Naukratis: Greeks in Egypt

Alexandra Villing, Marianne Bergeron, Giorgos Bourogiannis, Alan Johnston, François Leclère, Aurélia Masson and Ross Thomas

With Daniel von Recklinghausen, Jeffrey Spencer, Valerie Smallwood, Virginia Webb and Susan Woodford

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Supported by

The Leverhulme Trust
  • The Shelby White - Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications
  • Christian Levett (Mougins Museum of Classical Art)

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Archival documentation plays a vital role in understanding the ancient site of Naukratis and the history of its exploration.

Naukratis was one of the first sites in Egypt to be systematically investigated through excavations. Fieldwork started with W. M. Flinders Petrie, who identified the site in early 1884 and later the same year began excavations. Three further fieldwork seasons followed, under Ernest Gardner (1885-6) and David Hogarth (1899 and 1903). To this day this early fieldwork remains central to our knowledge of Naukratis. However, the nature of this pioneering fieldwork, its limited publication and the distribution of finds to numerous different museums posed serious obstacles to modern scholarship.

Archival documents hold the key to a better understanding of Naukratis and of the historical background to its archaeological investigation. Luckily, hundreds of pages of excavation diaries, letters, finds lists, drawings and photographs are still preserved today, in archives and museums or held by the excavators’ descendants.

The main groups of such records are Petrie’s photographs (old glass plate negatives and some prints), diaries, ‘journals’ (actually weekly letters that detail the archaeological and other events on the dig), notebooks (containing notes, sketches and calculations regarding stratigraphy, payments to workmen, photographs taken, finds, etc.), letters written by Petrie and his associates Griffith and Gardner, and notebooks by Gardner. From Hogarth his day-books survive, along with a significant number of photographs. In addition, distribution lists, meeting notes, museum accession records and correspondence provide vital insights into what happened to the finds after the excavation.

These records are a mine of information on the background of the archaeological work, on its organization and progress, the coming and going of visitors, the logistics of supply or accommodation and even the weather. They provide a fascinating view of the archaeological mound of Naukratis before it vanished from the landscape, of the people on the dig, their enthusiasms and disappointments, and a glimpse of life in a Nile Delta village in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Their careful study allows us to reconstruct many important aspects of Naukratis and its history, from essential archaeological information such as find contexts, topographical details and stratigraphical sequences, to biographies of objects from antiquity to display in museums worldwide, to the wider social networks, economic conditions and value systems that underlie the exploration of Naukratis and thus shaped our modern understanding of site.