Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissen­schaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Archäologie

"The Abydos Paper Archive: Documenting Egyptian Contributions to the Founding of Egyptology"

(since 2018, principal investigator: Nora Shalaby, funding since 2019: Gerda-Henkel-Stiftung, 2018-19: Fritz Thyssen Stiftung)


In 2013, a large archive containing thousands of Arabic language documents was discovered at the ancient site of Abydos. This exceptional cultural collection, belonging to the Inspectorate of Sohag, consists of correspondence to and from the inspectorate, diaries, notifications and other official and non-official paperwork written by employees of the then Egyptian Antiquities’ Authority. Dating from the 1880’s to the mid-1900’s, the documents offer insights into the everyday management of the archaeological sites, in and around Sohag, by hundreds of Egyptian inspectors, excavators, and guards, highlighting their active roles and responsibilities in the management and documentation of their heritage during Egyptology’s formative years.


While there has recently been a growing interest in the study of the early history of Egyptology amongst a wide spectrum of researchers, most narratives are written based on the archives of early European explorers and excavators who worked in Egypt around the beginning of the 20th century. They thus transcribe a historical trajectory based on western perceptions, with little or almost no mention of Egyptian histories and viewpoints. Although, several revisionist studies have attempted to incorporate local accounts into the narrative or reinterpret the archives within the context of European colonialism, the sparseness of such studies has left wide gaps in the historical narrative. As such, the Abydos archive is unique in its potential to readjust the predominant narrative of the history of Egyptology through an inclusion of long sidelined and overlooked local agents, emphasizing their role in both the management of their heritage and in the production of historical knowledge.


My post-doctoral research, hosted by the Department of Archäologie und Kulturgeschichte Nordostafrikas at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and part of ATPA*, intends to explore and bring to light these personalities, focusing particularly on documents from the time period between ca. 1920 through to 1940. It is during this period that a second generation of Egyptian Egyptologists, including figures such as Tawfik Boulis and others contemporary to him, rose through the ranks and became part of a sector that was operating within a colonial framework. Through an examination of the posts these Egyptian employees held, their responsibilities and duties, the power they wielded, and the significance of these factors in laying down the foundations of the field of Egyptology, light can be shed on the agency and early contribution of Egyptian scholars and employees as they worked to manage their heritage. This research follows up on my first year of post-doctoral research which focused on the time period between the 1900’s through to the 1920’s.


*ATPA: The Abydos Temple Paper Archive - a joint Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and University of California, Berkeley project.