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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

North-West Nile Delta Survey Project, Egypt

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


The Egyptian Nile Delta has many hundreds of archaeological sites, about which very little is known and so, the development of the Nile Delta as an important element in ancient and modern Egyptian life and culture has been relatively little understood. After calls to focus on the threatened Nile delta sites by the Egyptian authorities, archaeologists began to turn their attention to the north of Egypt in the last twenty years. As part of this drive to obtain further information, the Delta Survey Project of the Egypt Exploration Society began to visit and document as many sites as possible and the North-West and North Delta Survey projects are part of this wider programme.
The NWDS has surveyed and visited over 70 sites in the north-west Nile Delta in order to obtain archaeological information about them. The surveys have mapped and studied pottery at the larger sites and drill augering has been carried out in the western Delta to locate the course of the abandoned Canopic Branch of the river. The project was funded by the AHRC between 2002-2007 and is supported by the Special Project of the British Academy administered by the Egypt Exploration Society and directed by Dr Jeffrey Spencer.


The results of the project suggest that the foundation of Alexandria around 330 BC led to a boom in settlement development in the north-west Delta in order to service and supply the ‘Pearl of the Mediterranean’. Over time, however, the silting up of the Canopic Branch of the Nile led to a slow decline in settlement density and population in the western delta into the 8th century AD, whereas in the north of the Delta settlements were sustained by active river branches into the 11th century AD. All of the sites also have the potential for understanding cultural change from the end of the Pharaonic period, through the Roman, Late Antique (Coptic) and early Islamic periods. The area has great potential for the study of a millennium of political and religious change on a vast scale, seen from the perspective of regional centres and agricultural communities at the heart of Egypt’s grain and flax lands. As Egypt became embroiled within the wider East Mediterranean world, the role of the Delta in this wider system may be a key to understanding political and religious dynamics.

Future Work

As documentation of sites continues, the project is also developing methods for the fast and cost-effective recording of information through a collaborative project with the University of Mansoura and Ministry of State for Antiquities. The aim of the training project is to enable the documentation, monitoring and investigation of sites far into the future. This part of the project will supported by an International Partnership Mobility Scheme Grant from 2014. Work has already started at the site of Tell Mutubis with support from the Amelia Projects of the Egypt Exploration Society and aims to continue as soon as is possible.

Aziza Drilling

Published Results

Authored book

  • Wilson, Penelope. & Grigoropoulos, Dimitrios. (2009). The West Nile Delta Regional Survey, Beheira and Kafr el-Sheikh provinces. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

Conference Paper

  • Wilson, Penelope (2010), Recent Survey Work in the Southern Mareotis Area, in Blue, Lucy & Khalil, Emad eds, BAR international series, 2113. University of Southampton series in archaeology, no. 2 International Conference on the Archaeology of the Mareotic Region. Alexandria, Egypt, Archaepress, Oxford, 119-125.

Journal Article

  • Wilson, P (2012). Waterways, settlements and shifting power in the north-western Nile Delta. Water History 4(1): 95-117.

Chapter in book

  • Wilson, Penelope. (2011). Settlement Connections in the Canopic Region. In Alexandria and the North-Western Delta. Robinson, Duncan. & Wilson, Andrew. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology. 111-126.
  • Wilson, Penelope. (2011). Ramsîs: Ancient Memory, Archaeology and the Western Delta. In Ramesside Studies in Honour of K. A. Kitchen. Collier, M. & Snape, S. Rutherford Press. 533-540.


From the Department of Archaeology

Related links

Scottish Soldiers Project

Cooperating with the Palace Museum in China