Byzantine Institute / Research / Thomas Whittemore

Amarna Update

Written by Rona Razon, ICFA Archives Specialist 

Barry Kemp and Rona Razon, ICFA Archives Specialist, at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC

Last month, Egyptologist Barry J. Kemp visited ICFA to continue his research on Thomas Whittemore‘s archaeological activities in Egypt in the 1920s. Like Whittemore, a leading character in ICFA’s archival collections, Kemp wears many hats. He is an archaeologist (former field director for the Egypt Exploration Society), an author, Professor Emeritus at Cambridge University, a Commander of the British Empire (appointed in 2011), the founder and chairman of the Amarna Trust, and the director of the Amarna Project.

During his two-day visit, Kemp consulted ICFA’s “almost” processed collection entitled Early Archaeological Projects Associated with Thomas Whittemore, which used to be part of another collection, The Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks Records and Fieldwork Papers. (Why did we decide to separate the two? You’ll get the idea, but I will explain in more detail in a separate post.)  The former contains transcriptions, translations, and extracts from various publications, research and bibliographic notes, architectural drawings, and photographs that record and illustrate Whittemore’s activities and whereabouts in Egypt in the 1910s and 1920s, specifically at Abydos and Amarna.

Egypt Exploration Society excavations at Amarna, Egypt, 1923-1924

Egypt Exploration Society excavations at Amarna, Egypt, 1923-1924. EES excavators, left to right: S.K.R. Glanville, Thomas Whittemore, and Walter Byran Emery.

During this time, Whittemore served as the American Representative to the Egypt Exploration Fund (now known as the Egypt Exploration Society). In the 1920s, in addition to his relief work for refugees dislocated by the Russian Revolution, Whittemore was also involved in excavations at various sites in Bulgaria, namely Mesembria, Perustica, and Belovo. Eventually, Whittemore would go on to establish the Byzantine Institute in 1930, a non-profit organization that conserved, restored, and studied Byzantine monuments, such as Hagia Sophia and Kariye Camii in Istanbul, Turkey.

We were happy to learn from Kemp that the new arrangement and finding aid that we created for the Early Archaeological Projects Associated with Thomas Whittemore collection came very handy during his research. (Stay tuned… the finding aid will soon be available online.) He was also surprised to learn about Alexander Piankoff‘s involvement with Whittemore’s projects in Egypt, an individual who is still somewhat of a mystery to us.

On Kemp’s last day, September 14th, he was also scheduled to give a lecture, an update about the Amarna Project to the DC Chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University. We were excited to learn more about the site where Whittemore worked in the 1920s, having served as the acting field director of the EES excavations at Amarna during the 1924-1925 season.

Barry Kemp, Amarna Update: Introduction

During his lecture, Kemp described Amarna as a monumental city with temples, administrative buildings, and cemeteries. These days, however, the site is located near a chicken factory, a dump site for the factory’s garbage, and a modern cemetery. Unfortunately, there is no clear boundary between the ancient site and these modern structures. The Amarna Project’s long term goal is to expose the city ruins and build stonework or blocks around the site for protection.

Barry Kemp showing the Great Aten Temple, Amarna

During their excavations, the Amarna Project team found pottery, incense, weathered human bones, and coffins with illustrations.  The images below illustrate some of these remains, including a mummified human body and a fragment of a coffin.

Mummified human body, Amarna

Fragment of a coffin with illustrations, Amarna

Drawing of a possible structure for an ancient coffin, Amarna

For more information about the site and their work progress, see:

And to support the Amarna Project and help restore the Great Aten Temple at Amarna, see:

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