Photos & Forts

The Photographic Documentation of a Journey to Nubia in 1900

In 2015, during the ongoing revision of the holdings of the Egyptian Museum’s photo archive, six unlabelled boxes were found. These contained ca 340 photographs of a journey to Nubia in 1900, which constitute the complete photographic documentation of the expedition to a region between the first and second Nile cataracts.

This discovery is of enormous importance primarily for two reasons: the photos are a source for the history of a cultural landscape nowadays submerged under Lake Nasser; secondly they complete the otherwise extensive documentation of an expedition headed by Heinrich Schaefer (1868–1957), later to become director of the Berlin Egyptian Museum.

In cooperation with the German Archaeological Institute, Cairo Department, the photographs will be published in the GAI-series “Menschen – Reisen – Forschungen”, together with essays relating to the background of the expedition, the history of expedition-photography in Egypt, and many aspects of Nubia’s cultural landscape. This volume will complement the written documentation of the journey, previously published in a volume of this series.

The main objective of the journey undertaken by Schaefer, accompanied by his two colleagues Ludwig Borchardt (1863–1938) and Georg Steindorff (1861–1951), as well as Hermann Thiersch (1874–1939), specialist for Greco-Roman archaeology, and the diplomat Curt von Gruenau (1871–1939), was to explore the Middle and New Kingdom (about 2040 to 1070 BC) fortresses.

The expedition was financed by the Stuttgart entrepreneur Ernst von Sieglin (1848–1927), who in 1899 donated the necessary funding to the Royal Saxon Society of Sciences and Humanities for the exploration of Siwa Oasis in north western Egypt. Originally it was planned that the expedition would include the oases of the Western Desert: Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga. Instead the expedition turned to the Fayum Oasis, thereby freeing up funding for yet another expedition – to Nubia.

On some of the photographs, now retrieved, the photographers can be observed at work, documenting that the expedition from time to time had two cameras at its disposal. However the brilliant lighting in sunny Nubia sometimes hindered the employment of modern techniques of documentation. But regardless, photography enabled the archaeologists to document far greater amounts of hieroglyphic texts in less time. However, not all photographs served purely scholarly purposes: sometimes the travellers simply photographed the Nubians they met. By contrast, the expedition members rarely photographed themselves – only if they held a measuring-rod in front of the remains of ancient buildings.

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Poster for the project: A journey to Nubia in 1900

Poster as Download (14031 x 19866 Pixel, 600 DPI, 67 MB)

Project directors: Dr Jana Helmbold-Doyé (Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, Berlin); Dr Thomas L. Gertzen (Humboldt-University Berlin)
Project staff: PD Dr Daniel Polz (DAI, Cairo); Dr Caris-Beatrice Arnst (AEMP)
Funding: Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, Berlin; German Archaeological Institute, Cairo Department
Printing cost subsidies:
Verein zur Förderung des Ägyptischen Museums Berlin e.V.
July 2017 until October 2018