University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

The Buried, Abydos, Egypt


Panoramic of the site, 2012, by Greg Maka for the IFA expedition

Fellow Matthew D. Adams, who graduated in 2005 from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC), is featured in "The Buried: Excavating the Egyptian Revolution," an article by Peter Hessler in the November 18th issue of the New Yorker. "The Buried" examines the impact of the recent revolution on the ancient Egyptian site of Abydos, and specifically on the area termed "the Buried" which has been used as a cemetery for more than five millennia and has spurred archaeological excavation for almost two centuries. Unfortunately, the Buried has also drawn looters, especially in times of unrest, and in 2011 the area fell victim to illicit excavations.

Matt Adams by Greg Maka

This is where Matt Adams enters the scene. In January 2013, as the Director of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University's excavation of Abydos, he and his team began what can be termed an "archaeology of revolution," tracking the damage and remains of the looters in the Buried. The archaeologists excavated every major area of looting, mapping with satellite imagery what would turn out to be more than 200 areas of unlawful intrusion. In some ways the work by Matt and his team turned a negative into a positive: Sorting out the pattern of looting became a means to make sense of what happened during the revolution, and surveying and recording evidence of the intruders became a way to excavate hitherto uninvestigated areas of the Buried.

The article examines the work of the archaeologists in the Buried against the backdrop of the local and national politics of Egypt. Matt describes the "timeless" and removed quality of his research and excavation, yet his work is interwoven with the revolution and the events that unfold, following the tracts of revolutionary looters to uncover more of the ancient world of Abydos. The intriguing piece offers insight into the mind of an archaeologist (particularly that of Matt Adams) faced with political upheaval and warfare in the immediate present of the country whose distant past politics and unrest he is trying to decipher. In both the past and the present, local and national events are distilled through the eyes of an intimate foreigner. 

Tracing Matt's own archaeological history, the article demonstrates his long-standing connection to the Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania where he received his undergraduate and graduate education (funded by the Kolb Foundation) as well as his unswerving commitment to Egyptology and the preservation of Egypt’s cultural heritage. Peter Hessler links some of the findings in Matt's dissertation, "Community and Society in Egypt in the First Intermediate Period: An Archaeological Investigation of the Abydos Settlement Site," which focuses on a habitation area adjoining the Buried, to his own observations of modern era life in the region. Matt’s research demonstrated that the archaeological remains in Abydos showed little impact of the political chaos associated with the First Intermediate Period, and Hessler in turn provides evidence of the stability of the contemporary local situation as the current unrest sweeps through the nation of Egypt.

(images courtesy of Greg Maka)

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