Excavation history

Early travellers to the area include Juan de Castro and d'Anville who, in the 17th century, identified the mound of Medinet al-Haras as the ancient town of Berenike. The former circus strongman Belzoni, famous for finding the entrance into the Pyramid of Khephren (near Giza) and discovering the Tomb of Pharaoh Sety I (near Luxor), rediscovered the site in 1818 with the help of d'Anville's information. Shortly after that the famous Egyptologist Wilkinson drew the first map of the site, and its environs, during which he might well have left the bowl of Chinese porcelain of which a sherd is shown above.

Although the geographical position of Berenike was known in the early 19th century, the town was never excavated. Archaeological work concentrated on clearing the main temple, dedicated to Serapis. Wellsted reported, in 1938, that many of the reliefs in this temple were weathered to the point that they could be removed by merely passing a hand over them. Other work was restricted to descriptions, drawings and plans based upon the remains visible on the surface. In several publications, also Murray, in the 1920's, and Meredith, in the 1950's, described the town and the way-stations between Berenike and the Nile valley.

The reason for not excavating the settlement was mainly a practical one: the logistic difficulties of working at Berenike were considerable. Explorers could not stay in the area for more than a couple of days, because they had to bring water and food for the round trip, as well as for their stay on site. Modern means of transportation combined with the presence of a paved road which comes within 5 km (3 m) of the ancient remains, have lessened these problems considerably. However, the location of Berenike in a military area close to the Sudanese border and the disputed Halaib triangle has, until recently, limited the access of foreigners considerably. Only in 1994 permission was granted to perform a survey of the town, and the hinterland, and subsequently start the excavation of Berenike.

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