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Bard Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Work in Egypt earns archaeologist membership

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In the slide show above, join Kathryn Bard’s Egyptian archaeological dig.

When it comes to archaeology, the term “groundbreaking” is just a little too cute, so when the American Academy of Arts and Sciences invited Kathryn Bard to join, it judiciously cited her “pathbreaking” excavations in the Egyptian desert.

An associate professor of archaeology in the College of Arts & Sciences, Bard is one of 229 leaders in the sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, the arts, business, and public affairs to be chosen for the class of 2010. “I’m absolutely thrilled,” she says. “This is a tremendous honor.”

While digging with an archaeological team along the Red Sea coast five years ago, Bard uncovered an ancient man-made cave. Further excavations revealed a mud brick, a small grinding stone, shell beads, and part of a box — artifacts that offer a tantalizing glimpse into an elaborate network of millennia-old Red Sea trade.

Days later, the team uncovered the entrance to a second cave. Inside they found a network of larger rooms filled with dozens of nautical artifacts: limestone anchors, 80 coils of knotted rope, pottery fragments, ship timbers, and two curved cedar planks that likely are steering oars from a 70-foot-long ship. Hieroglyphic inscriptions revealed that the ship was dispatched to the southern Red Sea port of Punt by Queen Hatshepsut during the 15th century B.C.

“It just gave me chills to stumble across such a frozen moment in time,” Bard recalls. “The ropes were perfectly preserved. They looked as if they’d been coiled yesterday.”

Punt is legendary for its reported exports of gold, incense, ebony, elephant ivory, and exotic animals, but the exact location of the city remains a mystery. Bard believes it was in present-day eastern Sudan. Inscriptions discovered more than a century ago indicate that Egyptian pharaohs mounted naval expeditions to Punt as far back as the Old Kingdom (2686–2125 B.C.), and Bard’s findings on stelae outside the second cave support that conviction.

Most of the stelae are indecipherable, says Bard, worn blank from centuries of wind and sand. But one was in near-perfect condition. “I found it lying facedown in the desert,” she says, “and it contained the complete historical text of two expeditions, one to Punt and one to Bia-Punt, as ordered by King Amenemhat III, who ruled about 1800 B.C.”

The team also recovered more than 40 cargo boxes, two bearing painted inscriptions reading, “The wonders of Punt.”

“It was like a modern-day packaging label,” Bard says. “The preservation was incredible.”

When Bard returned to Egypt last December, she discovered yet another cave, the eighth so far, “exactly where I predicted it would be,” she says. Although it was empty — cleaned out sometime during the 12th dynasty, Bard suspects — the team found some early 12th-dynasty pottery, some stelae, and an inscription written on a sheet of papyrus outside its entrance.

Bard plans to return again next winter. “I think I know where there’s one last cave,” she says.

The team will likely spend two or three more field seasons at the present site; afterward, Bard hopes to go to Eastern Sudan and look for Punt. “I think we might find evidence of it,” she says, “but I’m not going to say where!”

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in 1780 by James Bowdoin, John Adams, and John Hancock; its objective, as stated in the original charter, is to “cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.”

Headquartered in Cambridge, the academy sponsors conferences, organizes research projects, and publishes the quarterly journal Dædalus. It has more than 4,000 fellows and 600 foreign honorary members.

1 Comments

One Comment on Bard Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

  • Scott on 05.27.2010 at 9:42 am

    Wow

    Great story … great slideshow!

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