Project director

Department of Greece and Rome 

Project curators

Supported by

The Leverhulme Trust
  • Christian Levett and the Mougins Museum of Classical Art
  • The Shelby White - Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications
  • Institute of Classical Studies, London
  • The British Academy, Reckitt Fund

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Project progress

 

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 obtained. This new phase began in 2011 with three project curators, supported by academic experts and student volunteers, working in partnership with curators, collections managers and archivists in museums and institutions with holdings of Naukratis material. A key aim was to re-unite, re-contextualise and analyse the entire body of finds from Naukratis, including both Greek and Egyptian objects from the site’s beginnings in the seventh century BC through to the seventh century AD. For finds retrieved during the pioneering fieldwork and collecting activities at Naukratis between 1884 and 1903 this work is now completed, and over 18,000 objects from more than 70 museums worldwide are published an online catalogue. This catalogue is accompanied by over thirty chapters on Naukratis and its material, and more will be added as our research progresses.

Another crucial aspect of this second phase is new fieldwork at the site itself. Five seasons of work (2012-2016) have now been completed and have produced a wealth of important new insights, demonstrating that there is much yet to be discovered about the site from its rich surviving archaeological remains.

The most recent addition to our work, ongoing since 2015, concerns the restudy and publication of the American survey and excavations in the Western Nile Delta, which between 1977 and 1983 investigated the area around Naukratis and the neighbouring site of Kom Firin.

The following sections provide more detail on the various aspects of our work. Taken together, they will, finally, provide a solid foundation for a new analysis of the history and development of Naukratis as an Egyptian, Greek and Roman town and a centre of cross-cultural contact.


 

Research around the world, and at home

 
Houses at Amara West

Project curator François Leclère photographing objects in the McLean Museum in Greenock, July 2011.

Since 2011, a main focus of our work has been the study and analysis of finds and archival documents from the early fieldwork in the British Museum itself as well as in partner institutions in the UK, US, Egypt and elsewhere. Huge thanks are due to the curators, registrars, archivists and administrators at all of these museums and archives, whose assistance has been vital to the project, as well as to our funders, primarily the Leverhulme Trust (Research Project Grant F/100 052/E), the Leon Levy – Shelby White Program for Archaeological Publications, and Christian Levett and the Mougins Museum of Classical Art.

An exciting (if at times alarming) development resulting from this phase of work has been that numbers of known objects from Naukratis has been going up steadily. We are now aware of over 18,000 finds that were distributed over 70 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, and have been catalogued by project curators on numerous research trips.

In the meantime, back in London, work continued on the Naukratis finds in the British Museum’s own 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.

All of the known finds from Naukratis have been published since early 2016 our online catalogue, which was publicly released in several phases with the massive help of our colleagues in the documentation, digital and IT parts of the Museum.

 

Archives: reassessing nineteenth century archaeology

 
Page from Petrie's journal from the day he identified Naukratis

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 Flinders Petrie’s pioneering work at the site. The diaries of David 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 been digitised and transcribed by the project’s curators and volunteers. They offer invaluable information on the topography and development of the site and the find context of objects. They also confirm 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. Collaboration with the Centre Golenischeff in Paris with its important archive of papers by Egyptologist Jean Yoyotte has added further valuable information.

 

Analysing Naukratis: art and science

 
Polychrome painting on fragments of Archaic Greek architecture from Naukratis

Polychrome painting on fragments of Archaic Greek architecture from Naukratis

While much of our early work was dedicated to gathering evidence, over the past few years we were able to concentrate more on research and analysis. Many key groups of material culture from Naukratis have now been studied and the results published as chapters in our online catalogue, written by the project researchers and external contributors. they provide many new insights into Naukratis and its people. Work on the hitherto much neglected Egyptian material alongside excavation documentation proved particularly interesting, indicating that the Egyptian aspect of Naukratis is earlier than is often thought, going back to the very beginnings of the site in the late seventh century BC. This is now also confirmed by results from our own excavations. Other work has focused on the workshops of Naukratis. For example, a detailed study of the numerous terracotta and limestone figurines has 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 analysed with NAA and petrographic/SEM-EDX analysis, conducted by Michela Spataro of the British Museum’s Department of Scientific Research and Hans Mommsen of the Helmholtz-Institut für Strahlen- und Kernphysik at Bonn University. This has not only helped us to resolve some tricky questions of provenance, but has also made it possible 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 has now been completed, led by Joanne Dyer of the British Museum’s Department of Scientific Research. New imaging methods producing stunning results allow the visualization of pigment traces of Egyptian blue that are almost invisible to the naked eye.

A programme of faience analysis was conducted as a collaboration between Andrew Meek of the British Museum’s Department of Scientific Research and the Musée du Louvre, Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (C2RMF). Analyses were carried out at the Accélérateur Grand Louvre d'Analyse Elémentaire (AGLAE), facilitated by the European CHARISMA programme. The results shed new light on the production of faience at sixth century BC Naukratis against the wider background of cultural contact and technology transfer.

Most recently, a pilot study for a new project using scientific analysis of metals to investigate metals sources and trade in the ancient Mediterranean was successfully concluded, focusing on the question of the origin of metals used in Late Period Egypt. Some 80 bronze and faience objects as well as ore samples from Naukratis and other key sites were analysed with XRF and lead isotope analysis as part of a collaboration between British Museum curators and scientists and Ernst Pernicka at the Curt-Engelhorn-Zentrum Archäometrie in Mannheim, supported by the German Gerda Henkel Stiftung.

 

Engaging with others: from London to Egypt

 
Naukratis, November 2011: area of Hogarth’s Hellenion, previously covered by a lake

Naukratis, November 2011: area of Hogarth’s Hellenion, previously covered by a lake

Two international workshops held at the British Museum have allowed us to share our results with colleagues and to discuss and debate the wider historical questions and methodological issues surrounding Naukratis, the Nile Delta and Egyptian-Greek relations.

The first of these two-day conferences was organised by Ross Thomas in December 2011 on the theme of Naukratis and the Nile Delta. It 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.

In June 2013, the second workshop was organised by Marianne Bergeron and Aurélia Masson-Berghoff, on the theme of Naukratis in context: cults, sanctuaries and offerings, bringing together over 60 Egyptologists and Greek archaeologists from the UK, the rest of Europe, Egypt, and North America. The workshop featured 21 papers concerning Greek and Egyptian ritual practices at Naukratis and beyond, focusing on religious practices in cross-cultural contexts, Ptolemaic royal cults, terracotta figurines, faience objects and Greek pottery as votive offerings, votive inscriptions and Egyptian cult processions and temple decoration.

 

Fieldwork

 
 

For the second fieldwork season, the team was joined by inspector Entesar El Sayed Ashour, from the local SCA office and her colleague Emad Hamdy Mohamed Abou Esmail.

An especially exciting aspect of our work has been new fieldwork at Naukratis, initiated in 2012 and carried out by the dedicated members of our fieldwork team with the help and support of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. Two seasons of magnetometry and surface survey (October 2012, April 2013) were followed by three season of excavation and with further geophysical work (April/May 2014, 2015, 2016); our work in the field has been supported by several grants from the Honor Frost Foundation, by a British Academy Small Research Grant (Reckitt Fund), grants from the Michela Schiff Giorgini Foundation and (via our geologist, Ben Pennington) the Egypt Exploration Society, funding from Bryn Mawr College (via our collaborator Astrid Lindenlauf) as well as additional funding from the British Museum and the Institute of Classical Studies, London.

Methods employed include GPS topographic survey, geophysical prospection (magnetometry), auger drill coring, electronic resistance tomography (ERT) as well as excavations in different areas of the site. The five seasons completed so far have transformed our view of Naukratis. Geophysical and geological work shows that substantial, untouched archaeological remains exist across the ancient site, which from its earliest days extended well beyond the areas excavated by Petrie and Hogarth; over 80 new architectural features could be mapped. It also allows us to pinpoint the location of the Canopic branch of the Nile, which we can trace skirting the western edge of the site. Excavations have concentrated on three main areas, the town’s harbour and riverfront in the west, the Greek sanctuaries of the Dioskouroi and the Hellenion in the north, and the Egyptian sanctuary of Amun-Ra (the ‘Great Temenos’) in the south and have yielded immensely rich archaeological assemblages that underline the mixed character of the site’s population as well as the town’s wide international trade links and that allow us to correct some of the biases introduced by earlier fieldwork and its interpretations.

Together with the restudy of earlier work, the new results begin to provide a comprehensive archaeological picture of the site across the period of its occupation that had been missing from earlier fieldwork and research. You can see us at work in Naukratis in a CNN documentary filmed in May 2016.

Summary of season one, 2012 

For a longer report on the results of season one, see R.I Thomas and A. Villing, 'Naukratis Revisited 2012: Integrating New Fieldwork and Old Research', BMSAES 20 (2013) 81-125.

Summary of season two, 2013 

Summary of season three, 2014 

 Summary of season four, 2015

 Summary of season five, 2016

 

The Western Nile Delta Survey

 
Alden Arndt using a field computer during Leonard and Coulson's excavations in 1982

Alden Arndt using a field computer during Leonard and Coulson's excavations in 1982 © W.D.E. Coulson Archives, University of Thessaly, Dpt. of History Archaeology and Social Anthropology

The latest addition to the portfolio of our work is the re-evaluation and publication of the American fieldwork in the wider region around Naukratis. While working at Naukratis itself in between 1977 and 1983, an American team under William Coulson and Albert Leonard Jr attempted to record ancient sites in an area of ca. 800km2 around and to the west of Naukratis, with excavation carried out in a small number of them. The project was a bold attempt to investigate a previously largely unstudied cultural and socio-economic landscape using modern survey and excavation techniques frequently provides the richest and sometimes only record of the sites in this historically important region, but only parts of this work were ever published. Funding for assessing and making this important research (preserved in extensive archival documentation as well as objects) available to scholarship was obtained in 2015 from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications as part of a three-year project conducted in collaboration with Neal Spencer, Keeper of the British Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan and excavator of Kom Firin, one of the sites covered in the survey, and with the assistance of the Nancy Wilkie, the Coulson Archives at the University of Thessaly, Volos and Bryn Mawr College.

Analysis of the material is beginning to shed new light on the settlement patterns and historical development of the western Nile Delta. It is now clear, for example, that there are numerous Late Period, and indeed earlier, sites within the survey area, correcting earlier assumptions that many sites were settled only in the Ptolemaic or Roman period.

 

Exhibitions

 
Cypriot limestone figure of a huntsman

Cypriot limestone figure of a huntsman from Naukratis, 575-40 B.C. © Trustees of the British Museum

A major British Museum exhibition, Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds (19 May – 27 November 2016), offered a wonderful opportunity to share research on Naukratis and Egyptian-Greek relations with a wide international public. Curated by the Naukratis Project’s Egyptian expert, Aurélia Masson-Berghoff, the exhibition presented spectacular new finds from recent underwater excavations at the ancient Mediterranean port cities of Heracleion and Canopus, ‘sister’ harbours of Naukratis on the mouth of the Canopic branch of the Nile.

In conjunction with Sunken Cities, a spotlight exhibition, A Greek in Egypt: The Hunter from Naukratis, toured to Cirencester Corinium Museum, Nottingham University Museum and Newcastle, Great North Museum. Its focus was the figure of the ‘hunter’, a 6th century BC Cypriot limestone statuette of a young huntsman carrying home his prey. Excavated by Petrie in 1885-6 in the sanctuary of Aphrodite at Naukratis, the statuette bears a Greek votive inscription that shows it was dedicated to Aphrodite by a Greek, Kallias. Combining Cypriot, Egyptian and Greek elements in dress and style, the figure exemplifies the site’s role as central node of Mediterranean trade and a crossroads of civilisation.