Unravelling an Egyptian enigma

Hyksos palace

As much as ancient Egypt has a mysterious appeal and immediately evokes names of famous pharaohs and cities that we seem so familiar with, there are entire periods of Egyptian history that are still little understood. Thanks to a new research grant from the European Research Council, Professor Holger Schutkowski at Bournemouth University will be working with researchers all over Europe to investigate this little-known period of history.

During the 2nd Intermediate Period, about 3600 years ago, between the Middle and New Kingdoms, when Egypt was ruled by various dynasties in different parts of the Empire. One of these, the so-called Hyksos (Greek rendering for ‘Rulers of foreign lands’) established their rule in the eastern part of the Nile Delta from c. 1640 to 1530 BC. Little is known about this people from contemporary texts, so that important questions, e.g. about their provenance, their rise, influence, and eventual demise, so far could not be answered in any great detail. This may very well change, since excavations in the eastern delta, especially at Tell el-Dab’a/Avaris, the ancient capital of the Hyksos empire, have discovered urban settlements, palaces, tombs, temples, as well as enormous quantities of material culture and skeletal remains that can be attributed to the carriers of the Hyksos rule and their predecessors.

The European Research Council has now awarded an advanced grant worth more than €2.4 M, jointly hosted by the Austrian Academy of Sciences and Bournemouth University, which aims to find conclusive explanations for the origin, impact and legacy of this largely enigmatic phenomenon of Egyptian history, based on the wealth of new evidence discovered over the last decades.

A combination of archaeological, historical, theoretical and analytical sciences will provide a novel and holistic approach to understanding the role of the Hyksos and how they shaped the history of the 2nd millennium BC in the Near East. For Bournemouth it will be a great privilege to work with Prof Manfred Bietak from the Academy in Vienna, project lead and eminent scholar of Egyptology, and the foremost expert on the Hyksos. Bournemouth’s contributions to the project will encompass all bioarchaeological research, in particular anthropological investigations, stable isotope and aDNA analyses, led by Holger Schutkowski from the Department of Archaeology, Anthropology and Forensic Science in the Faculty of Science and Technology.