Wadi el-Hudi is an area of Egypt's Eastern Desert southeast of Aswan that was, in ancient times, a center for mining because of its unique geology. It contains dozens of archaeological sites that stand like time capsules in the desert, which date from the Paleolithic Period (about 200,000 years ago) to the Islamic Period (about 1,000 years ago). Ancient Egyptian monuments are the most prevalent, consisting of fortified settlements, amethyst mines, and rock inscriptions built during the Middle Kingdom (between 3,700 and 4,000 years ago) and the Roman Period (c. 1st to 4th centuries). The state of preservation of the archaeology is astonishing: walls stand to their original heights of two meters, ancient pottery covers the surface, and many inscriptions are carved into boulders surrounding the mines. Prior to our expedition, geologists and archaeologists had inspected Wadi el-Hudi only intermittently since 1917 when Geologist Labib Nassim discovered the ancient archaeological sites. In the 1940s, the Egyptologist Ahmed Fakhry conducted a survey of the area, where he identified 14 archaeological sites and recorded over 100 inscriptions. In the 1990s, the sites were also visited by Ian Shaw, Robert Jameson, Rosemarie Klemm, and Dietrich Klemm as parts of larger studies of Ancient Egyptian mining operations. But with the work of the Wadi el-Hudi Expedition, many more of these monuments have been recorded and in much greater detail. Since 2014, the Wadi el-Hudi Expedition has been mapping, documenting, and excavating 39 archaeological sites so far discovered.
WHY DID THE EXPEDITION BEGIN?
The Wadi el-Hudi Expedition was launched in 2014 to record and conserve the monuments at Wadi el-Hudi. Prior work there published only half of the surviving inscriptions and did not investigate the greatest part of the archaeology. Nevertheless, Wadi el-Hudi has historically significant information for the history of Egypt and the organization of the Ancient Egyptian government. Indeed, far beyond its importance for the study of mining expeditions, Wadi el-Hudi has the potential to change much of what we know about the political and social history of all of Ancient Egypt.
Our Expedition seeks to answer a variety of questions about the history and chronology of the Middle Kingdom, the organization and supply of state-sponsored mining expeditions, the mechanics of semiprecious stone mining, interactions between Nubians and Egyptians, provisioning of material support in state-sponsored projects, literacy among Ancient Egyptian administrative and military classes, ancient slavery and prison laborers, and much more. From 2014-2016, we have conducted three seasons of archaeological research. (See below to learn about what we have discovered.) And we eagerly await the opportunity to do more significant research in the next season. We are proud to work with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and the Aswan Inspectorate to discover, study, and conserve monuments in the Eastern Desert for the preservation of Egyptian cultural heritage. Dr. Kate Liszka, California State University San Bernardino, directs the expedition and is assisted by Bryan Kraemer, Chief Surveyor and Epigrapher, as well as Meredith Brand, Chief Ceramicist.
WHAT HAS BEEN DISCOVERED AT WADI EL-HUDI?
Since beginning the work, the expedition has mapped 11 archaeological sites, identified 25 new archaeological sites, discovered over 100 new inscriptions, and brought 1000s of artifacts to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities' storage magazine for future study and conservation. We have also conducted 11 test excavations at four archaeological sites to get a sense of how people lived in the Eastern Desert and how the central administration oversaw these ancient mining operations. We discovered 14 new and historically significant stelae (or inscribed monuments) as well as 45 Demotic and Greek inscriptions on ancient ostraca (bits of broken pottery or stone that were used as we use note paper) that will help rewrite the political and social history of mining in Ancient Egypt. The initial seasons mark the beginning of a long-term effort to investigate these archaeological treasures in the desert.
WHAT WILL BE LOST WITHOUT MORE RESEARCH AT WADI EL-HUDI?
Despite three seasons of archaeological work, most of Wadi el-Hudi still has not been recorded, studied, or conserved. It is vital to do this work because Wadi el-Hudi is uniquely well preserved, more so than many other similar sites. It is perhaps the best-preserved window into the past that still remains anywhere. And information from Wadi el-Hudi can answer questions about all of Ancient Egyptian culture, society, and history, not just about mining expeditions. Nevertheless, over 20 promising archaeological sites still need to be mapped, photographed, and excavated to learn about how people lived and how the Egyptian state managed them in the desert. Moreover, with each future season, the team, inevitably, will find more inscriptions related to the Egyptians and Nubians in these mining expeditions. Future seasons need to conserve and protect the monuments and inscriptions in the desert for the sake of modern Egyptian cultural heritage too. Additionally, many boxes of artifacts are currently housed in the Egyptian Ministry’s storage magazine that have not yet been photographed, drawn, or studied. They contain hundreds of fragments belonging to 11 stone stelae with important inscriptions that need to be put back together again for future study and display in Egyptian museums.
However, modern development in the area of Wadi el-Hudi threatens the archaeological record. Without funding for future archaeological work and conservation, all of this information about how people lived, worked, and died on mining expeditions will be lost forever and the sites will not be preserved for future generations.
IS WADI EL-HUDI UNDER THREAT?
YES! Wadi el-Hudi is under imminent threat of destruction due to modern illegal mining and pillaging in the Eastern Desert as well as the reopening of legal mining operations near the ancient mines. These activities threaten to destroy the architectural remains of the ancient mining settlements, their artifacts, and their inscriptions. The Wadi el-Hudi Expedition is working against the clock to record as much of these monuments as we can, as quickly as possible. Despite the fact that the monuments have survived for thousands of years, the region will be forever changed within a few years’ time by modern development. We must study these monuments now because information irreplaceable for its quantity and quality will disappear soon. Now is our only chance.