- 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 and 2012, 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 17,000 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. Nearly all of the pieces are now in the database.
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 transcribed.
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 the past two years have been 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 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. 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. 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 currently under way, 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
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.
Both workshops were supported by additional funding from the Institute of Classical Studies, London.
More about the workshops
- Naukratis workshop programme, British Museum, December 2011
- Naukratis in context: cults, sanctuaries and offerings, workshop programme, June 2013
- Naukratis in context: cults, sanctuaries and offerings, workshop abstracts, June 2013
An exciting new development has been the instigation of new fieldwork. Two brief seasons have already been completed, in October 2012 and April 2013, supported by a British Academy Small Research Grant (Reckitt Fund) and additional British Museum funding.
The results obtained so far provide important new insights into the site’s archaeology and geomorphology and clearly demonstrate the site’s remaining fieldwork potential.
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.