Contact: Ellen Sterner
SMU News & Media Relations
(214) 768-7650

September 6, 2001


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DALLAS (SMU) – More than 6 million ancient Nile Valley artifacts collected by an SMU anthropology professor will be added to the collections of the British Museum in London.

Fred Wendorf, the Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in the Department of Anthropology in SMU’s Dedman College, secured most of the artifacts during excavations carried out 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 has the largest and most famous collection of Pharoanic antiquities outside Cairo. The acquisition of this new material will enable 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, most of which will be accomomodated in accessible storage.

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

Davies explained that while the British Museum contains many wonderful works of art, it also places great value on building up collections of archaeological importance.

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 sherds 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 graduate students at SMU, which has one of the country’s leading programs in anthropological archaeology.

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

Wendorf 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 do archaeology in the Sahara.

The artifacts currently housed at SMU are being packed into 25 wooden crates about five feet square for shipment to England. Some of the crates will go 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 will be housed in the renowned and prestigious British Museum, where it will be accessible to scholars from throughout the world,” said SMU Provost Ross Murfin. “In this way, SMU is contributing to global understanding of these important civilizations.”

The author of more than 30 books, Wendorf has been a member of the SMU faculty since 1964. In 1987, he became the first SMU faculty member elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Click on the photos below to view or download high-resolution .jpg versions.


Two 14,000-year-old Nubian skulls (center and right) are compared to a modern Nubian skull. The middle skull is from a female and the right skull is from a male. Ancient Nubian skull (see left) These tools were excavated from a 65,000-year-old Late Middle Paleolithic site in the Nile Valley.
This 13,700-year-old burial site excavated in northern Sudan is believed to be the oldest sign of organized warfare. The pencils show places where the bodies were riddled with stone points. This potsherd is from a large open bowl found in Bir Kiseiba in southern Egypt that is believed to be 9,000 to 10,000 years old. It is one of the oldest pieces of pottery in the world.