Paolo Del Vesco. After almost two generations of excavating the scope of research will be broadened and new accents set. Saqqara was in use over a period of 3,000 years. Yet the primary focus so far has been the New Kingdom cemetery. The new fieldwork will strive to expand the boundaries of the archaeological investigation in order to include the whole range of human activities that took place in this area in various phases of the ancient, as well as of the more recent, Egyptian history, and to look at the “life” of the necropolis according to a more holistic perspective. The area north of the tomb of Maya and Merit had never been excavated before, providing an excellent opportunity to test new research questions and make a fresh start with a largely renovated team.

The Dakhleh Oasis Project

Update : August 2017

A.J. Mills

The Oasis Project (DOP) is a study of an Egyptian oasis to determine its cultural evolution and parallel environmental evolution.  Data is collected by examining the surface of the area, through aerial photography, archaeological excavation, mapping, restoration, modelling, the examination of minute and large objects, comparisons, and teamwork amongst the variety of scholars who come to study the oasis in detail.  The field work is done with the permission and participation of Egyptian officials, as well a participating scholars from countries as diverse as Australia, Canada, USA, Netherlands, Austria, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Britain, and others.

This international team began this study in 1978 with six members and now numbers well over 100 people.  In the oasis, the project is housed in two large buildings at 'Ain el-Gindi, near Mut the oasis capital.  Teams assemble in the oasis each winter between October and April.  There are geologists, botanists, zoologists, physicists, archaeologists, photographers, draughtsmen, conservators, surveyors, papyrologists, art historians, Egyptologists, epigraphers and students of various disciplines.  Daily, in the field camp, there is a transfer of information and ideas, and cooperation between various team members on problems that arise as the result of new discoveries.

The field work began in 1978 with a walking survey of the oasis landscape, when detailed observations of ancient sites and landscape indications and features were noted and discussed.  This occupied project members from 1978 until 1982.  A total of 450 ancient sites, dating somewhere between the Middle Pleistocene, 400,000 years ago,  when man first appeared in the oasis region, down to the present day.  Old Stone Age hunters, Neolithic settlers, ancient Egyptians, Romans, Christians, Muslims, have all been a part of the cultural evolution in the oasis region – truly a microcosm of the whole eastern Saharan and Egyptian landscapes.  Since 1982, after the completion of the walking survey, the project has undertaken various excavations to investigate various details of all the various aspects of our discoveries. 

Discoveries include the prehistoric rock art made by man during the Neolithic, which includes a wide variety of animals, both domestic and wild.  One of the most interesting of these are the many scenes of giraffes, being held by a tether held by a human; yet no physical remains of a giraffe have been discovered, despite the discovery of the bones of many other large African animals.  During the Neolithic, many cultural traits first appear, which are followed, some 500 years later, in the Nile Valley.  At about 100,000 years ago, we have discovered that most of the Dakhleh Oasis was submerged beneath a lake which was at  least thirty-five metres deep.  There were at least seven stone-built  temples in Dakhleh, located in various settlements.  These date to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, although two of them go back into Pharaonic times.  They are well made and decorated with relief carving.  There are in addition, several mud brick temples, also of the Ptolemaic-Roman periods which are undecorated and were probably built by locals.  There is a large and important archive of 18th - 19th century documents of the villagers of el-Qasr, and there is an archive of Manichaean texts which comprise about one-quarter of all known texts of this Middle Eastern cult of the 2nd - 10th centuries AD.  Greek texts, written on thin boards include two bound books – the earliest codex books ever found in the world.  There is the only known temple dedicated to the god Tutu; and, at another temple,  a new  deity, Amun-Nakht, never before known to Egyptology.  There are many more.

Aims of the Dakhleh Oasis Project are many and varied and depend on the individual scholars who participate.  Discoveries are physical and intellectual, and will often be joined together.  A coherent picture of the whole, including the cultural and physical evolution of man in a changing environment is one goal we all share.  Restoration, both on paper and in the oasis is another.  So, we are restoring the multi-storey mudbrick houses of el-Qasr; a replica of  a Roman villa, complete with painted decoration on the inside walls, has been built on site at Amheida.  A decorated capital from the forecourt of the temple at 'Ain Birbiyeh is being recovered from its fallen location and will be rebuilt either at the site or at the new Dakhleh Oasis Museum.

Currently, there are some eight teams being fielded by the DOP.  These include the Islamic village of el-Qasr, the Pharaonic and Roman settlement at Amheida, the epigraphic study of the temples at Deir el-Hagar, Amheida, Mut el-Kharab, Ismant el-Kharab,and 'Ain Birbiyeh; excavation at the settlement sites at Amheida,  'Ain el-Gazzareen, Mut el-Kharab, Ismant el-Kharab. 'Ain Birbiyeh;  physical anthropology of the human remains at the cemeteries of Ismant el-Kharab; excavation of the Roman walls at el-Qasr; mapping and study of  stone quarries for temple construction; studies of texts in ancient Greek, in Coptic, and in Arabic languages; and a linguist studies the differences in the dialects between villages in the oasis.

Our publications are numerous, including several hundred in various academic and scientific journals, some sixteen monographs on various aspects of our oasis work published by Oxbow Press and by the National Archives Documentary Service in Cairo; museum collections in Toronto, at the Royal Ontario Museum, at the New Valley Museum in Kharga Oasis, and in the National Museum in Cairo. The project holds open meetings each three years as public symposia, which are also published. The Next Dakhleh Oasis Project Symposium is planned to be held in Florence, Italy, in July 2018.

Further detailed information about the Dakhleh Oasis Project will be found in the websites of the Dakhleh Trust, of Monash University and of New York University.

Reconstructing the Villa of Serenus

Dorothea Schulz & Martin Hense

In 1979, while surveying the late antique city of Amheida (ancient Trimithis), a team of the Dakhleh Oasis Project discovered the upper part of lavishly decorated walls. The main building, including the decorated rooms, was subsequently excavated in 2004 and 2007 by a team from Columbia University, directed by Roger S. Bagnall (it is now a project of New York University). It turned out to be a fourth century ‘villa’, once occupied by a family of high social status (the owner was a city councilman). 

The well-preserved decoration in four of the rooms depicts geometrical patterns as well as figurative scenes. Both the paintings in situ and the collected fragments pose considerable conservation problems; the layer of plaster is very thin and extremely fragile. The best way of conserving this precious building for future generations is refilling it with sand – after extensive documentation.

Because this unique Villa would be destroyed by being exposed to the public, the plan was made to build a full size reconstruction of the main house. In order to recreate the full splendor of this building the decision was taken to reconstruct the painted decoration as well. The project is financed by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Cairo and administered by the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo.
Soon after Nicholas Warner had finished the actual building the decoration team moved in and started reconstructing and re-creating the beautiful decoration.

The decoration of the two smaller rooms consists mainly of an intricate geometrical pattern. The biggest room, the Domed Room, was completely decorated from floor to the highest point in the dome. Similar to the ‘Red’ and the ‘Green’ Room there are geometrical ‘wallpapers’ all around, composed not from one but many different and stunning patterns. While the wallpapers are still in situ and could be copied without problems the dome collapsed in antiquity and it took a lot of work and patience to reconstruct the dome decoration from the thousands of fragments.

The only element missing in the Domed Room are the figurative scenes and we hope that they will be up on the walls in all their beauty rather sooner than later.

The Qasr Dakhleh Project

Director: Dr. Fred Leemhuis

The Qasr Dakhleh Project (QDP) started in 2002 with two objectives:

1. To document and restore some of the unique mud brick architecture of the little oasis town of al-Qasr in the Dachla Oasis.
2. To try to find out as much as possible about the history of al-Qasr.

Supported by the University of Groningen and the Netherlands Embassy in Cairo we were, over the years, able to restore or reconstruct five rather large houses, some of them four stories high.  In the course of this some six hundred documents were found in the largest house; all part of a family archive. Since the end of 2006 we have tried to obtain permission to introduce water and electricity. The idea behind this was to make them ready for contemporary use, so that they will be maintained in good order. Just now, we have put the first electrical conduits in place.

After the discovery in 2006 of big part of a Roman wall of about six meters wide excavations were started in 2008 to know more about it. We now know that al-Qasr started as a Roman castrum. This year the excavations are going on. We hope to find indications of the continuity of habitation, or otherwise, since the Byzantines left the oasis.

For more information, visit

Dayr al Barsha project

Update : August 2017

Director: Professor Dr Harco Willems (KU Leuven), co-director Dr Marleen De Meyer (KU Leuven & NVIC)

This project ( began in 1988 as an initiative of Harco Willems, then working for Leiden University. The original intention was to publish the field records of Reisner’s expedition in 1915 in conjunction with an epigraphic record of some Middle Kingdom tombs. Because Reisner's records are kept in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, a joint mission was started with that museum and the University Museum at Philadelphia; this collaborative effort realized one field campaign (1990). After hibernating between 1992 and 2001, the project, now based at KU Leuven, was restarted. It is mainly funded by the Research Foundation - Flanders and the Special Research Fund of Leuven University, but also by international funding agencies.

The project aims to provide a regional description of the archaeology of the region around Dayr al-Barsha, the southern limit being at al-Shaykh Sa’id and the northern one at Dayr Abu Hinnis. A main focus of attention is the cemeteries at the desert fringe in this entire area, which span the period between the Third Dynasty and the Graeco-Roman Period. Current research interests include the spatial distribution of the many cemeteries and settlements in the region, the reconstruction of the landscape, and digital reconstruction of monuments. Based on surface surveys, ground- and satellite-based remote sensing, targeted excavations, and epigraphic work, the project is generating site histories of each of the cemetery sites in the region, in order to establish a basic demographic profile of the buried populations. Preliminary results can be summarized as follows.

In the Third Dynasty, a poor but huge cemetery emerged on the hill slopes between northern Dayr al-Barsha and Dayr Abu Hinnis. Later in the Old Kingdom (as of the Fifth Dynasty, but mainly in the Sixth) several rock cut tomb cemeteries emerged on the north and south flanks of the Wadi Nakhla (in Dayr al-Barsha). At the same time, an important cemetery for provincial governors, which is now being investigated, emerged at al-Shaykh Sa’id. In the First Intermediate Period a cemetery of the highest elite emerged in what is now the village centre of Dayr al-Barsha. In the Middle Kingdom a vast cemetery extended from here across the desert plain to the hilltops further east, the latter area being occupied by the nomarchs' tombs. In the Second Intermediate Period and Early New Kingdom, poorer burials were mostly deposited in older tombs. After this, burial activity stopped almost until the Late or Ptolemaic Period. Probably the main provincial cemetery was now moved to Tuna al-Jabal on the west bank. Extensive late cemeteries exist, however, near al-Shaykh Sa’id. All these cemeteries must relate to settlements in the Nile Valley.

Reconstruction of this landscape is currently being undertaken, the aim being to contextualize the cemeteries within its floodplain environment. Therefore, geomorphological research is now also being carried out on the west bank, in collaboration with geographers of KU Leuven.

Research is also focusing on ancient economic activity in the region, most notably quarrying. In collaboration with historians of KU Leuven, the vast limestone quarries from the time of Nectanebo I in the Wadi Nakhla, which among other things contain hundreds of demotic graffiti, are being recorded. At al-Shaykh Sa’id, quarry and stone processing activity dating back to the Fourth Dynasty is being investigated. Here probably a royal domain of that date existed. The site was later re-used between the Amarna Period and the Late Period. Most importantly, a recent initiative is the investigation of the Amarna Period quarries in the entire region. Although some exist near al-Shaykh Sa’id, the most important cluster extends between Dayr al-Barsha and Dayr Abu Hinnis. This is currently being mapped and the texts, bearing on the building history of Amarna, are being recorded.

The area also contains extensive testimony of early Christian activity. Study of this has mostly focused on the laura and rock church of John the Baptist at Dayr Abū Hinnis.

The latest research initiative, started in October 2017 in collaboration with the KU Leuven technology campus at Ghent, is to develop geomatic tools to digitally reconstruct the original shape of the area of the Middle Kingdom nomarch tombs, as well as these tombs themselves. This will i.a. result in a new publication of the tomb of Djehutihotep.


Update : August 2017

Dr Harco Willems

In 1992 KU Leuven, then in collaboration with the Université Charles de Gaulle Lille III, began research at the Roman Period temple and surrounding settlement at Shanhur, near Luxor. Initially, the project was directed by Jan Quaegebeur, and, since the latter's death, by Harco Willems. Research has been mainly funded by the Research Foundation - Flanders and the Special Research Fund of KU Leuven. This enabled an intensive programme of field research until 2001. In 2010, in collaboration with Swansea University (Martina Minas-Nerpel), a last field season was carried out sponsored by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung.

During the field campaigns, it has been possible to reconstruct the building history of the temple, which was initiated under Augustus, and where the latest texts date to the reign of Trajan. However, occasional finds at the site suggest that the temple had earlier precursors. To date, one volume of the final publication has appeared, which describes the decoration of the interior. From this, it appears that the temple was dedicated to a form of Isis of whom four manifestations were venerated. The temple clearly stands in the theological tradition of the temples at Coptos.

Architectural study has revealed that, as a secondary addition, a colonnade was built around the rear part of the temple (or at least at the northern and western sides), giving the building the partial appearance of a peripteral temple. As of the fifth century AD, the building became inhabited by Copts. There are clear traces that they ransacked and burned the temple prior to establishing themselves. Among the spoils, some badly damaged pieces of temple equipment were found.

Currently, the second volume, presenting the full publication of the exterior decoration, is nearing completion.

Deir el-Medina

Update : August 2017

Dr Rob Demarée
is studying papyri from the collections of the British Museum and the Turin Museum, and ostraca from excavations in the Valley of Kings and Deir el Medina, some of which are kept in the Cairo Museum. A large part of all this material is still unpublished; this promises to bring more information on the workmen’s village of Deir el Medina, which is one of the specialities of Demarée and the Egyptology section of Leiden University. More information on their website.

Tell Ibrahim Awad

Update : August 2017

Dr Willem van Haarlem

Since 1998, regular excavations have taken place at Tell Ibrahim Awad (‘tell’ is the Arabic word for a hillock). These excavations are now being supported by the Allard Pierson Museum. The tell is situated in a remote part of the Egyptian province of Sharqiya in the eastern Nile Delta. Archaeological surface research in the wide environs of the nearby district capital Faqus was conducted between 1982 and 1988. This revealed that this tell, which actually comprises two parts, was one of the most promising archaeological sites in the area. Two trial trenches dug in 1986, one on each tell part, revealed thick walls of what later turned out to be a Middle Kingdom temple and a much older rich burial dating to the 1st Dynasty.

Tell Ibrahim Awad is located just outside the village of Umm Agram. The highest point now is about three metres above the ground level, but it must once have been much higher. About thirty years ago, the middle of the tell was dug away to make room for an orchard, thus dividing the tell into two. It currently covers an area of about 20,000 m2 in total. Extensive drilling has revealed that this is no more than 10% of the original surface area; the rest of the mound has long been dug away for agricultural purposes. The heart of the original tell is formed by a sandy ridge, deposited there by the Nile when it flowed more slowly around a bend. Such sandy ridges remained dry during the annual Nile inundation and were thus good locations for settlements. The sand itself soon vanished under the accretion of habitation layers, eventually reaching a thickness of four metres. Because the Nile branches constantly changed their course, Tell Ibrahim Awad was abandoned in the early Middle Kingdom, when the closest Nile branch shifted its course and the settlement was no longer easily accessible.
Six older temples turned out to lie under the Middle Kingdom temple, the earliest dating back to Naqada II. This makes this temple one of the oldest, if not the oldest, ever found in Egypt. The most important finds were made in the temple layer dating to the late Old Kingdom. Deposits of votive and cult objects in use for long periods were found there, dating back to the Early Dynastic and even the Predynastic periods. Hundreds of statuettes depicting people, baboons, crocodiles, hippopotami and lions were offered by the devout to the temple to strengthen their pleas for healing or children. What is remarkable is that concentrations of such statuettes are found in temples from the same period all over Egypt – from Elephantine, Hierakonpolis and Abydos in the south, to Tell el-Farkha close to Tell Ibrahim Awad. In this aspect Egypt was a cultural unit from very early times, much earlier than a political one. 

Alongside the temple terrain is a cemetery containing about eighty graves so far, dating from the late Old Kingdom to the Middle Kingdom. Most of them are very poor graves, often with not much more than some pottery and beads as burial goods. This is in contrast to the few large, richly provided burials from the 1st and 2nd Dynasties on the second tell – discovered by the first test trench – which contained a wide variety of pottery (beer jars and wine jars), stone vessels made of calcite, basalt and schist, ivory playing pieces, etc.

Due to circumstances, the excavations had to be suspended since the last documentation season in 2014.

Rock art research at Qurta

Dirk Huyge (Director) & Wouter Claes (Vice-Director)

In 2007, the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels started rock art research at Qurta, on the east bank of the Nile, along the northern edge of the Kom Ombo plain. The project was funded by Yale University. Three sites have been identified on the upper part of the Nubian sandstone cliffs bordering the Nile. The majority of the rock art consist of naturalistically drawn animal figures. The bulk of these animals are representations of wild cattle or aurochs, but birds, hippopotamus, gazelle and hartebeest are also present. In addition, there are also several highly stylized representations of human figures (mostly shown with protruding buttocks, but no other bodily features) and a small number of probable non-figurative or abstract signs. All the images are very darkly coloured, bear a substantially developed patination and/or rock varnish and show traces of intensive weathering. This in itself is already an indication of considerable antiquity.

Based on the particularities and the nature of the rock art, its general geographical and archaeological context, there is little doubt that the rock art repertoire at Qurta is extremely old. It can most probably be attributed to the Late Pleistocene Ballanan-Silsian culture which is dated to about 16000 to 15000 BP. As such, Qurta constitutes the oldest graphic activity recorded in Egypt until now. Whatever its precise chronological position in the Late Pleistocene, the Qurta rock art is quite unlike any other rock art found elsewhere in Egypt and Africa. It moreover provides clear evidence that Africa in general and Egypt in particular possess prehistoric art that is both chronologically and aesthetically closely comparable to the great Palaeolithic art traditions known for a long time on the European continent.

Selected bibliography:

- D. Huyge, M. Aubert, H. Barnard, W. Claes, J. C. Darnell, M. De Dapper, E. Figari, S. Ikram, A. Lebrun-Nélis & I. Therasse (2007), ‘Lascaux along the Nile’: Late Pleistocene Rock Art in Egypt, in: Antiquity –Project Gallery, vol. 81, nr. 313 (

- D. Huyge (2008), Côa en Afrique: Art rupestre du Pleistocène récent le long du Nil égyptien – Côa in Africa : Late Pleistocene Rock Art along the Egyptian Nile, in : INORA, nr. 51, p. 1-7.

D. Huyge & W. Claes (2008) : ‘Ice Age’ Art along the Nile, in: Egyptian Archaeology. Bulletin of the Egypt Exploration Society, p. 25-28

Elkab - update 31.08.2017

Belgian Archaeological Mission to Elkab – Elkab Excavations 

The ancient Egyptian town of Elkab lies on the east bank of the Nile, at about 600 km south of Cairo. It has been the subject of long-standing fieldwork that started at the end of the 19th century when British archaeologists conducted the first scientific excavations at the site. Since 1937, Elkab is being investigated by the Belgian Royal Museums of Art and History. More than 100 years of archaeological research have demonstrated the importance of the site already from the Early Dynastic period (c. 2900 BC) onwards and probably even earlier. However, previous research was primarily dedicated to the large religious and funerary monuments with only little attention being paid to the study of the settlement. As a result, until recently, we had a fairly good insight into the religious and funerary beliefs of the ancient inhabitants of Elkab, but, in contrast, knew virtually nothing about the original habitation and the way in which the occupation was organized and how it evolved over time.

Since 2009, the Belgian Archaeological Mission to Elkab, under the direction of Dirk Huyge (director) and Wouter Claes (assistant director), has focussed its research on the habitation area. It is now systematically investigating the late prehistoric and early pharaonic settlement. So far, six field seasons by an interdisciplinary team of Belgian and foreign specialists have yielded important new information regarding the early occupation of the site and the origin and establishment of the town. The results of the excavations demonstrate that its origin goes back to Predynastic times, more specifically to the Badari period (c. 4500 BC). Subsequently, the site has continuously been inhabited until the Graeco-Roman and Coptic era. From the onset of the Early Dynastic period onwards, the habitation gradually expanded and the accumulation of subsequent occupation layers led to the development of a large tell, which was probably very similar to the still partially preserved tells at, for example, Edfu and Kom Ombo. On the basis of drawings, sketches and descriptions by 19th-century travellers, we know that this tell must have covered an area of several hectares and that it was at least 30 m high. By the end of the 19th century, it had almost completely been dug away by the sebakhin (diggers for fertilizer). The Old Kingdom and earlier settlement remains, however, largely remained untouched during this operation, which presents us with the unique opportunity to actually excavate and document the early habitation horizons.

The vertical and horizontal distribution of the various excavated archaeological features, combined with the results of the geomorphological study of the surrounding landscape, have demonstrated that the oldest phases of occupation (Badari through Naqada) were spatially restricted to a large aeolian sand dune that emerged above the floodplain and did not extend into the alluvial plain. During the Early Dynastic period and the early Old Kingdom, the settlement continued to develop on the sand dune, but also expanded into the floodplain, undoubtedly as a result of growing population pressure. Several well-preserved mud brick buildings have been excavated attesting to a clear urban planning. The functional analysis of the archaeological material unambiguously points to household activities, illustrating daily life at the site, but the discovery of a complete Early Dynastic crucible and a small furnace also indicates the presence of specialized workshops for the production of copper. Moreover, during the 2015 season, a large fragment of a rare and important royal statue, representing the 5th-dynasty pharaoh Sahure, was found within the debris of the Old Kingdom enclosure walls.

The current excavations in the settlement area of Elkab are of great significance. Indeed, stratified settlement sites are extremely rare in Egypt and Elkab is one of the very few places known where the development of a large provincial town can be studied in detail over such a long period of time. Most other settlements in Egypt do not offer the same research possibilities as they are covered up by thick layers of Nile alluvium or deeply buried beneath modern villages and towns, while others have been completely destroyed. The archaeological work at Elkab presents exciting research opportunities with regard to our understanding of early Egyptian settlement patterns and dynamics. It may elucidate the way in which a small prehistoric settlement in Upper Egypt gradually evolved and transformed into a fully urbanized society of historic times.  

Funding for the work at Elkab has been provided by the Belgian Ministry of Science Policy (2009-2010), the Egyptology Endowment Fund of Yale University, USA (2012), the German Gerda Henkel Stiftung (2015-2016) and National Geographic Society (2017-2018). In addition, the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo (NVIC) and Vodafone Egypt offered administrative and logistic support.
Recent publications  

- W. Claes & D. Huyge (in print), ‘De nederzetting van Elkab: op zoek naar de oorsprong van urbanisatie in het oude Egypte’, Science Connection 55.
- D. Huyge (2017), ‘King Sahure in Elkab’, Egyptian Archaeology 50, p. 41-43.
- W. Claes & D. Huyge (2016), ‘Finds from Elkab: revealing the origins of the settlement’, Egyptian Archaeology 49, p. 38-42.
- S. Hendrickx, W. Claes, A. Devillers, G. Storms, C. Swerts & S. Vereecken (2016), ‘The pottery of the Early Dynastic and the late Old Kingdom settlement at Elkab (excavation season 2010)’, in: B. Bader, C. M. Knoblauch & C. Köhler (eds.) Vienna 2 - Ancient Egyptian Ceramics in the 21st Century: Proceedings of the international Conference held at the University of Vienna 14th-18th of May, 2012 (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 245), Leuven, p. 259-276.
- W. Claes, S. Hendrickx, A. Devillers, E. Hart, K. Kindermann, M. De Dapper, S. Ikram, G. Storms, C. Swerts & D. Huyge (2014), ‘From the early Old Kingdom to the Badarian. Preliminary report on the 2012 excavation campaign in the settlement area of Elkab’, in: A. M ączyńska  (ed.), The Nile Delta as a Centre of cultural Interactions between Upper Egypt and the Southern Levant in the 4th Millennium BC (Studies of African Archaeology 13), P oznań, p.  73-93.
- D. Huyge (2013), ‘Life and death in Old Kingdom Elkab’, Ancient Egypt. The History, People and Culture of the Nile Valley 13(4), p. 28-37.
- D. Huyge & L. Limme (2012), ‘Elkab na Capart: van prehistorische kamppeerplaats tot Grieks-Romeinse nederzetting’, in: L. Bavay, M.-C. Bruwier, W. Claes & I. De Strooper (eds.), Ceci n’est pas une pyramide… een eeuw Belgisch archeologisch onderzoek in Egypte, Leuven, p. 46-61.
- D. Huyge (2010), ‘Onder de vleugels van Nechbet: leven en sterven in Elkab tijdens het Oude Rijk’, Ta-Mery 3, p. 26-35.
- J. Rowland, P. Maříková Vlčková, S. Hendrickx, T. Herbich, W. Claes & D. Huyge (2009), ‘Old Kingdom settlement remains at Elkab (Upper Egypt): preliminary report on the 2009 field season’, Bulletin des Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire 80, p. 21-50.


In March-April 2004, a Belgian-Egyptian team, sponsored by the Fund for Scientific Research – Flanders and directed by Dirk Huyge of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels, continued rock art research at the sites of El-Hosh, on the west bank of the Nile, about 30 km south of Edfu. In addition to further recording, excavations were undertaken at several locations in order to find archaeological traces of the creators of the rock art. These activities led, amongst others, to the unexpected discovery of an intact tomb of the Naqada II period.

The rock art of El-Hosh has already been the subject of a survey organized in November 1998 (Huyge et al. 1998; Huyge 2000-2001). On that occasion a multitude of sites with thousands of petroglyphs was located. Attention was paid mainly to the oldest manifestations of rock art in the area representing intensively patinated, mushroom-shaped, curvilinear and geometric designs (including possible representations of labyrinth fish traps), as well as a number of seemingly associated anthropomorphic figures and zoomorphs. These drawings occur at three sites: Gebelet Jussef, Abu Tanqurah Bahari and Abu Tanqurah Qibli. At El-Hosh, it has been possible, for the first time in African rock art research, to obtain direct ages (termini ante quem) for the rock drawings on the basis of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) 14C dating of organic matter enclosed in rock varnish [see Huyge et al.200; Huyge et al. 2002-2003]. The results indicate that part of the rock art at El-Hosh pre-dates the early 7th millennium BP 9mid 6th millennium cal BC), making it the oldest graphic activity thus far recorded in the Nile Valley.

Further surveying of the El-Hosh area in March-April 2004 has led to the discovery of several new rock art localities bearing an archaic repertoire of drawings. The most remarkable find, however, was a new petroglyph location at the southernmost tip of Abu Tanqurah Bahari. It shows several images of bovids executed in a ‘Franco-Cantabrian, Lascaux-like’ style. They are quite different from the stylized cattle representations in ‘classical’ Predynastic iconography of the 4th millennium BC. On the basis of patination and weathering, these bovid representations are definitely extremely old (possibly Late Palaeolithic or Early Neolithic?). They are comparable to similar bovid images that had been discovered in 1962-1963 on the opposite bank of the Nile, in the Gebel Silsila area (see Smith 1985).

With the intention to recover archaeological traces of the people responsible for the creation of the archaic rock art repertoire at El-Hosh, several soundings were made at the site of Gebelet Jussef. Three of the four soundings were made at shelter-like overhangs in the vicinity of rock art panels. Unfortunately, the shallow deposits in these shelters were thoroughly disturbed and no archaeological material was found in situ. The finds, mainly ceramics, indicate that the site of Gebelet Jussef was frequented throughout the Predynastic and early pharaonic periods. Traces of occupation phases which could be linked to the pre-7th millennium rock art repertoire, however, were not found.

In addition, a number of circular stone structures were investigated at the southern extremity of Gebelet Jussef. On the basis of the rough ceramics found in and near these constructions, these are probably ‘Bedouin’ and/or ‘Nubian’ in nature. Their function and age remain unknown. Below one of the structures, but evidently unrelated to it, an intact tomb was found, dug into the bedrock. This tomb is clearly of Naqada IIC age (c. 3500-3400 BC) and contained a skeleton and a number of grave goods including two small Rough jars, two large Red-Polished bowls and a superb Decorated vase. The latter item is decorated with boats, human figures and birds. The deceased faced west and was buried in a contracted position, the hands covering the face. Below the skeleton lay several well preserved fragments of a reed matting. According to a preliminary anthropological analysis (by Dr. Caroline Polet) the skeleton is probably that of a female aged between forty and fifty and with a stature of about 1.55-1.60 m. It is currently unknown whether or not this tomb indicates the location of a Naqada II cemetery.


D. Huyge, M. De Dapper, D. Depraetere, M. Ismail, E. Marchi, R. Mommaerts, I. Regulski and A. Watchman, Hilltops, Silts, and Petroglyphs: ‘The Fish Hunters of El-Hosh (Upper Egypt)’, Bulletin van de Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis/Bulletin des Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire 69 (1998), 97-113.

D. Huyge, ‘Rock Art Research in Upper Egypt: The Environs of El-Hosh. Report on the work done in 1998’, Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Egypte 76 (2000-2001), 45-52.

D. Huyge, A. Watchman, M. De Dapper and E. Marchi E., ‘Dating Egypt’s Oldest ‘Art’: AMS 14C Age Determinations of Rock Varnishes Covering Petroglyphs at El-Hosh (Upper Egypt)’, Antiquity 75 (2001), 68-72.

D. Huyge, M. De Dapper, E. Marchi and A. Watchman, ‘Les chasseurs de poissons d’El-Hosh (Haute-Egypte): l’art rupestre le plus ancien de la vallée du Nil’, in J. Polet (dir.), Afrique: Archéologie & Arts 2 (Paris, 2002-2003), 39-46.

P.E.L. Smith, ‘An Enigmatic Frieze from Upper Egypt : A Problem in Nilotic Rock Art’, in M. Liverani, A. Palmieri and R. Peroni (eds), Studi di paletnologia in onore di Salvatore M. Puglisi (Roma, 1985), 359-368.

Belgian Middle Egypt Prehistoric Project

This research project of the Catholic University of Leuven was created in 1976 by Professor Dr Pierre Vermeersch, who assumed its direction until 2003.
The present director is Professor Dr Philip Van Peer.


The project was founded in 1976 by Pierre M. Vermeersch and Etienne Paulissen, both from the University of Leuven.  It was a fieldwork project  aiming at understanding both the occupational and geomorphological history of the Lower Nile Valley in prehistoric  times, starting out from the underresearched area of Middle Egypt.  Over the years  the surveys were extended upstream into Upper Egypt and  the thematic focus was centered on Palaeolithic hunters and gatherers.  From the early 1990’s on the project started working in the Eastern Desert where caves and shelters occur in the Eocene limestones. These were expected to deliver the residential sites that were missing in the Valley. Sodmein Cave site in the Jebel Duwi formation, the southernmost occurrence of  the limestone, was the first focus of attention. Three seasons were spent excavating at Sodmein Cave. This work was complemented with surveys for other sites, both open-air and sheltered, and it continued until 2003 when a final survey campaign was carried out in the desert to the west of Hurghada. 


After an interruption of 6 years, the project was resumed in 2009 under the direction of Philip Van Peer who, in the intermediate period, had excavated the site of Sai 8-B-11 in the Middle Nile Valley of northern Sudan. A collaboration was initiated with the German Collaborative Research Centre 806 of which the University of Cologne is the managing institution. This interdisciplinary project seeks to investigate the migration routes of early Homo sapiens through which they became established in the northern Old World. Subproject A1, directed by geographer Olaf Bubenzer,  is concerned with Egypt and the Red Sea coast as a possible early migration route. Under this CRC 806 aegis, the Universities of Leuven and Cologne are jointly pursuing  further excavation of Sodmein Cave. Three campaigns have been spent since our initial re-visit of the site in 2009.

The pottery workshops in Fustat (Completed Project)

Dr Kim Duistermaat (NVIC) en Niels Groot (TU Delft)

Fustat, medieval Cairo, was famous for its beautiful glazed pottery. Since then, potters have always been working in this area of the city. Nowadays, the potteries of Cairo are still concentrated here. They used to be located around the mosque of Amr Ibn el-‘As. But when the SCA fenced off the archaeological site of Fustat, the potters had to move. Most of them relocated to the south, to an area called ‘Batn el-Baqara’. However, in 1999 the Egyptian government wanted to remove the potters here too: the black smoke of their kilns created too much pollution. The potters, together with a local NGO, developed a plan to modernise their workshops. From 2006 onwards, the old workshops were demolished to make space for new buildings. It was planned that the potters will return here, and work in more modern and cleaner circumstances. 

‘Traditional’ crafts are interesting for archaeologists. It is the only way to directly observe techniques, the use of tools and space, how people organise themselves and what material traces their activities leave. The potters in Fustat were documented by ethnoarchaeologists twice before. A French-Egyptian team made a detailed study of the workshops, buildings, tools and products in the 1970’s. Most potters were then producing ‘olla’s’, water jars, that were fired in enormous kilns with two or three floors. In 1998, a small NVIC team visited the potters again for a short documentation. The production of water jars had stopped, and they were making a variety of pots. In 2008 when our team visited, the potters were producing a diverse range of garden pots, rooftiles, lanterns and garden decorations. The enormous kilns had disappeared, and only smaller kilns were used. These were profound changes that affected the potters and their craft. Some of them have not been able to bridge the period between the demolishing of their old workshop and the move to the new buildings. They relocated to another area in Cairo, or left the craft. Others tried to continue, but their work will have changed. They use gas kilns, have a different kind of space, and perhaps cater more for a tourist market.  

In 2008 the NVIC started an ethnoarchaeological documentation project, to document the pottery workshops in Fustat one last time in detail, before these changes took effect. The project was carried out in cooperation with Leiden University and the Technical University of Delft, and was sponsored by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Cairo. Based on archaeological questions, we described pottery technology, use of space and organisation of the work. The descriptions are illustrated with maps, photo’s and video. The final publication will also contain information on the archaeological and historical information on pottery production in the area, and compare the current situation with the 1970’s. When the project started, about ten workshops were still active, of the more than 60 once located here.  

Most of the fieldwork was carried out in October and November 2008. The Dutch team spent three weeks in Fustat, and consisted of A. van As, L. Jacobs (Leiden University) and Niels Groot (Delft University). They studied the techniques of production and the use of space. Three students of archaeology from Leiden assisted them (R. Zineldeen, N. Staring and J. Schoester). A visual anthropology student, F. Breeksema, recorded the work of the potters on film. The architecture was documented by D. Bakhoum and her assistants, while M. Kačičnik took care of the photographic documentation. K. Duistermaat is working on a study of the way production is organised, and P. Sheehan will provide an overview of the archaeological and historical sources for the pottery craft in Fustat.   The final publication of the project is still in preparation.

During the project we were touched by the hospitality and willingness of the potters to assist us with our research, even when the whole group was roaming the area with a camera. They always answered our many questions in a friendly manner, and even if we did not have questions they were always ready to tell us all about their work.   Further reading:

Duistermaat, K. and N.C.F. Groot (2008), A new ethnoarchaeological documentation project at the Fustat pottery workshops, Egypt. Leiden Journal of Pottery Studies 24: 181-186.  

Golvin, L., J. Thiriot and M. Zakariya (1982), Les potiers actuels de Fustat, IFAO Cairo.  

Van As, A., Duistermaat, K., Groot, N.C.F., Jacobs, L., Schoester, J., Staring, N. and Zin el Deen, R. (2009), The Potters of Fustat (Cairo) in 2008: a preliminary report. Leiden Journal of Pottery Studies 25: 5-30.  

Van der Kooij, G. and W.Z. Wendrich (2002), The potters of el-Fustat (Cairo) and el-Nazla (Fayoum). In: W.Z. Wendrich and G. van der Kooij (eds.), Moving Matters. Ethnoarchaeology in the Near East, Leiden: 147-158.

Last Modified: 11-09-2017