Egyptology, as the name suggests, is the study of the civilization and culture known as ancient Egypt. These people appeared to unify into one well-organised state as early as 3300 BC remaining a distinct power in North Africa with some influence into the Middle East for the next 3000 years. The investigation is confined to a larger time period that begins approximately 5000 BC up to the 4th Century AD marking the end of Roman rule in that part of the world. Such a long time period provides the archaeologist with much scope and variety.
More than a Tourist Site
The best-known discoveries from Egypt, if only from a purely tourist point of view, are the Great Pyramid of Giza and Tutankhamun’s well-preserved pharaoh tomb. Millions of tourists are attracted to these sites every year, reflecting the mystery that surrounds ancient Egypt.
Affectionately referred to as Tut’s Tomb it was found in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes as late as 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter. However, Egyptology did not arise as a branch of the archaeological sciences simply to locate sites that would be popular for tourists to visit. Archaeologists since Carter have documented architectural information, photographed many paintings, and deciphered columns of inscriptions from the several other tombs in the Valley of the Kings in order to better understand the mind of the ancient Egyptian.
A Science of Discovery
Egyptology is a scientific discipline. In the main, it collects data in order to study the interactivities of ancient Egypt including relationship between people and the geology, government, religion, trade, arts, language, economy, and culture. An archaeologist who specialises in this work is known as an Egyptologist. The study of contemporary Egypt is called Modern Egyptology and it has little resemblance to its old counterpart.
For hundreds of years Egyptian hieroglyphs had been unearthed and displayed for their beautiful aesthetic value. It was not until Jean-Francois Champollion, using the Rosetta Stone as his translation tool, managed to decode the meanings of the ancient picture language. His announcement, in 1822, led the way for a greater academic understanding of the ancient civilizations that had once ruled Egypt.
An Incomplete Work
Egyptology, as a new sub-branch, has never managed to complete an accurate archaeological record for such an expansive time period. Adding to the enormity of the task is the constant disputes in terminology and precise chronology. As more artefacts are uncovered more uncertainty can arise as the new data can often prompt questioning about earlier conclusions.
How much the great dynasties of Egypt influenced their neighbours is also unclear. Biblical texts show clearly that they impacted significantly on the Hebrew people during the great slave period of the 2nd Millennium BC, yet few remains have been discovered.
A Fascinating Land
The splendour and magnitude of the ancient Egyptian dynasties will continue to fascinate the archaeological investigator. Temples and pyramids still yield rich treasures of mummies and fine pottery. These gigantic structures are some of the largest building ever made by human hand. The cost in human life alone was staggering. They are persuasive symbols of a once powerful civilization yet so little is really understood about their culture.
Most of the excavation work being undertaken today is in the Upper Nile region of Thebes. These are mostly all tomb and temple projects at Karnak and in the Valley of the Kings. The Lower Nile and the Nile Delta regions also play host to regular excavations including Tel el-Balamun in the northern Nile Delta. This enormous stratified tel is the location of Sma-Behdet, the northernmost city of the Pharaohs.
Difficulties of Excavation
There are extreme difficulties in mounting and continuing to operate an archaeological expedition in Egypt. The harsh climate and remote locations of many sites prove to cause serious hardships and frustrations to Egyptologists. Many sites of ancient cities have been surveyed and are well known but the reason for not beginning an excavation are mainly its many practical problems. Workers can often not remain in a desolate area for more than a few days due to lack of water and food. Access can be extremely limited. From where a desert road ends some sites still require a 5 km walk carrying water and personal supplies over shifting sand dunes. Other complications include wars and conflict. The disputed areas of Halaib on the Sudanese border have always been dangerous and foreigners are often treated with suspicion.