Egyptological lectures and colloquia
The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology and the Annual Egyptological Colloquium.
Since 1992, the British Museum has hosted an annual keynote lecture presenting the latest research on Egypt and Nubia. The lecture is made possible through the generosity of Raymond and Beverly Sackler.
The lecture is accompanied by the Annual Egyptological Colloquium on a related theme, with invited speakers from around the world. An overview of past lectures and colloquia provides a glimpse of how research on the cultures of the Nile Valley has developed in the last two decades.
Links are provided to recent lectures and colloquia that have been published, whether online or in edited volumes.
Annual Egyptological lectures and colloquia
2021: The art of embalming. Practice, evolution and materiality
Annual Egyptological Colloquium
British Museum, London
2–3 September 2021
Keynote: José Galan – 'The Lives of Others. Dra Abu el-Naga, a living necropolis'
Further details to follow in early 2021.
This event was originally scheduled for 10–11 September 2020.
The 'House of the Aten' at Amarna: whose needs did it serve and how?
The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology by Barry Kemp, Amarna Project – 19 September 2019
Written and pictorial sources from Amarna make the 'House of the Aten' the centre of Akhenaten's cult of the sun, the Aten. In modern times it has been identified with a site in the centre of Amarna called the Great Aten Temple.
First excavated in 1932 by the Egypt Exploration Society, it has been the subject of a fresh examination by the Amarna Project since 2012. Two separate stone buildings – the Long Temple at the front and, to a lesser extent, the Sanctuary at the rear – provided monumental settings where the king and his family could celebrate sunrise in surroundings designed to display offerings on a large scale. They stood, however, within a designated space of far larger extent, most of it devoid of permanent structures.
While one aim of the current work is to clean and make permanently visible the larger of the stone temples, simultaneously the huge outside spaces are being investigated to try to understand how they were used. The growing evidence charts a changing landscape of less formal usage, seemingly non-royal although the king's presence (signalled by a small palace) was a constant.
In collaboration with the Amarna Project.
Amarna: the lived city
Colloquium – 19 and 20 September 2019
Since systematic excavations began in the late 19th century, the site of Amarna has shaped our understanding of Egyptian urbanism, while eliciting fascination because of the unique nature of its founder king, Akhenaten.
This colloquium featured papers based on new fieldwork and re-assessment of earlier research, objects and documents relating to the city. Sessions focused on the following themes:
- Social realms: community and experience
- The people of Amarna: perspectives from bioarchaeology
- Belief, memory and identity
- Material worlds: technology and social networks
- The changing city, and its afterlife
- Lived religion
- Amarna today
The most ordinary of things: Victorian artists and the allure of the ancient Egyptian collections at the British Museum
Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology by Stephanie Moser, Southampton University – 19 July 2018
When the British Museum opened its first 'Mummy Room' in 1837, visitors flocked to the new gallery to inspect the impressive collection of mummies and the smaller antiquities more recently acquired by the Museum. Extended to two galleries soon after, the mummy rooms remained enormously popular with Museum audiences throughout the 19th century and still do to this day.
Among the many visitors who were captivated by the extensive range of domestic items displayed in these rooms were a number of prominent Victorian artists, including Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Sir Edward Poynter and Edwin Long. All were drawn to the humbler utilitarian objects that had survived the ravages of time, celebrating these most ordinary of things in a series of Egyptian themed paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy and other major art exhibitions. The highlight of their pictures in which the 'manners and customs' of the ancient Egyptians were the focus, was the emphasis on meticulously rendered household objects, many of which were copied from artefacts in the Museum. For these artists, the everyday items from Egyptian antiquity had a strong appeal because of their sheer 'ordinariness' and the way in which they had been so beautifully decorated by ancient artisans. With their vivid conceptions of the ancient Egyptians participating in the rituals of life, Alma-Tadema, Poynter and Long drew close attention to the material world of these ancestors, creating a highly evocative sense of their private lives.
In this lecture, Stephanie Moser, Southampton University, presented the results of a major research project on the intensive engagement that Victorian artists had with the Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum. She argued that while artists like Alma-Tadema, Poynter and Long enlisted the objects as a means of adding interest and veracity to their visual explorations of the past, their paintings also played a highly significant role in defining the 'lifestyle' of the ancient Egyptians.
Colloquium – 19 and 20 July 2018
The British Museum has displayed Egyptian objects since it opened in 1759, from a variety of typological, thematic and chronological perspectives. The current galleries reflect approaches from 1979 (the Egyptian Sculpture gallery, Room 4) to 2014 (Early Egypt, Room 64). Temporary exhibitions, starting with the first UK blockbuster, The Treasures of Tutankhamun (1972), have allowed more experimental, nuanced and/or focused presentations, but also displays that diverge from the typically separate treatment of pharaonic, 'Coptic' and 'Islamic' Egypt, such as the exhibition Egypt: faith after the pharaohs (2014/15).
We are now considering how Egypt will be displayed in the next generation of British Museum galleries, prompting this colloquium that aimed to gather those researching how Egypt – of all periods – has been represented and interpreted for audiences through displays across the world, both in museums and beyond.
The representations of Egypt in public displays have, to varying degrees, reflected collecting/acquisition histories, disciplinary/institutional distinctions, historical/political/social contexts, aesthetic/design trends, economic drivers and audience expectations. Such displays have in turn helped inform and shape perceptions of Egypt past and present. Despite the growing focus on histories of Egyptology, and the study of Egypt and its heritage within the context of colonial and postcolonial histories, the subject of Displaying Egypt remains one rich with potential for further discussion and research.
A range of international speakers – from museum curators to archaeologists, museologists and historians presented papers responding to the following themes:
• How have displays of artefacts and human remains shaped perceptions and conceptions of Egyptian history and culture for different audiences?
• How have collecting and acquisition histories informed displays? Conversely, in what way have display requirements/desires shaped acquisition policies?
• To what extent have displays reflected and shaped research on Egypt? How has the non-display/storage of certain artefacts influenced research on, and perceptions of, Egypt?
• How have distinctive settings – national, local, institutional – shaped displays of Egypt? For what aims were such displays created?
• How have various contexts – such as colonialism/postcolonialism, or social, visual and design trends – influenced displays?
The colloquium did not focus solely on pharaonic Egypt.
Asyut: capital that never was
The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology by Jochem Kahl, Free University Berlin – 20 July 2017
Located 375km south of Cairo, the city of Asyut was a gateway to important trade routes leading to the oases of Dakhla and Kharga, and on to Darfur in present-day Sudan. Asyut’s very name – translated into English as 'Guardian City' – highlights the city's considerable strategic importance, which almost inevitably consigned it to the fate of becoming what cultural anthropologists have termed a 'wounded city'. Its geographical location in the middle of Egypt placed Asyut between rival blocs of power on several occasions in the course of history, with damage inflicted in the wake of civil wars and occupation by foreign rule – yet it would appear that the city's changing fortunes prompted its culture to thrive and flourish. Asyut's history as a major population centre and a regional capital stretches back more than 4,500 years. Indeed, the ancient Egyptians held Asyut's artistic and cultural knowhow in high esteem – reusing, reconfiguring and recontextualising products of Asyuti expertise for more than 2,000 years.
The quality of artwork, craftsmanship and architecture originating from pharaonic Asyut has been met with great acclaim by contemporaries and modern Egyptologists alike. Asyut's heritage of texts, images and architecture forms an integral part of ancient Egypt's cultural memory, an intellectual reservoir maintained and cultivated by Egyptian elites in order to boost their claim to power, and stabilise and convey their self-image. The texts, iconography and architectural layouts used to great effect in the nomarch tombs from the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom, were passed on to later generations and emulated repeatedly all over Egypt. Unfortunately, Asyut's temples, palaces, and mansions have all been buried under strata of alluvial plain and the sprawling modern city. Only written sources or clues retrieved from the pharaonic necropolis in the city's mountainous vicinity, the Gebel Asyut al-gharbi, can shed light on the city.
The Gebel Asyut al-gharbi was not only used as a necropolis, however, but housed military facilities, monasteries, places of prayer, quarries and even a temple, over a period of 6,000 years. Since 2003, a joint German-Egyptian research project has been reinvestigating the Gebel Asyut al-gharbi and its archaeological structures in light of their longue durée. The wealth of material discovered here allows us to write a specific regional history of Asyut emphasising local patterns of thought and craftsmanship in comparison with, for example, the customs followed at the royal residence(s).
Asyut through time: conflict and culture in Middle Egypt
Colloquium – 21 and 22 July 2017
Asyut in Middle Egypt is one of the country's major cities with almost 400,000 inhabitants and the largest Coptic community in Egypt. Over centuries, traders, nomads, diplomats, travellers and others passed through the area on their way to the Delta or the southern Nile Valley bringing their art, literature, science and other cultural attributes with them. Asyut served as a crossroads along Egyptian trade routes such as the Darb el-Arbain ('40-day route') into Sudan. The area has been of great strategic importance for at least five millennia.
This cosmopolitan status transformed the Asyut region into a cultural hub where works of art were copied and recopied for thousands of years. Textual sources from other parts in Egypt confirm that the neighbouring cities of Asyut and Shashotep (capital cities of the 13th and 11th Upper Egyptian nomes) played an important part in shaping and transmitting Egypt's cultural memory. Despite their proximity, local governors at each centre developed their own iconographic and artistic traditions. Textual and iconographic evidence, mainly from the necropolises of Asyut and Deir Rifa, speaks of cultural interaction, and sometimes conflict.
Renewed fieldwork focuses on Asyut's necropolis as well as the city (ancient and modern) and the relationship with its suburbs and smaller settlements in the vicinity. The 2017 colloquium looked at the deep history of this region – from 2500 BC up to the present day, including the varied responses of local communities who live atop the layers of history below. Results of fieldwork were complemented by discussions of material culture and archives that ended up in international museum collections.
Colossal and processional statuary in ancient Egypt: Where? When? Why?
The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology by Christian E Loeben, Museum August Kestner, Hanover – 13 July 2016
Christian E Loeben, Museum August Kestner, Hanover examined the original (or not) context of colossal statuary in Theban temples and reviewed their raison d’être in the light of processional needs and functions during certain periods of the New Kingdom.
Colossal statues are one of ancient Egypt's most distinctive phenomena. Unrivalled in the ancient world, these monoliths are so gigantic that it is hard to imagine that they were ever moved again after being set in place. Indeed, the original placement of colossal royal statues in pharaonic Egypt can only be ascertained with certainty for the temple of Abu Simbel, where the rock-cut architecture and statuary form an integral unit that has remained unchanged since it was created by Ramesses II. The same might be said of his mortuary temple, the Ramesseum in western Thebes. However, this temple – as well as the same pharaoh's architectural additions to Luxor Temple directly opposite on the eastern bank of the Nile – prove that colossal statuary was altered and moved to enhance a newly designed temple entrance. Keeping this in mind, the current positions of colossal statues in the considerably more modified Amun Temple at Karnak must be questioned.
Statues in contexts: production, meaning and (re)uses
Colloquium – 13 and 14 July 2016
This two-day colloquium looked at how and why Egyptian statues were originally displayed or kept invisible, transported, transformed or buried, with research and discoveries providing significant new insights.
Beyond typological and stylistic discourses on Egyptian statuary, considering their architectural, cultic and production contexts can prove both fascinating and instructive. Analysing statuary within context can shed light on religious or cultural practices, and the political or economic agenda behind the display or hiding of these sculptures – the divine cult statue within its shrine and nurtured daily by the priests or carried in procession during festivals, colossal royal statues before temples, statues of the deceased in their funerary chapel, or the presence of smaller statuary within domestic contexts.
New discoveries, the recontextualisation of earlier excavated statues and recent scientific analyses provide significant new insights into the production, meaning and (re)uses of statues. The colloquium encompassed the full typological and chronological range – from the Predynastic period to Late Antiquity – and included statuary of all scales, from royal colossi to figurines. The papers covered statues set up in temples, palaces, houses and tombs, and the secondary spaces for the placement of these statues, closely looking at the relationships between the type or style of a statue and their contexts.
At the gate of the ancestors: saint cults and the politics of the past at Abydos
The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology by Janet Richards, University of Michigan, USA – 7 July
The assignment of enhanced status and supernatural power to certain individuals as mediators between other humans and the divine was, and is, a practice spanning the globe. Made more powerful by context, saints are touchstones of place-bound memory for local populations. They and their shrines can also be powerfully mobilised as sources of legitimation for national rulers, often through a rhetoric of ruins and restoration.
In the Egyptian Nile Valley the genesis of such cults lay in the late third millennium BC, in the climate of political crisis, social transformation and religious change that characterised the end of the Old Kingdom. Fieldwork in the Middle Cemetery at Abydos and collections research in the British Museum has led to the discovery of a previously unsuspected saint cult at Abydos honouring the Sixth Dynasty official Idy. Initiated at Idy's tomb before the First Intermediate Period, the complex attracted royal support during Intef III's reign, materialised in the construction of a large adjacent cult hall. Dedications here persisted throughout the 12th and 13th Dynasties, and evidence indicates that memory of the ancestor Idy still resonated with local residents, centuries later in the 18th Dynasty.
This lecture explored the dimensions of the saint cult phenomenon as it played out at Abydos, contextualising Idy within the broader scope of activities and beliefs around Osiris in town, temple and necropolis, within Senwosret III's reconfiguration of the ceremonial map, and among the living people who actively inhabited these landscapes.
Abydos: the sacred land at the western horizon
Colloquium – 9 and 10 July 2015
Abydos is one of the most fascinating sites of Egypt. Chosen as the burial ground for the first kings of Egypt, it inevitably became a site of great antiquity, and its ancient sanctity may have been a factor in conferring legitimacy on the royal individuals buried there.
The site soon became the cult centre for Egypt's most popular god, Osiris, who ruled the netherworld and guaranteed every Egyptian eternal life after death. As a result of continued ritual performance, endowments and pilgrimage, a vast landscape of chapels and tombs, temples and towns, developed. For millennia, Abydos was one of the most consecrated sites of Egypt.
Since the end of the 19th century, archaeologists have made surprising discoveries revealing the historical and cultural richness of the site. This colloquium aimed at contextualising the most recent fieldwork by including object studies and research on broader patterns of ritual, urban and economic activity. In this two-day conference, leading academic colleagues addressed the social and cultural dynamics of an ever-changing landscape serving a unique ritual narrative.
The coffins of the lector priest Sesenebenef: a Middle Kingdom Book of the Dead? by Harco Willems, Catholic University, Leuven – Monday 28 July 2014
Colloquium – Ancient Egyptian coffins: craft traditions and functionality
Nubia in the New Kingdom: the Egyptians at Kurgus by Vivian Davies, former Keeper of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum – Thursday 11 July
Colloquium – Nubia in the New Kingdom: lived experience, pharaonic control and local traditions
New insights into Christian Egypt by Dr. Gawdat Gabra, former director of the Coptic Museum, Cairo –Thursday 11 July
Colloquium – Pagans, Christian and Muslims: Egypt in the First Millennium AD (publication in Orientalia Lovaniensa Analecta, edited by Elisabeth O'Connell)
Egypt's trade with Punt: new discoveries on the Red Sea coast by Professor Rodolfo Fattovich, University of Naples 'L'Orientale' and the Italian Institute for Africa and the Orient, Rome – 2 August
Colloquium – Mariners and traders: connections between the Red Sea Littoral, Arabia and beyond
The Egyptian town at Dokki Gel by Professor Charles Bonnet, Professor Emeritus, University of Geneva – 2 August 2010
Colloquium – The 12th International Conference of the Society for Nubian Studies (publication in Orientalia Lovaniensa Analecta, edited by Julie Anderson and Derek Welsby)
The last New Kingdom tomb at Thebes: the end of a great tradition by Dr Tamás Bács, Head of the Department of Egyptology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest – 20 July 2009
Colloquium – The Egyptian Book of the Dead: recent research and new perspectives
Gold and ivory in the Delta: excavations at Tell al-Farkha by Krzyszttof Cialowicz, Jagiellonian University, Kraków – 28 July 2008
Colloquium – Egypt at its origins 3 – Predynastic and Early Egypt: recent discoveries
Elkab, 1937–2007: 70 years of Belgian archaeological research by Dr Luc Limme, Head of Egyptian, Near Eastern and Iranian Department, Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels – 11 July 2007
Colloquium – The Head of the South: current research in Upper Egypt, south of Thebes
Islands of the blessed: life in the Western oasis of Egypt 4,000 years ago by Dr Laura Pantalacci, Director of Institut français d'archéologie orientale, Cairo – 18 July 2006
Piramesse: capital of Ramesses the Great and portal to the Eastern Mediterranean by Dr Edgar Pusch, Director of Excavations at Piramesse-Qantir – 13 July 2005
Colloquium – Egypt and the Hittites: contacts, conflict and diplomacy in the Late Bronze Age
2004: Image and identity: what did the Hyksos look like? by Dr Dorothea Arnold, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – 14 July 2004
Colloquium – The Second Intermediate Period (13th – 17th Dynasties): current research, future prospects
The secrets of the Great Pyramid by Dr Zahi Hawass (General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egypt – 15 July 2003
Colloquium – The British Museum and Ancient Egypt, research and fieldwork: present and future
The tomb of a family of painters at Saqqara, New Kingdom artists at Memphis and Thebes by Professor Alain Zivie, Centre National de la Mission Archéologique Française du Bubasteion, Saqqara – 10 July 2002
Colloquium – Reconstructing Egyptian life: new knowledge from ancient sources – 18 July 2001
Lecture by Professor Gaballa A. Gaballa, General Secretary for the Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities
Colloquium – The Egyptian delta, recent exploration and research
The Ramesside tomb and the construction of sacred space by Professor Jan Assmann, The Egyptological Institute, Heidelberg – 26 July 2000
Colloquium – The Theban Necropolis: past, present and future
The daily rebirth of light: a guided tour of the Egyptian netherworld by Professor Erik Hornung, University of Basel – 22 July 1999
Archaeological discoveries in the Western Desert by Dr Rudolph Kuper, The Heinrich Barth Institut, Köln – 22 July 1998
Colloquium – Egypt and Nubia: gifts of the Desert
Recent excavations at the pyramid of Senwosret III at Dahshur by Dr Dieter Arnold, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – 16 July 1997
Colloquium – Current and recent research in UK Egyptian collections
Painting technique in the tomb of Su-Em-Niwet at Thebes by Professor Betsy Bryan, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore – 10 July 1996
Colloquium – Colour and painting in ancient Egypt
Hercules in Egypt, Roman power and Egyptian belief by Professor Jan Quaegebeur, University of Leuven – 12 July 1995
Colloquium – Portraits and masks: burial customs in Roman Egypt
Abydos, city of Osiris: recent excavations by Professor David O'Connor, University of Philadelphia – 20 July 1994
Colloquium – The temple in ancient Egypt, new discoveries and recent research
Recent excavations of the earliest royal tombs at Abydos by Dr Günter Dreyer (German Archaeological Institute, Cairo – 21 July 1993
Colloquium – Early Egypt
Excavations at Tell el-Dab'a: the Hyksos capital of Egypt by Manfred Bietak, University of Vienna – 9 July 1992
Colloquium – Egypt, the Aegean and the Levant
Prior to the first Sackler lecture in 1992, a colloquium on Biological anthropology and the study of Ancient Egypt was held in 1990, which was subsequently published.