The ÉBÉNES research programme is a comprehensive, multidisciplinary study of the history of wood in ancient Egypt. Applying a diachronic approach, it explores the economic and artistic networks that governed the use of wood over time whilst also focusing on the preservation of the artefacts. By combining Egyptology, archaeometry, philology and restoration, ÉBÉNES brings together specialists who contribute towards the study of the many different aspects of ancient wood, a natural product used in Egypt without interruption from the Pharaonic period to the time of Islam.
Egypt offers two ideal conditions that explain the abundance of archaeological wooden objects surviving today: a high human population density that resulted in the continuous production and use of wood, and hyper-arid climatic conditions that favoured its excellent preservation. In addition to internal sources, Egypt’s strategic position also enabled importation of wood from areas ranging from the Mediterranean world to the Horn of Africa. In order to study this long and varied history of woodcraft, including the economic and artistic networks that governed its use over time, the ÉBÉNES project draws on a rich corpus of wooden objects from a number of archaeological missions in Egypt including: Deir el-Medina, Qubbet el-Hawa, Elephantine, Fustat Istabl’antar and the Theban Western Wadis as well as the collections of the IFAO, the Egyptian Museum and Coptic Museum in Cairo.
Building on the PÉRCÉA Bois project, ÉBÉNES draws on the different specialisms of the programme’s collaborators to recontextualise the material across all the major historical periods, based around the following common themes:
Research focus 1. Wood and resource management. By combining xylological analyses with the study of textual sources mentioning wood, we are examining the management of the Egyptian wood landscape and industry through history. A wood collection (xylarium) will be maintained throughout the project and will constitute a cutting-edge scientific tool for the Ifao and research in Egypt.
Research focus 2. Tools and techniques. Through study of ancient tools, this axis studies the evolution of implements and processes related to wood. To explore this, the subject of textile craftsmanship has been chosen, with the aim of integrating relevant material from different collections (Ifao, Deir el-Medina, Fustat).
Research focus 3. Material production: regional preferences and external influences. The aim is to identify workshop methods and regional production in an attempt to highlight craft traditions over time and space. Toiletry items, boxes and caskets, available for study at the Ifao and in the field, constitute our first common theme.
To help meet these objectives, various archaeometric techniques will be carried out on this vast corpus, including material analysis, tracing, dendromorphology, dendrochronology and C14 dating.
In addition, wooden objects will be the focus of a vast restoration campaign. This will include examining methods of manufacture, use and possible reuse in order to provide a better understanding of the history of the objects. Also included is the development of various research tools for the conservators working in Egypt, most importantly including the publication of a trilingual (Arabic-French-English) Conservation protocol for wood in Egypt and Sudan.
Collaborations and sponsors:
IFAO (as Host Institution)
Archaeological mission of Deir el-Medina led by C. Larcher (IFAO)
University College of London, Institute of Archaeology, London.
University of Pisa, Dipartimento di Civiltà e Forme del Sapere, Pisa.
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Museo Egizio of Turin, Turin.
Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
Vatican Museum, Città del Vaticano, Rome.
British Museum, London.
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London, London.
Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid.
University of Jaén, Spain (Archaeological mission of Qoubbet el-Hawa directed by A. Jimenez-Serrano).
Schweizerisches Institut für Ägyptische Bauforschung und Altertumskunde in Kairo (Elephantine archaeological mission directed by C. Von Pilgrim).
University of Cambridge (Western Wadis archaeological mission led by Piers Litherland).
Misr University for Science and Technology, Giza.
Jodrell Laboratory, Kew Gardens, London.
International Culture Wood Society (ICWS).
International Union of Forest Research Organization (IUFRO).
Medjehu members and collaborators involved in the EBENES research Programme:
Gersande Eschenbrenner Diemer, Egyptologist/Wood anatomist (Director of the EBENES research programme)
Anna Giulia De Marco, Egyptologist
Lisa Sartini, Egyptologist
Margaret Serpico, Egyptologist
Chiara Spinazzi Lucchesi, Near Eastern Archaeologist
Paolo Marini, Egyptologist
Other contributing specialists:
Anita Quiles, Responsible of the archaeometry laboratory, IFAO, Cairo.
Cédric Larcher, Responsible of the Archives and Collections, IFAO, Cairo.
Julien Auber de Lapierre, Coptologist, École Pratique des Hautes Études, École du Louvre, Paris.
Victoria Asensi Amoros, Egyptologist, Wood anatomist, director of Xylodata SARL, Paris.
Valérie Schram, Papyrologist, Collège de France, Paris.
Dean Sully, Head of conservation and restoration, Institute of Archaeology, University College of London.
Jan Dariusz Cutajar, independent conservator-restorer.
Stephen Quirke, Egyptologist, Institute of Archaeology, University College of London
María Cruz Medina, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
Moamen Othman, Director of Conservation, Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Marilina Betrò, Professor of Egyptology, University of Pisa
Connected Archeological missions:
Deir el-Medina; Wadi Bairiya – Theban Western Wadis; Qubbet el-Hawa, Elephantine
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