- The Shelby White - Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications
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The Naukratis project is interdisciplinary and collaborative, involving scholars from many museums and research institutes across the world – in the UK, Europe, Egypt, the USA and Australia.
Work began in 2003 with a focus on Greek pottery, the largest single group of finds from Naukratis, and one of the most important and varied Archaic and Classical pottery assemblages known from the ancient world. The British Museum's research on this was in part conducted in collaboration with researchers of the SFB 295 B.1 ‘Griechische Kunst und Kunsthandwerk in Ägypten. Kulturtransfer und Interaktion in archaischer Zeit’ at the University of Mainz, Germany, led by Ursula Höckmann.
While the main focus was on the British Museum collection, a loan of nearly 1,000 sherds of Greek pottery from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford enabled us to study them alongside our own material.
In 2004, a joint conference at the British Museum examined Greek pottery from Naukratis in the context of exchange in the Eastern Mediterranean. The proceedings were published in 2006 (Villing and Schlotzhauer 2006), revealing much new information on the early Greek inhabitants and visitors of Naukratis, their religious life, and the networks of exchange of which the town was a part. Greek pottery from Naukratis also provided a rich field for scientifically investigating Archaic pottery production in the East Greek ‘mother cities’ of Naukratis that remained poorly understood. One of the results that emerged from this work was the identification of a workshop of Greek-style pottery in sixth century BC Naukratis.
With time, however, it became increasingly clear that the site could only be fully understood if other categories of finds, and later periods, were considered. Moreover, not only the objects in the British Museum, but also the large number of finds in other collections, had to be included.
In 2009, a workshop on ‘Egyptians and Foreigners in the Nile Delta: Trade and Interaction’ was held at the British Museum with scholars working on Naukratis and related sites such as Kom Firin, Sais, Tell Dafana, and Herakleion-Thonis. This was a first step in aiming for a broader and more balanced view of Naukratis.
As a second phase of the project, a collaboration with Penny Wilson of Durham University was initiated and external funding sought. This began in 2011 with three project curators, supported by academic experts and student volunteers, working in partnership with curators and collections managers in museums and institutions with holdings of Naukratis material. Their aim is to re-unite and re-contextualise the entire body of finds from Naukratis. This includes both Greek and Egyptian objects from the site’s beginnings in the seventh century BC through to the end of the Ptolemaic period.
This work will, finally, provide a solid foundation for a new analysis of the history and development of the site as an Egyptian, Greek and Roman town and a centre of cross-cultural contact.
Research around the world, and at home
Project curator, François Leclère photographing objects in the McLean Museum in Greenock, July 2011.
In 2011, efforts were concentrated on working with partner museums that hold large portions of the finds, in the UK, US, Egypt and elsewhere, as well as on cataloguing material in the British Museum collection.
Huge thanks are due to the curators, registrars and administrators at all of these museums, whose assistance is vital to the project. An exciting (if somewhat alarming) development resulting from this phase of work is that numbers of known objects from Naukratis have been going up steadily.
We are now aware of over 15,000 finds that were distributed over 60 collections worldwide, from Dundee to Kyoto and Sydney. While some of these finds have been lost or de-accessioned (especially during the Second World War), the majority is still extant. Half of the pieces are now in the database. The remainder is set to follow in 2012-13.
In the meantime, back in London, work continued on the Naukratis finds in the British Museum collection. Here we were able to identify an additional 1400 previously unprovenanced or wrongly provenanced objects as coming from Naukratis. These include, in particular, stamped amphora handles which with the help of drawings in Petrie's excavation diary can now be securely re-attributed to the site.
Archives: reassessing nineteenth century archaeology
Page from Petrie's journal from the day he identified Naukratis. EES Archive XVIId, 47 © Egypt Exploration Society
Gathering and studying excavation diaries and notes is another aspect of the work we began in 2011. The Egypt Exploration Society, the Petrie Museum and the Griffith Institute at Oxford kindly allowed us to examine and digitise many documents relevant to Petrie’s work at the site. The diaries of Hogarth’s two seasons at the site were also generously provided for study and documentation by his granddaughter.
Some 700 pages of relevant documents have now been digitised and work on transcribing them is nearly complete.
It is already becoming clear that the notebooks offer invaluable additional information on the topography and development of the site and the find context of objects. They reinforce the impression that much more Egyptian material was originally encountered at the site than is reflected in the surviving body of evidence, thus helping to provide a more balanced picture of the nature of Naukratis and its inhabitants. A productive collaboration with the Centre Golenischeff in Paris with its important archive of papers by Egyptologist Jean Yoyotte was also initiated.
Analysing Naukratis: art and science
Polychrome painting on fragments of Archaic Greek architecture from Naukratis
While much of 2011-12 was dedicated to gathering evidence, we were able to engage in at least some research and preliminary synthesis. A first overview of the hitherto much neglected Egyptian material alongside excavation documentation proved particularly interesting, suggesting that Egyptian Naukratis is earlier than is often thought. A preliminary study of 1400 terracotta and limestone figurines catalogued to date revealed significant local production from the seventh century BC to the Roman period displaying a notable variety of cross-cultural influences over time.
Research on these and other groups of material is continually informed by scientific analyses. Greek, Cypriot and locally made terracotta figurines and pottery have been sampled for NAA and petrographic/SEM-EDX analysis, and we expect first results from this new batch of analyses (which follows on from earlier work) soon. This should help resolve some tricky questions of provenance, but also allow us to investigate potting technology and its transfer in a cross-cultural environment.
Scientific research on the polychrome painting on some of the Ionic architecture and Cypriot and local sculpture from the site is also underway. New imaging methods producing stunning results allow the visualization of pigment traces of Egyptian blue that are almost invisible to the naked eye. Further scientific investigations of pottery, stone, glass and faience are planned, some of them in collaboration with ongoing research in other institutions.
Engaging with others: from London to Egypt
Naukratis, November 2011: area of Hogarth’s Hellenion, previously covered by a lake
A two-day workshop on Naukratis and the Nile Delta at the British Museum in December 2011 was attended by around 60 scholars from the UK, the rest of Europe, Egypt, Israel and the USA.
It featured 24 papers on topics ranging from sites such as Naukratis, Herakleion, Alexandria, and Schedia to the distribution of Greek trade amphorae in Egypt, the Nile Delta landscape and waterways, pottery and faience production and trade, and developing interaction between Greeks, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean. A further workshop is planned for early 2013.
Finally, a visit to Egypt and in particular to the site of Naukratis itself in October-November 2011 allowed us to trace some of the remaining features of the site on the ground. We met local archaeologists and explored the prospects of possible future fieldwork, which could be vital for understanding the site’s archaeology and geomorphology. The possibilities for making new discoveries are certainly greater than previously assumed.