New York University: National Endowment for the Humanities Awards NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts $150K in Support of Research on the Abydos Brewery

The fieldwork over the next two years will focus on the further exploration of the royal brewery and the analysis of the evidence for the ritual use of beer in the nearby royal funerary temples

Abydos excavation site
The Division of Archaeological and Ethnographic Field Research of the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts $150,000 to support the project “Excavation of Egypt’s first industrial-scale brewery, located at the ancient site of Abydos.” These funds will specifically support two field seasons of excavations at Abydos that aim to address the question of the relationship between beer production on such an enormous, truly industrial scale and the early development of Egyptian kingship and the state.

British archaeologists excavated the brewery at Abydos in the early 20th century, but its importance was not understood at that time and the exact location was lost. The North Abydos Archaeology team, consisting of individuals from the Institute of Fine Arts (IFA) at New York University and from Princeton University, working in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, located and began excavating the brewery in 2018 and continued the investigation in 2020.

The fieldwork over the next two years will focus on the further exploration of the royal brewery and the analysis of the evidence for the ritual use of beer in the nearby royal funerary temples, or “cultic enclosures.” Excavation work at the brewery will aim to define fully the scale of the facility and its total production capacity, and to investigate the details of the beer production process. In addition, the team will strive to refine the dating of the facility, which at present can only be assigned to a broad period, approximately 3200–2800 BCE. Study of the beer making process will be based in part on the paleobotanical analysis of preserved organic residues. Analysis of the ritual use of beer in royal contexts will involve the excavation of a series of large deposits of discarded ceramic beer jars found at the monumental cultic enclosures that Egypt’s early kings built not far from the brewery. Here too, paleobotanical analysis will be used to examine organic residues in the beer jars, to allow for comparison between the beer used in the royal monuments with what was produced in the nearby brewery. The investigation of the Abydos royal brewery provides important new evidence on how the control of staple resources, the ability to mobilize labor, and the administrative capability necessary to manage such a large-scale operation helped define the nature of early Egyptian kingship and the state.

The site of Abydos stretches over several square miles of the margins of the desert on the west bank of the Nile in southern Egypt and has an equally expansive history. It was the burial place of Egypt’s first kings and later became the primary cult place of the god Osiris, ruler of the land of the dead. For millennia the site was held to be one of Egypt’s most sacred and was a place of pilgrimage, where visitors could witness the great festival procession of Osiris, in which episodes of his myth were re-enacted in the sacred landscape. Later kings built their own temples at Abydos to associate themselves both with Osiris and with their royal ancestors buried at the site. Visitors to the site today can still walk through the magnificently decorated monuments of Seti I and his son Ramesses II.

“It is truly an honor to be one of the first projects awarded support under the NEH’s new Archaeological and Ethnographic Field Research grant program” observes Matthew Adams, co-director for IFA of the Abydos project. “This recognition from the NEH will be instrumental in maintaining the momentum of our work at Egypt’s first industrial-scale brewery.”

Christine Poggi, Judy and Michael Steinhardt Director of the Institute of Fine Arts, remarked, “We are delighted that the NEH has made this commitment to sustaining empirical field research at Abydos. We are sincerely grateful for this critical support that will aid in the further exploration and documentation of the discoveries being made at Abydos’s royal brewery.”

About the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University
Since 1932 the Institute of Fine Arts has been dedicated to graduate teaching and advanced research in the history of art, archaeology, and conservation. The Institute has a faculty unrivaled in the breadth and depth of its expertise and in the range of its visiting lecturers from top museums, research institutes, and conservation studios. The Institute has conferred more than 2700 degrees, and its alumni hold leadership roles as professors, curators, museum directors, archaeologists, conservators, critics, and institutional administrators throughout the U.S. and internationally.

About the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant 1programs is available at: www.neh.gov
(Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this release do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.)

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