Background of The Egyptian Cultural Heritage Organisation (ECHO)

by G. J. Tassie (ECHO Managing Director)


Overview of Egyptology
The Formation of ECHO

"Scholarship is by no means all that is wanted; the engineering training of mind and the senses ... will really fit an archaeologist better for excavating than bookwork alone"  (Sir William Mathew Flinders Petrie)

Why do we need another society concerned with Egyptology,
and who and what is ECHO?

Introduction     [Contents >]

Egypt is predominantly perceived of as the Land of the Pharaohs. However, while of immense significance, the Pharaonic era is only one component of Egypt's rich and diverse history. This history is the affirmation of our common human legacy, documenting many of humanity's major developments and achievements. Egypt's archaeological record chronicles the development of human societies, providing evidence of hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and agriculturists and documenting the emergence of complex societies and the first nation-state. Egypt also bears witness to the histories of civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans, and also the expansion of ideologies such as the Christian and Islamic.

Monuments link us to the past and make us aware of past human achievements. They affirm our identity, exhibiting all the ingenuity of past human endeavour. Egypt is rich in a cultural heritage that can be traced from the Palaeolithic until the present day and it is our duty to preserve the past so that future generations can learn from it and understand their origins.

The archaeological record is a finite resource, which is easily destroyed without proper protection. Today, many sites suffer from neglect due to both a lack of funding and understanding of their importance. Many of the sites are also under threat from developers and the urban sprawl and its polluting effects; agricultural damage by means of water-logging (land reclamation) and deep ploughing; from looters fuelling the antiquities market. These problems are all increasing in Egypt, the rate increasing acutely over the last ten years.

Egypt's monuments and achievements have been marvelled at and looted for over two millennia. With the onslaught of industrialisation in the Nineteenth Century many of Egypt's sites and monuments were badly damaged or completely destroyed. Also at this time came a new wave of Egyptian explorers from Europe, but as they rediscovered Egypt's ancient past, many left destruction in their wake, Seti I tomb being a prime example of the destruction caused by over zealous collectors of antiquities. Thankfully in the intervening years between these collectors and the current archaeologists, there has been a change in archaeological thinking (partly due to changes in Egyptian law), and instead of just collecting object d'art to beautify the world's museums, artefacts are seen as indicators of past human behaviour, and left in the country of origin.

The responsibility for Egypt's cultural heritage should thus be of concern to the whole world and its governing bodies and institutes. For far too long colonial archaeology has been practised in Egypt: the study of Egypt by foreign Egyptologists and archaeologists catering to their own constituency. With rare exceptions (tomb of Nefertari, the Nubian rescue project) these missions have done little to create the necessary facilities and staff to conserve, manage, study, interpret and display Egypt's past. The incredible number of sites and monuments in Egypt, as well as the countless artefacts in museums and storerooms, requiring constant monitoring, protection and maintenance, is beyond the financial capabilities of the Egyptian Government. Although the illegal threats are immense, such as looting, stealing and plundering (Renfrew 2000), a diversity of legal activities exert competing demands on the physical and cultural integrity of the cultural heritage (Skeates 2000: 39, 57). Although some of these factors in the destruction of sites and monuments are simply part of the modern world, their effects on the archaeological record can be mitigated by various means. Many of the destructive forces listed below affect Egypt's sites and monuments:

  1. Acid rain and weathering
  2. Pollution
  3. Modern agricultural practices and land reclamation
  4. Looting
  5. Demolition, building and development projects
  6. Urban sprawl caused by an ever-growing population
  7. Earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters
  8. Tourism
  9. Deterioration caused by a change of environment due to excavation
  10. Salinisation
  11. High water table levels
  12. Lack of money and resources
  13. Sebakhin (diggers for ancient mud-brick and mud-brick wash, to use as fertiliser or in manufacturing new mud-bricks)
  14. Raw material extraction
  15. Military training and war
  16. Natural erosion processes
  17. The construction of dams

Although sites and monuments all over Egypt are threatened, the Nile Delta is the region that is most acutely threatened, as highlighted by many of the SCA's officers at the 8th International Congress of Egyptologists (Tassie, Rowland & de Trafford 2000). As well as the destructive forces listed above, mechanical farming techniques and agricultural intensification, land reclamation (involving flooding of vast areas of land), building and development projects, and lack of money and resources are all acutely felt in the Delta (Spencer & Spencer 2000; Theroux 1997; Abdel el-Wakil 1988). The increasing need by farmers for more arable land is pressing the archaeological sites ever more, as is the need for basic living and working space. Egypt's population is increasing by a million people each year, therefore, the purpose is not only to save the sites and monuments, but also to free more space for this increase in population. Only by understanding the extent of Egypt's cultural heritage can both these goals be met. One of the first steps in cultural heritage management (CHM), therefore, is surveying of sites (Renfrew & Bahn 1991: 473), so that the likely amount of sites and monuments can be ascertained, and a database can be built up, to facilitate the establishment of a National Register of Sites, Monuments and Historic Buildings. From this register, a Sites and Monuments at Risk project can be mounted. Once this project has been conducted, land that is currently protected under Egypt's heritage laws, if no longer required for research and not holding remains that are to be displayed, may be handed over for cultivation or development.

To further secure the means to protect Egypt's heritage, large-scale capacity building, in terms of both training of personnel and the building and acquisition of resources, needs to be implemented. This can only be accomplished with large scale funding and the generous support of the public and professionals in donating funds or joining ECHO as a member. ECHO aims to make it possible for you to help make a difference.

Overview of Egyptology     [Contents >]

Petrie, the father of Egyptian archaeology, developed the basis of much of the archaeological methodology used in Egypt today. However, since then many advances in archaeological methods, techniques and theory have been made, although most have not been developed within Egyptology. For Egyptology, a discipline traditionally based on monumental archaeology, is a discipline that is related to the reading of texts (Midant-Reynes 2000: 1). Throughout the two hundred years of Egyptology's history this has generally been the status quo. As Sauneron (1968: 41) declares:

'More than any other ancient people, the Egyptians have produced a huge multiplicity of texts, therefore, whatever the importance of the strictly archaeological evidence uncovered up till now, the study and interpretation of Egyptian texts still forms the basis of most of the research that Egyptologists undertake'.

Although mainstream archaeological practice has been conducted in the study of prehistoric Egypt, the study of events before the pharaonic era still lies outside of mainstream Egyptology (Guksch 1991: 38-9; Midant-Reynes 2000: 1) and these methods and practices have been slow to be taken up by traditional Egyptologists. However, Egyptology is wholeheartedly embracing many of the different areas of information and communication technology (ICT), such as geographic information systems (GIS) and computer generated graphics and animation, making many advances in these fields.

When Jean-François Champollion announced his decipherment of hieroglyphs in 1822 with his 'Letter to Monsieur Dacier', the birth of a new academic discipline was born - Egyptology. Further advances were made in Egyptology when the Service d'Antiquités was formed in 1858 with Auguste Mariette as its first director; the establishment by Mariette of the Cairo Museum of Egyptian Antiquities closely followed this in 1863. The aim of the subject at this point was the uncovering of monumental buildings and beautiful artefacts, but this was closely related to the reading of texts and the filling of museums with objects to marvel at. In 1892 the Edwards Chair of Egyptology was founded at University College London (UCL), and with this recognition by one of the world's foremost universities Egyptology was given more credence. Although Petrie, as the first Edwards Professor taught archaeological methods and practice to his students, this was not a practice that was to continue. For Egyptology as a taught subject started to become detached from archaeology during the late 1920s, when the amount of artefacts that were permitted to be retained by excavators was drastically reduced (Reid 1989: 237-9). The ruling by the Egyptian courts was made in response to the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb and the debacle over ownership of the bust of Nefertiti, now in the Berlin Museum (Reid 1989: 237-9). Due to the fact that the major funding bodies (museums and universities) could no longer export finds, the amount of survey and excavation in Egypt declined (Reid 1989: 237-9), resulting in Egyptology focusing on history and philology. Not until the UNESCO Nubian Rescue Campaign of the 1960s was large-scale international archaeology again conducted in Egypt. The building of the Aswan High Dam caused new archaeological incentives, those of rescue archaeology, and brought a multidisciplinary approach to Egyptian archaeology, drawing on the skills of architects, anthropologists, engineers, technicians, geologists, conservators, Egyptologists and archaeologists (Midant-Reynes 2000: 1-11). Out of this campaign came new archaeological developments that stimulated scientific advances throughout the 1980s and 1990s. But even today many sites in Egypt are threatened, especially those in areas of intensive cultivation, primarily the floodplain area of the Nile. Also, the current high land-prices in the floodplain drives locals into the low desert where so much archaeological material is just below the sand, and easily but irretrievable destroyed.

Traditionally, in the majority of universities offering Egyptology, teaching concentrates on philology and history, without a specific degree focusing on Egyptian archaeology (Bietak 1979: 156-7; Tassie, Rowland & de Trafford 2000: 99). The teaching of Egyptian archaeology as an academic discipline was not introduced into a British university until 1991, when Dr. David Jeffreys founded a degree course at UCL (Tassie, Rowland & de Trafford 2000: 99).

The theoretical developments made in mainstream archaeology in the 1960s, 70s and 80s in America and Europe, progressing through Processualism and Post-Processualism, have only started to impact on Egyptian archaeology in the last ten to fifteen years. The use of single context recording, which is commonly accepted as being the best form of recording for a deeply stratified site (Roskams 2001; Westman 1994), has also only recently been implemented in Egypt. These advances in archaeological theory and methodology need to be disseminated to young Egyptians working in the field, so that they are armed with the latest methods and theory to help in their work. Books on the various archaeological disciplines need to be made available in Arabic, as well as greater access to standard works in English, French and German.

The specialised techniques and methodology involved in archaeology today are still largely expected to be learnt in the field, by those Egyptologists wishing to conduct fieldwork (Bietak 1979: 159-60). Egyptology, as taught in many universities worldwide, is not a preparation for archaeological fieldwork; history and philology do not help you to distinguish between contexts and neither do they teach you about how to read a mud-brick bonding corpus or how to excavate intercutting pits. However, this is not to say that history and philology are unimportant, but that there needs to be more balance, with archaeology being equally as important as learning history and philology.

The emphasis of archaeological work has changed a lot since its beginnings and to preserve, understand, and record this heritage must be an international undertaking, working in unison with the Egyptian government. Many of the threats posed by the modern world will not disappear, but can be mitigated if we work together. This can only be accomplished with large-scale funding and the generous support of the public and professionals in donating funds or joining ECHO as a member. ECHO aims to make it possible for you to help make a difference.

The Formation of ECHO     [Contents >]

The Egyptian Cultural Heritage Organisation (ECHO) was formed out of a passion and a need. The passion is that felt by the two founders of the organisation – Fekri. A. Hassan and G. J. Tassie – a love of Egypt and its history. The need - is to alter the status quo of Egyptian archaeology. The two founders first met in 1994 when Dr. Fekri A. Hassan came to University College London to take up the post of Petrie Professor of Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology. The need to change the way archaeological research is being practised in Egypt had been apparent for many years and has been commented on by such scholars as Dr. Manfred Bietek (1979). Although improvements have been made, these have largely been changes in research foci, rather than fundamental changes in the way archaeology is practised in Egypt.

The founding of ECHO came out of a concept first discussed in 1996 by F. A. Hassan and G. J. Tassie, both of whom were acutely aware of the shortcomings of the current status of Egyptian archaeology / Egyptology. The gathering together of the people able to carry through the objectives of ECHO and the founding of the Board of Trustees has necessarily been a slow process. However, the need for a new organisation is now more urgent than ever. Because archaeology has changed so radically over the last twenty years, and the threats to the world's cultural heritage have increased, there is a greater need than ever for Egyptian archaeology to keep pace with these changes and threats. One of the most important means of protecting cultural heritage is to keep the public informed of archaeological developments and potential threats to archaeology within their communities and the wider world. Another important means is to have a well-informed archaeological community. The most effective practical means of protecting cultural heritage is knowing its location and how much actually exists; for you cannot effectively protect what you do not know you have. It was also evident that specialist publications aimed at Egyptian archaeologists were also needed. Although there are many able publications dealing with matters of Egyptological interest, such as religion, history, iconography, mythology, and site reports, the Trustees of ECHO felt that there was a need for a new newsletter, journal and monograph series. ECHO Publications are aimed at relaying the methods, theory and practice of archaeology and cultural heritage management (CHM) to as wide an audience as possible. Therefore, ECHO and its publications are complementary to traditional Egyptology societies and publications.

The Trustees of ECHO all have an archaeological background and the ECHO doctrine is founded on clear archaeological theory, methodology and practice. ECHO is an organisation that aims at being a vehicle for these important topics, both on the website and in its various publications. ECHO is a non-governmental organisation (NGO), non-profit making company that has been founded to be active in helping to secure the protection and conservation of Egypt's threatened heritage.

ECHO is a charitable company funded by public and private donations to supplement the monies invested in Cultural Heritage Management (CHM) by Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. ECHO's main offices will be based in London and Cairo, although it is also hoped that a branch office will eventually be opened in the USA as well. Whilst also raising public awareness of the importance of CHM, through many different types of educational means. ECHO will not only instigate its own programmes, but will fund other programmes that meet its objectives.

Bibliography     [Contents >]

  • Abdel El Wakil, L. 1988. 'A brief report on the problems met with during excavations at Silvago, Delingat, Behera Governate', in E.C.M. van den Brink (ed.) The Archaeology of the Nile Delta: Problems and Priorities. Amsterdam, Netherlands Foundation for Archaeological Research in Egypt: 265.
  • Bietak, M. 1979. 'The present state of Egyptian archaeology', JEA 65: 156-160.
  • Guksch, C. H. 1991. 'Ethnological models and processes of state formation – chiefdom survivals in the Old Kingdom', GM 125: 37-50.
  • Midant-Reynes, B. 2000. The Prehistory of Egypt: From the First Egyptians to the First Pharaohs. Oxford, Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
  • Reid, D. M. 1984. 'Indigenous Egyptology: the decolonization of a profession', Journal of the American Oriental Society. 105: 233-246.
  • Renfrew, C. 2000. Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership. London, Duckworth.
  • Renfrew, C. & Bahn, P. 1991. Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. London, Thames & Hudson.
  • Roskams, S. 2001. Excavation. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Saleh, F. & Grimal, N. 2000. 'Carte archéologique de l'Egypte', in Z. Hawass and A. M. Jones (eds.) Abstracts of Papers for the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists. Cairo, American University in Cairo Press: 160.
  • Sauneron, S 1968. L'Egyptoloie. Paris, Que Sais-Je? Series.
  • Skeates, R. 2000. Debating the Archaeological Heritage. London, Duckworth.
  • Spencer, J. & Spencer, P. 2000. 'The Delta Survey', Egyptian Archaeology 16: 25-7.
  • Tassie, G. J., Rowland, J. M. & de Trafford, A. 2000. 'The 8th international congress of Egyptologists, Cairo, 28th March - 3rd April 2000', Papers From the Institute of Archaeology 11: 98-109.
  • Theroux, P. 1997. 'The imperiled Nile Delta', National Geographic, January: 8-35.
  • Westman, C., (ed.) 1994. Archaeological Site Manual: Museum of London Archaeological Service. 3rd edition Hampshire, Museum of London, BAS Printers ltd, Over Wallop.


Current Affairs


The Trustees of ECHO are sad to announce the loss of our beloved friend and colleague Dr. Geoffrey J. Tassie, affectionately known as Tass.

There has been and continues to be illegal encroachment on the UNESCO World Heritage Listed site of Dahshur. The Trustees of ECHO are supporting this petition to try and stop this illegal building activity and so can you, please sign the petition

The ECHO trustees are pleased to announce that ECHO is now a registered charity (number 1142484) this will enable ECHO to continue and develop into the future.

ECHO is now on Facebook

ECHO article detailing the endangered sites in the Faiyum is now available to download as a PDF

Protection of Cultural Heritage in Revolutionary Times: The International Workshop on Prevention of Destruction, Looting and Theft of Cultural Heritage. Cairo, September 2012.
Call for Papers

New Nubian Dams are planned by the Sudanese Government, none of which have the consent of the local population who will be the ones most affected.
Sign the petition to stop the building of these dams

ECHO on Facebook contact ECHO