British Museum acquires artifacts collected by professor

More than six million ancient Nile Valley artifacts collected by an SMU anthropology professor have been added to the collections of the British Museum in London.

Fred Wendorf, the Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in the Department of Anthropology in Dedman College, secured most of the artifacts during excavations conducted from 1963 to 1977 in Nubia, an ancient country between Egypt and the Sudan. This area was flooded beginning in 1965 to create Lake Nasser. The artifacts range in age from half-a-million years old to 5,000 years old and have helped shed new light on prehistoric humans.

The British Museum contains the largest and most famous collection of Pharoanic antiquities outside Cairo. The acquisition of this new material enables the museum to more completely represent the prehistory of the ancient Nile Valley. Scholars from around the world are expected to visit the museum to use the collection.

"This collection is an enormously important resource that can never be replicated," says Vivian Davies, Keeper of Egypt and Sudanese Antiquities at the British Museum. "It fills a huge gap in our holdings, extending our archaeological reach both geographically and chronologically."

Although the British Museum previously collected ancient pieces of a more aesthetic nature, it is now trying to build its collection of items that are of archaeological importance, Davies says.

Wendorf's collection includes a 13,000-year-old burial site that is believed to be the oldest sign of organized warfare. A photo of this site was featured in the July 2000 issue of National Geographic.

The collection also includes pottery shards that are believed to be among the oldest in the world, as well as 70 skeletons from a single site that have been dated at 13,700 years old.

The collection has formed the basis of several doctoral theses in archaeology by SMU graduate students.

In addition to the artifacts, Wendorf gave the museum his notes and slides from his numerous expeditions to Egypt.

He served as leader of the Combined Prehistoric Expedition to Egypt from 1962-2000. He organized the expedition to salvage Nubian artifacts from sites that would be destroyed after the building of the New High Dam and the flooding of Lake Nasser. Wendorf also has run two schools to help train Egyptians on how to conduct archaeology in the Sahara.

The artifacts formerly housed at SMU were packed into 38 wooden crates about five feet square for shipment to England. Some of the crates went by air, with the remaining crates shipped by sea.

"It is truly an honor for Dr. Wendorf that the results of his life's work are being housed in the renowned and prestigious British Museum, accessible to scholars from throughout the world," says Provost Ross Murfin. "In this way, SMU is contributing to global understanding of these important civilizations."



Fred Wendorf (right), Anthropology, donated a collection of ancient Nile Valley artifacts to the British Museum in London. Museum representatives were on campus in August and September packing the collection.

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Last updated: Thursday, January 31, 2002 11:03 AM