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Death and Decay: The Salvage of the Monuments of Ancient Egypt

American Research Center in Egypt Lecture

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Death and Decay: The Salvage of the Monuments of Ancient Egypt
27 February 2014, 06:00 PM
2nd Floor Lecture Hall
Lecture Event
Lanny Bell (Brown University)

The ravages of time and the encroachments of the modern world have seriously threatened chances for the long-term survival of the millennia-old temples, tombs, and other archaeological sites of Egypt, in spite of the best efforts of the Egyptian antiquities authorities since 1857. Much of the damage has been natural (caused by wind, rain, sun, and animals), but human carelessness, disrespect, and deliberate exploitation have wreaked considerable damage through the ages. In the 19th century the rapid, often unsupervised clearance (“excavation”) of standing buildings without their immediate stabilization only exposed them to greater peril. With the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the late 20th century the ecology of Egypt changed drastically, as the yearly inundation of the Nile was stopped and new irrigation canals were dug to support the extension of agriculture on a year around basis—raising the average annual level of the water table, increasing the salinity of the soil, and adding to humidity through evaporation. This has meant significantly greater infiltration of ground water into the ancient sites, as well as much greater amounts of rain. Industrialization and congested traffic have resulted in high levels of air pollution, and the 20th century population explosion has led to many sites of lesser interest being built over to add to agricultural production or provide new housing.

With international help, salvage archaeology has been conducted in Egypt and the Sudan for more than a century; but budgets for exploration and excavation are always relatively small, and the efforts of scientific conservation are particularly expensive. In many situations meticulous documentation of endangered sites (including survey, architectural study, photography, and the preparation of architectural plans and facsimile drawings of decoration) has proven to be the only practicable solution to preserve them for posterity.


NOTICE: Admission to the ISAW Lecture Hall closes 10 minutes after the scheduled start time.

Lanny received his BA in Egyptology from the University of Chicago (1963) and his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania (1977). He has taught Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania (1965-77), the University of Chicago (1978-96), and Brown University (1997-2007). He retired from the University of Chicago in 1996 to become an Independent Scholar. He is currently a (fully-tenured) Associate Professor Emeritus of Egyptology at the University of Chicago and a Visiting Researcher in Egyptology at Brown University.

His areas of specialization are divine kingship, the temples of Thebes, and epigraphy—on which he has published extensively. He has directed 17 field seasons for the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (The Theban Tomb Project: 1967-74) and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute (The Epigraphic Survey: 1978-89). He lectures widely, as a traveling lecturer for the Archaeological Institute of America (since 1971) and a lecturer for many Egyptian tours (62 since 1973).

Reception to follow

Event is open to the public