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Jean-Yves Empereur, Director of CEAlex, june 2015
The Centre d’Études Alexandrines has just celebrated 25 years of existence with a week of festivities. Official ceremonies were interspersed with site visits, conferences and film screenings. We were honoured by a visit from the Minister of Antiquities, Dr Mamdouh el-Damati, and the events were inaugurated in the presence of a large crowd at the Alexandria premises of the Institut de France (1), by the French Ambassador to Egypt, Mr André Parant, and the Consul General of France in Alexandrie, Ms Dominique Waag. Representatives of the Institut des Sciences Humaines et Sociales, the CNRS and the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (2) were also present.
The visit of Akademia site

The Maurice Picon Library, donated by his children in memory of the scholar with whom several members of the CEALex collaborated over many years (3), was opened to the public in the presence of his daughter, Anne-Françoise Picon. The library holds some 1000 books and studies covering the history of technology, archaeometry and ethnography, as well as the ensemble of works published by Maurice Picon himself (4).

bibliothèque Maurice Picon
Library Maurice Picon. Photo J.-Y. Empereur, © CEAlex

The CEAlex first opened on 1 March 1990 and a quarter of a century later the team is going strong with some 86 permanent collaborators of different professions, without forgetting the some 200 interns and visiting scholars per annum. This team allows us to undertake land and underwater excavations, restoration projects, and archaeological and historical studies leading to publications that cover the long history of Alexandria. Could we have foreseen that all these discoveries now presented in the 35 volumes of the Études alexandrines series would have led to a new approach, a new vision of the history of our city?

Chis journey of 25 years of continual endeavour in the heart of the great Mediterranean city is illustrated in a film made for the occasion of the anniversary. It is the work of the filmmakers Raymond Collet and André Pelle and can be seen on-line at youtube. The film retraces the land excavations in the centre of the town, at the Majestic and the Diana, where the mosaic of the Medusa, now exhibited in the city’s National Museum, was discovered. It follows the geophysical survey that aimed to relocate the line of the Heptastadion, and plunges into the excavation of Necropolis. Then there is the exploration of Alexandria’s hinterland, the chora, with digs at Marea and the on-going work at Akademia on the southern shore of Lake Mariout; the rediscovery of the Pharos with its colossal statuary and thousands of architectural blocks, some of which weigh more than 70 tons; the exhibitions (Paris, Agde, Neuchâtel, Le Mans, Mariemont), the films, the publications etc.

But I should not longer over this relatively short history of the CEALex, but will concentrate on the latest developments in our research.

The latest advances concern in particular ceramic studies. The signing of an agreement with the Fondation de la Maison de la Chimie will allow us to expand considerably the equipment of our Laboratoire Michel Wuttmann for materials analysis that was inaugurated some two years ago on the 8th floor of the CEAlex premises. These new machines will be used in the chemical analysis of ceramics as well as metals, pigments and organic matter. At the same time, on 20 May 2015 another meeting of the Franco-German ANR project CeramEgypt saw some 15 participants present the latest in the ceramic studies of finds from Alexandria (CEAlex), Buto (excavations led by Pascale Ballet), Nelson’s Island (excavations led by Paulo Gallo) as well as Schedia (excavations of Cologne University led by Marianne Bergmann et Michaël Heinzelmann). Advances were made in the identification of fine imported ceramics (southern Italy, Crete, Rhodes etc.), kitchen ware, amphorae and the distinction between alluvial Egyptian clays on which the emphasis will now be placed.

The ANR Geomar project moves ahead with on-site explorations adding to the GIS of archaeological sites on Lake Mariout’s southern shore. Clearing of the Amreya 1 site, known as Kom of the Quarry (5), is underway and, thanks to support of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Valérie Pichot is leading a fourth excavation campaign on the Akadameia site. In the months of March and May more than 100 m of a water supply system connected to a saqieh was revealed. This system belonged to an agricultural domain that was active in the 6th century AD, and it would appear from the kilns and amphora dumps of Apollonios that were cleared in recent years that activity at this site goes back to the 2nd century AD, with a late antique or even Arab era phase, as proven by the many coins that are evidence of the movement of pilgrims towards the nearby monastery of Saint Minas.
Excavations of a site at Bahig will begin next autumn. This is complementary to the Geomar programme and will involve the exploration of two hills that are untouched since antiquity and on which a simple surface examination has revealed traces of Greek occupation of the 4th century BC. This site will be part of a CEAlex “excavation school” for training young Egyptian archaeologists. The scientific aims will be to examine one more site of Greek settlement around Alexandria that predates the foundation of the new capital by Alexander the Great, and will add to the results already gleaned from Plinthine, Buto and Nelson’s Island (6).
Akademia site, orthophotograph of the saqieh and its channelling, to the south, 2015.
Image Mohamed Abdel Aziz, Philippe Soubias, © CEAlex

Thanks to the Honor Frost Foundation (HFF), the underwater excavations continue with a campaign on the Pharos site and another on the QB1 shipwreck and its cargo of Lamboglia 2 amphorae. We are hoping to produce a complete photogrammetry image of the two sites by the end of this year.

etudes alexandrines 33

The HFF has also supported us in the publication of two volumes in the Études alexandrines series: volume 34, entitled La Batellerie nilotique égyptienne (P. Pomey ed.), and volume 36 Under the Mediterranean (G. Soukiassian ed.). The latter presents some 100 anchors that have been found along the Alexandrian coast by Egyptian, Greek and French underwater archaeological missions. Both volumes are set to appear in July 2015

I will take the opportunity to announce the arrival of volume 33, Lexikon of Eponym Dies on Rhodian Amphora Stamps, by G. Şenol. This is the first in a series of four that will gather together more than 5000 amphora stamp matrices with Rhodian eponym names. Thereafter, in the same series, roughly the same number of Rhodian fabricant stamps will be published.

And to finish, I would like to thank all those who support our efforts to preserve and present Alexandrian heritage, notably the CNRS, the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, members of the Friends of the CEAlex association and its two regional branches, Sarthe-Alexandrie and Alexandrie-Île-de-France.

This is the last newsletter that I shall sign! After 25 years as director of the CEAlex, the time has come to pass on the baton (7). A successor has already been chosen and her official nomination by the CNRS will soon be announced. I will now return to my studies and to files that I have left aside for too long. I am leaving the administration of our Alexandrian team in younger hands.

Jean-Yves Empereur

Notes :

  1. I would like to thank Mme Véronique Rieffel, director of the IFE in Alexandria for hosting us on the first day of these events. The following days took place in the conference room of the CEAlex.. back

  2. The CNRS was represented by Mr Pascal Marty, deputy director Europe/International at the INSHS, Mme Diane Brami, responsible for international cooperation, as well as Mme Hélène Naftalski, CNRS regional delegate (DR 16-Paris Michel-Ange) and Mr Philippe Gasnot, Fonctionnaire Défense-Sécurité; the AIBL was represented by Messers Nicolas Grimal and Olivier Picard. I extend my warmest thanks to these institutions and their representatives for their participation in these events. back

  3. J.-Y. Empereur, M. Picon, “Les ateliers d'amphores du lac Mariout”, in Commerce et artisanat dans l'Alexandrie Hellénistique et romaine, Actes du Colloque d'Athènes, 11-12 December 1988, Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique Suppl. 33, 1998, p. 86, no 7; see also for the quarry, F. El-Fakharany, “The Kibotos of Alexandria”, in S. Stucchi, M. Aravantinos (ed)., Giornate di studio in onore di Achille Adriani (Rome, 1984),  Studi Miscellanei 28, Rome, 1991, p. 23-28. back

  4. See previous post, “News from the sites, August 2014” for this same site and the subject of Archaic Greek occupation around Alexandria and of the resulting synecism. back

  5. The HCERES has just published this evaluation report on the CEAlex - back

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