The Egypt Exploration Society’s Lucy Gura Archive preserves a lasting record of the Society’s activities and achievements in the field of Egyptology since its founding in 1882. Today it contains an estimated one-million individual items and remains one of the most unique and research rich archives in the discipline worldwide. The task of unlocking the potential of the Archive and to encourage further research and engagement is something the Society continually strives to tackle, and the next six months will see some significant changes in the ways that the Lucy Gura Archive is managed.
Here Carl Graves and Maria Rodriguez Rubin outline what new developments are afoot in the Archive and what that means for the future of the EES:
Figure 1: The EES Lucy Gura Archive contains thousands of letters relating to the Society's history of exploration in Egypt. They are currently kept in an 'Early Correspondence' sub-archive.
With over 133 years of exploration behind us, the Society’s Lucy Gura Archive is undoubtedly one of the most potent collections of Egyptological data in the world. It documents findings from key archaeological sites across Egypt, as well as correspondence between the Society and leading Egyptologists and archaeologists. A bequest from the estate of Ms Lucy Gura (in whose memory the archive was renamed) allowed us to digitise images from the Society’s pre-World War II excavations. Building on previous efforts to organise and catalogue the Archive, for the first time, we aim to develop a naming and numbering system for the records that accurately reflect their physical location as well as their relevance as interconnected collections.
The Name of the Game
The table below gives some idea of how a new accession numbering system will be capable of reflecting the complexity of the Archive as well as being flexible enough to accommodate further archival material arising from future work.
Level in the EES Archive
Examples (abbreviations = part of the accession number)
Top level incorporating the entirety of the holdings at the EES
EES LG Archive
This designation will not feature in the accession number as it is already assumed.
The Society's Archive is understandably divided into a number of sub-archive levels relating to specific sites/themes. We name this level 'archive' to reflect this.
TA - Tell el-Amarna
BUH - Buhen
SES - Sesebi
DIST - Distribution
OFF - Office
COR - Correspondence
ART - Artwork
PICT - Pictographic
CAM - Caminos
AUS - Australian Branch
GR - Graeco-Roman Branch
USA - American Branch
Within each archive there exist sub-divisions within the records. This usually relates to material type, although can also reflect topical changes in the records themselves.
001 - for separate containers of documents
SLI - A collection of slides relating to a specific archive
PHOT - A collection of photographic prints relating to a specific archive
MAP - Maps and plans
MEM - Membership
COR - Correspondence
OC - Object cards
SQU - Squeezes
TA - Tell el-Amarna, sites may also feature as sub-divisions of some archives (such as distribution lists)
Within the collection the records may be stored in different files/folders - here these will be given separate alphabetical denominations. These usually follow a chronological order.
These are the smallest sub-division of the EES Archive, such as a letter, slide, journal etc.
Within the framework outlined above we can produce the following examples:
A plan of the fortress of Buhen – one plan (.001), from a series relating to the 1957-58 season (.a), within a collection of maps and plans (.MAP), kept in an archive of material from Buhen (BUH).
A distribution list relating to objects excavated from Tell el-Amarna
A letter from Petrie, W. M. F. to Edwards, A.
Using this new numbering system it should be possible to trace the depth of the record within the Archive and subsequently its physical location. It also allows us to make interconnections between different sections within the EES LG Archive.
To reduce confusion a capital ‘A’ is used when referring to the entire EES LG Archive – whereas a lower case ‘a’ indicates a sub-archive, such as a site repository. To give some idea of the complexity and breadth of the Archive, Maria has already drafted 50 different archive level records which allow us to begin cataloguing the next level of records (the collection level). It is estimated that to complete an entire comprehensive catalogue of all material within the Archive could take over 50 years and would be irresponsible to rush over the next six months. During Maria’s time with the Society the aim remains to catalogue the Archive to the collection level and subsequently make this available to browse and search online.
To facilitate this enormous task there will also be some physical changes in the management of the Archive. Space is an ever increasing concern as more archival material is deposited with the Society (figure 2) and as our appreciation for the best care and attention for our delicate records becomes more essential. While records have been stored around the Offices in the past we are now making a concerted effort to move all archival material into secure, environmentally monitored and controlled spaces.
As many will remember, in 2012 the Society refurbished the old kitchen in 4 Doughty Mews into a new storage space to house the digitised images from the Lucy Gura bequest. This part of the Office was once the home of renowned Egyptologist, Ricardo Caminos. It may shock some to know that behind the other door of the library remain Caminos’ bedroom and en-suite bathroom. Whilst it would be interesting to retain these rooms as artefacts in their own right, our need for space to preserve the material that Caminos himself worked on means that this is fanciful and unrealistic. A modest investment now means that these rooms can be refurbished and turned into a dedicated Archive Research Facility, providing space for the adequate storage, organisation and monitoring of delicate material, as well as a place for research and item consultation. It is also hoped that room can be facilitated to rehouse the Howard Carter watercolours in this space, which is currently one of our Amelia Edwards Projects.
Whilst provisions for the Archive refurbishment have been made available; donations, engagement and awareness are crucial to further progress within the EES Lucy Gura Archive. This space will allow us to rearrange and manage the materials, but only goes some short way to conserving the items and providing for their long term preservation. The more people made aware of this fantastic resource, the more we can engage wider audiences and thus increase our reach within the discipline of Egyptology.
Figure 2: Our most recent archive acquisition was from the Sacred Animal Necropolis excavations at Saqqara. This material had been worked on by Prof. Harry Smith since the excavations and was returned to the Society following publication.
What does all of this mean in the longterm?
The changes initiated over the next six-months continue part of a wider project to continue increasing engagement with our Archive. The first Access Archive Afternoon took place on Friday 4th April when we welcomed 17 visitors to have a hands-on experience with some of our archival material and hear a short presentation about our holdings. Subsequent FREE monthly events will see us welcome even more people to the Office and display different material each time. A team of dedicated EES Volunteers have been researching and displaying archival material in new contexts and innovative ways – keep a close eye on our new ‘Introduction to Ancient Egypt’ virtual exhibition which is still under construction.
EES Volunteer Brigitte Balanda is currently cataloguing, scanning and transcribing our huge collection of ‘Early Correspondence’ – roughly 6000 letters in total. These letters relate to the founding period of the Egypt Exploration Fund and the people that drove the Society between its founding and the First World War. The long-term plan for this project is to launch it online allowing people to search through the letters and incorporate the resource into their research – ultimately providing a window into the late 19th and early 20th centuries of Egyptology.
John Wyatt, EES Volunteer and Patron, is collaborating between the Society and the Griffith Institute, Oxford to catalogue and digitise the Howard Carter watercolours. This project will soon be hosted on the Griffith Institute’s website using innovative and interactive ways of presenting the paintings alongside their original tomb depictions.
Figure 3: Various archive users in the EES Ricardo Caminos Memorial Library reading room. Left, Maria Rodriguez Rubin consulting the distribution lists. Centre, John Wyatt cataloguing and recording the Howard Carter watercolours. Right, Brigitte Balanda cataloguing the Early Correspondence, Rinus Ormeling consulting the Saqqara Great Tombs archive and Amy Hammett using the library research faciltities.
By organising the Archive into collections we will make it easier to search and be accessed by researchers, promoting more of these projects. Our Archive is always open to researchers; it’s easy, all you need to do is book before arrival. We can ensure that the records are ready when you arrive and give you some pointers on what other records might be useful. Students researching our material will also be able to use the new Archive Research Facility to consult records without disturbance and can also make use of a specifically chosen collection of resources (such as searching guides, photograph lists, sites lists, biographies etc.) to further their studies.
If you’ve ever questioned what material we keep from our excavations in Egypt, or what Petrie and Naville really said behind each other’s backs – then these developments will help answer these questions and more. Over the next six months we will work at creating a solid platform from which future archival projects can be launched. Who knows where it will take us? Somewhere exciting, engaging and interesting for sure!
Carl Graves is the current Education and Public Engagement Manager at the EES and is therefore tasked with increasing engagement with the Society’s archive.
Maria Rodriguez Rubin joined the Society’s Doughty Mews team in April 2014 to begin a six month internship working in the archive. During her time she will catalogue the entire archive to a collection level and prepare this for online access.