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Department of Archaeology


Dr Penny Wilson, BA PhD

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology

(email at


I am a specialist in Egyptology with a particular focus in areas of both hieroglyphic texts as well as field archaeology. After reading Oriental Studies (Egyptian with Coptic) at Liverpool University (BA 1985), I continued to develop my interest in the Egyptian language. My specialist research for my PhD was a lexicographical study of the hieroglyphic texts in the Ptolemaic period Temple of Edfu (1991). Evolving out of this study, I continue to research the Egyptian hierogyphic writing system, temple ritual practice and the interweaving of mythical stories into Egyptian religious practice as a whole. I worked for seven years as Assistant Keeper in the Department of Antiquities in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (1992-1999), where I developed a wider passion for material culture of Egypt, the Classical World and the Near East. Since 1999 I have been employed as a Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Egyptology at the Department of Archaeology, Durham University.

My first archaeological work was at Bearpark near Durham, while I was at school. I have since worked on various projects in Egypt: as epigrapher at Qasr Ibrim and archaological supervisor at Ashmunein, Sinai, Tell el Balamun and Zawiyet Umm el Rakham.

I am currently the Field Director of the joint Durham University/Egypt Exploration Society/Supreme Council of Antiquities project at Sais (Sa el-Hagar), which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the UK (2002-2007).

I am also actively involved in the Egypt Exploration Society/British Academy Special Project 'Delta Survey'. The project aims to record and investigate as many of the archaeological sites in northern Egypt as possible. Many are in remote areas, such as the lagoons in the very north of the country and are visited only rarely.

I am currently also carrying out survey work at Tell Mutubis, a large Late Roman site near Rosetta, in order to understand cultural transitions during the Roman period to the early Islamic period. This project will include training and heritage development aspects. It is supported by funding from the British Academy IPM award scheme.

I am interested in the dynamics of life in the Nile delta including coping with the Nile's flood regime in the past, the development of urban centres and the tension between agricultural life and the state. I am also interested in the interactions between the religious life and thinking of the temple and the world outside and the nature of religious experience in 'ordinary' daily life. My current work is focussed upon the process of change in material culture and settlements from the Pharaonic period, through the hellenistic and Roman eras, to the Christian and Islamic periods.

I am interested in supervising students in subjects connected with the archaeology of the Delta, settlement archaeology and Egyptian material culture of all periods. In addition, I am also keen to supervise work on Ptolemaic hieroglyphic texts in general. Themes such as connectivity, geomorphology, sustainability and materiality in Egypt are also of interest.

Research Interests

  • Ancient urbanism and sustainability
  • Settlement archaeology in the delta, in particular the city of Sais and its hinterland
  • Roman and Late Antique sites in the delta
  • Temples and theological thought
  • The relationship of living populations to ancient sites
  • Impact of the railways on archaeological areas in Egypt
  • Mud: uses, composition and feel

Indicators of Esteem

  • 2014: Invitation to workshop: Workshop on Archaeological Landscapes of the Egyptian Delta Lakes held at the Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies, University of Exeter
  • 2013: Invited conference paper:

    I was invited to give a paper on the Northern Egyptian Delta lagoonal landscape at the conference: The Nile: Natural Landscape and Cultural Landscape. Johannes Gutenberg Universistät, Mainz

  • 2013: National Science Foundation reviewer: Peer reviewer for the NSF
  • 2012: European Council peer Reviewer: For EC under FP7 programme
  • 2011: Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek – Vlaanderen (Flanders) Post-doctoral Reviewer: Reviewer of proposal.
  • 2011: Invited seminar: I was invited to gve the results of my fieldwork at the Ägyptologisches Sammlung, Berlin Freie Universität, in a paper entitled 'Fishermen, Famine and Fountains: Results of work at Sais'.
  • 2008: Invited lecture and award:

    I was invited to give a lecture : Sais in its Wider Context at Mansoura University, Egypt, following presentation of an award for pioneering achievements in education. This was had simultaneous translation into Arabic and was attended by 300 students, graduates and staff of the Faculty of Hotels and Tourism (Egyptology) in the University.

  • 2008: Invited seminar:

    ‘Settlement and Abandonment in the Western Delta’, Berlin Kunsthalle, Hilti Foundation.

  • 2007: Invited seminar:

    I was invited to give a seminar to the Leiden University, Department of Archaeology. Defining Delta Sites.

  • 2006: Invitation to colloquium: I was invited to a colloquium in December 2006 at the National Museums of Scotland to discuss issues relating to the Egyptian collections in Edinburgh.
  • 2002: Principal investigator, AHRC Sais and its Hinterland project: The five year project is funded by the AHRC by £202k and supported by the Egypt Exploration Society. It runs from 2002-7.
  • 2001: Editorial Board: I am a member of the editorial board of the journal for Mediterranean Archaeology & Archaeometry based at the University of the Aegean, Rhodes, Greece.


Books: authored

Books: sections

  • Wilson, Penelope (2014). Living the High Life: Late Antique Archaeology in the Delta. In Egypt in the First Millennium AD: Perspectives from New Fieldwork. O'Connell, Elisabeth Leuven Paris Walpole, MA: Peeters. 43-58.
  • 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 P (1997). Slaughtering the crocodile at Edfu and Dendera. In The temple in Ancient Egypt: new discoveries and recent research. Quirke, S. London: British Museum. 179-203.

Conference papers

Edited works: conference proceedings

  • Wilson, Penelope. (2010). Recent Survey Work in the Southern Mareotis Area. Lake Mareotis: Reconstructing the Past, Alexandria, Egypt, Archaepress.

Edited works: contributions

Essays in edited volumes

Journal papers: academic


Selected Grants

  • 2014: Inside Out: Settlement, Trade and Displacement in Northern Egypt (£30000.00 from The British Academy)
  • 2010: The Saite Kilns Project (£2000.00 from Gerald Avery Wainwright Near Eastern Archaeological Fund)
  • 2010: The Saite Kilns Project (£7500.00 from The British Academy)
  • 2008: SAISAND ITS HINTERLAND (£17640.00 from Arts and Humanities Research Council)
  • 2002: SAIS AND ITS HINTERLAND (£213414.00 from Arts & Humanities Research Board)


Archaeology Staff June 2014