Egyptian Archaeologists on Studying Ancient Egypt

Who are the archaeologists behind the discoveries?

By American Research Center In Egypt

Dr. Bassem Gehad, Dr. Mennat-Allah El Dorry, Mostafa El Saghir, Amina El Baroudi, and Nora Shawki

Dendera Temple (2009-04-11) by Kenneth GarrettAmerican Research Center In Egypt

What inspired you into the world of Egyptian Archaeology?

Dr. Bassem GehadAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Dr. Bassem Gehad

Archaeologist - Supervisor of Central Unit for Training and Training Centers

Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

It all started when I was a child, watching my father, a military officer and a skillful artist, drawing on sheets of papyri as a result of his fascination with ancient Egypt. You can find all the different kinds of books about ancient Egypt populating our home library. 

Cairo Museum Egypt (1956) by Walter SandersLIFE Photo Collection

I’ve been attracted to this mysterious world ever since. My first visit to the Cairo museum was when I was nine, and it was a phenomenal experience. After secondary school, I immediately applied to study Archaeology without second thought.   

Dr. Menattallah El DorryAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Dr. Mennat-Allah El Dorry

Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities  

I’ve always enjoyed history growing up. But as a child watching Jurassic Park, seeing the paleontologists bent over their excavation, gently cleaning away millenia of soil, I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do. 

Alexandria Library Museum Mosaic (2009-04-04) by Kenneth GarrettAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Later on as a teenager, I watched a documentary, where Dr Zahi Hawass proudly described his first dig, and the moment he realised "archaeology was my lover". This was the moment where all the pieces fell together, and I knew exactly what I wanted to be. 

Dr. Mark Lehner at work (2004-12-02) by Kenneth GarrettAmerican Research Center In Egypt

What shaped your career path?

Mostafa El ShaghirAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Mostafa El Saghir

Egyptologist - Archaeologist

General Director of Karnak and Avenue of Sphinxes

“Why are you excavating in that way?” A question I curiously asked the director of an Italian archaeological mission in the Tomb of Harwa.   

Workers excavate at an early dynastic site in Abydos (2006-11-12) by Kenneth GarrettAmerican Research Center In Egypt

It seemed strange to see non-vertical and cubic shaped excavations. He replied explaining how we must follow the layers and features to understand the archaeological situation.

Watching, learning, practicing with patience, all contributed to launching my career as an archaeologist.

Amina El BaroodiAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Amina El Baroudi

Egyptologist/ Archaeologist and former Assistant to the Minister  

Working in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo has definitely been a great learning experience. The museum houses a vast and diverse collection from all ancient Egyptian periods. 

Dealing with the objects first-hand has taught me so much about the culture, its art, handling of artifacts, and proper registration and documentation methods. 

Surveying the Area (2007-09) by Project PhotographerAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Being in such an environment has also exposed me to a large number of international specialists in the field, as it is the hub for all Egyptological research. 

I have also been lucky to be a part of a number of archaeological field projects in various areas of Egypt. Through these projects, I have been able to get first hand experience on archaeological methods and documentation practices. 

Having hands-on experience at the different sites is definitely very valuable and helps put everything I have learnt into perspective. 

Valley of the Kings (2006-02-19) by Kenneth GarrettAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Which discovery or archaeological dig excites you the most?

Dr. Mennat-Allah El DorryAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Dr. Mennat-Allah El Dorry

Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities    

Daily life of ancient Egypt is fascinating, and discoveries related to that are very important to me. We have heard plenty from royalty and the underworld (i.e. tombs and mummies). I want to hear the voices of the people themselves.  

Hank of flaxBritish Museum

Working on settlements, where people lived, is my favorite. As an archaeobotanist, I study archaeological remains of plants, and I am able to better understand the past based on the plants found around where people lived. 

Harvest Scenes, replica of a wall painting from the tomb of Menna by Nina M. DaviesBritish Museum

It tells us about their environment, their food, trade, and agricultural technologies. 

Nora ShawkiAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Nora Shawki

Joint PhD Candidate, Cairo University/Durham University

National Geographic Explorer

One of my favourite excavations that I was a part of is Tombos in north Sudan. The site is focused on a cemetery connected to the New Kingdom occupation of Nubia in about 1400 BC. 

Mount Sinai (2005-10-03) by Kenneth GarrettAmerican Research Center In Egypt

It excites me because it all feels untouched since antiquity. The vast empty sands — with no infrastructure or modern development — gives you a glimpse of what the environment would have looked like back then. 

Menna awaiting Osiris' judgment (2009-04) by Katy DoyleAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The finds are extremely exciting and interesting to analyze, and help visualize just how strong the Egyptian influence was in terms of burial customs, tomb art, and traditions. 

The countless discoveries in Saqqara lately have been fascinating to say the least, it just goes to show that we haven’t even scratched the surface yet with our knowledge of Ancient Egypt. 

Whenever people ask if we’ve discovered everything already, I just tell them to look at all the active digs currently taking place! It’s exciting to keep finding new pieces to the overall puzzle of the ancient world. 

Wood restoration of door (2007-11) by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

What kind of challenges do you face in your field?

Mostafa El ShaghirAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Mostafa El Saghir

Egyptologist - Archaeologist

General Director of Karnak and Avenue of Sphinxes

Residential Area of Kom el Dikka (2020-09) by Tessa LiteckyAmerican Research Center In Egypt

“Archaeology is an organized destruction”. That is the main challenge. A successful archaeologist should not lose any kind of data. If a single feature is not recorded that means it had been lost forever. 

That challenge is more stressful when an archaeologist works under pressures like lack of time, lack of money, and lack of security.  

Nora ShawkiAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Nora Shawki

Joint PhD Candidate, Cairo University/Durham University

National Geographic Explorer

There are quite a few challenges in the field. Each case is different depending on the person and location. Personally, it may come as a surprise, but more than being female, my biggest challenge was ageism. 

Now when you put that with sexism, you have the double combo — double the backlash, double the resistance. Working in a male-dominated society as an Egyptian woman has been a learning process. 

Starting out in my early 20s, straight out of university, it was difficult to find my voice and receive respect for my research in my own country. Over time, I’ve learned to not let anyone take credibility away from me. 

I earned it, so I’d have to prove it (whether or not that meant working even harder, it was something I was willing to do). Certain institutions have given me a platform to speak on a world stage, such as National Geographic Society, and for that I am eternally grateful. 

Menna fishing (right) and fowling (left) in the papyrus marshes (2009-03) by Katy DoyleAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The biggest challenge in the field is to disseminate the knowledge to a larger audience. I’ve learned that storytelling is our biggest tool. Communicating our scientific research to broader audiences is crucial for preserving our ancient history. 

Once people care about something, they’ll protect it. My main motto has always been to protect the things you care about. 

Dr. Bassem GehadAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Dr. Bassem Gehad

Archaeologist - Supervisor of Central Unit for Training and Training Centers

Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

One of the most difficult challenges in our modern world would be finding a good research environment that would house your research, and fund your project until it comes to light. 

Equal opportunities should be given in publishing the results of the collective efforts contributed, and to those struggling with their research projects to have the space to express their outcomes.  

Surveying points for digital epigraphy (2008) by Project PhotographerAmerican Research Center In Egypt

How do you think the field of archaeology will evolve?

Dr. Menattallah El DorryAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Dr. Mennat-Allah El Dorry

Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities    

Two facets have been bubbling under the surface for the last decade or so, and are becoming more mainstream at the moment. First, my generation is very aware of the issues facing archaeological sciences in Egypt. 

Wasp nest (2008-10) by Andreas Paasch/Douglas ThorpAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Both the authorities and specialists have been working together to find ways to expedite scientific research and analyses in Egyptian archaeology. I hope that within the next few years, Egyptian archaeology will play a bigger role in archaeological scientific research.  

Giza Plateau (2004-12-02) by Kenneth GarrettAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Second, traditional colonial-style archaeology is being replaced by more sensitivity to local communities. Archaeological missions, Egyptian and foreign, are more proactive in ensuring that locals are not as marginalised as they have been in the past. 

There is a shift of dynamic between locals and archaeological missions, and a sense of ownership and pride is developing in local communities. This is key in safeguarding archaeological heritage.  

Amina El BaroodiAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Amina El Baroudi

Egyptologist/ Archaeologist and former Assistant to the Minister  

Cairo Citadel Muhammed Ali by Kenneth GarrettAmerican Research Center In Egypt

With the constant development of new technologies, I think far more discoveries will be made to shed more light on ancient Egptian culture. However, the pressure of overpopulation resulting in urbanisation will definitely pose more of a challenge in the future of the field.  

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