Research projects

Research projects

The ACRC supports and houses a wide range of projects on topics stretching chronologically from Pre-Dynastic Egypt to the Medieval world, and geographically form Western Europe across to China. Below are listed all projects listed in alphabetical order according to their first named Chief Investigator (CI). These are categorised by Research Theme, Geographical Focus, and evidential methodology elsewhere on this site, or you can search for a researcher or project using your browser's search function on this page.

Forging Antiquity: authenticity, forgery, and fake papyri

CIs: Malcolm Choat, Rachel Yuen-Collingridge, Rodney Ast (University of Heidelberg)

This project situates a full typology of forged papyri within an historical analysis of the development of forgery, authentication techniques, and public debates over forgeries from the 19th century to the present day. Contextualising technical study of fakes within authentication strategies in ancient papyri, traditional and emerging de-authentication practices, and the cultural context of forgery, its outcomes will provide a tool for scholars and the antiquities trade, illuminate the parallel development of the professional personae and skills of forgers and authenticators, and contribute to debate on who has the authority to pronounce on the past.

CI: Javier Alvarez-Mon

The Elamite civilisation (ca. 4000 to 525 BCE) formed a remarkably rich but almost unexplored background to later Persian imperialism. This ancient Iranian culture, whose importance has never been recognized, is characterized by a remarkable longevity and an outstanding combination of highland and lowland artistic and cultural traditions. The aim of this project is to articulate the history of the art and culture of the Elamite civilization for the first time based on analysis, interpretation and publication of its archaeological and artistic record.

CI: Shirley Chan

Bamboo slips discovered in a fourth century BCE tomb in Hubei, China in 1993 have been called the Chinese Dead Sea Scrolls. They illuminate the formation of the early Daoist and Confucian traditions and provide an earlier view of these traditions than previously possible. The aim of this project is to yield a comprehensive analysis of some of the notionally Confucian texts contained in the Guodian Chu Slips. As part of this analysis, translations and interpretation of these texts in their socio-historical context have been provided.

CI: Shirley Chan

This project draws on the recently discovered Guodian Bamboo Slips and the Shanghai Museum Collection of the Bamboo Texts of the Warring States period to explore the concept of cosmology, and the correspondence between the cosmos and humanity in the Warring States period (475 BC-221 BC).

CI: Malcolm Choat

The funding period for this project finished (after carry-over approved by the ARC) at the end of 2010, and final results written up during 2011. The project undertook a new examination of two source bodies: the early (4th - 5th century CE) papyrological evidence for monasticism in Egypt; and early Coptic documentary papyri. Both resulted in significant discoveries, including several studies of early Coptic epistolography, and a collection of the early documentation for monasticism, co-edited with Prof. Claudia Rapp (University of Vienna) and under contract to Cambridge University Press as Early Monasticism: Documents and Texts from Late Antique Egypt.

CI: Malcolm Choat; PI: Heike Behlmer (Göttingen); Matt Underwood

Although the architectural remains of Byzantine and Early Islamic monasticism in Egypt's Theban region have largely vanished, the lives of these monks can be traced through their letters, preserved in their original state on papyrus and potsherd, and in large part still unedited. This project analyses these communication networks to generate a new map of monastic life in and around Thebes, measuring both physical distance and influence to produce a new study of monastic life as part of an international effort to contexualise non-literary texts from the Theban region.

Choat, Research Associate Matthew Underwood, and Behlmer worked in Luxor on material from TT233, editing the Greek and Coptic texts from the site to allow this monastic cell to be understood within the monastic settlement on the North end of Dra Abu'l Naga and in relation to the nearby Deir el-Bakhit (Monastery of Paul). Behlmer and Underwood worked on the Coptic ostraca from TT84 and TT95: 623 texts from the two tombs have been transcribed, photographed, and recorded so far. In addition, an associated HDR project undertaken by Richard Burchfield charted the monastic networks of Western Thebes.

CIs: Malcolm Choat, Jennifer Cromwell; PI Heike Behlmer

This project examines documents on papyrus from first millennium CE Egypt, concentrating not on scribes but on the evidence for the activity of writing. It focuses on the visual traces of scribal activity evident in the Greek and Coptic documents on papyrus from Roman and Early Islamic Egypt, to explore how such texts were reproduced, and the scribal training behind them. It aims to produce new understandings of scribal practice, modes of education, professionalisation of administrations, and the transmission of knowledge from past societies to the present, and to illuminate ancient scribal practice while informing our understanding of ancient education, administrations, and the way knowledge has been passed down from antiquity to the present.

CIs: Victor Ghica, Danijel Dzino

Bribirska glavica is one of the largest and best preserved archaeological sites in Western Balkans, located in the hinterland of littoral Dalmatia, near Šibenik in Croatia. The site has been inhabited without interruption from the Neolithic, through the 18th c. AD. The indigenous settlement grew into a town in Roman times, and habitation continued throughout late antiquity and early middle ages. Real golden era of its development was in late 13th/early 14th century when the house of Šubići ruled from there as Croatian viceroys (bans) over Croatia, Hum (Herzegovina) and Bosnia.

Our research program at Bribir concentrates on issues situated midway between micro- and macro-regional studies, which are likely to shed light on the dramatic changes taking place in the urban societies of Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages in Dalmatia. The objectives of the fieldwork include: dynamics of occupation prior and during the Slav migrations in Dalmatia; interaction between the epichoric settlements of the inner area of the Adriatic coast and the coastal cities; evolution of urban planning from roman patterns to medieval urbanism; development of ecclesiastical institutions in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages. The partners in excavations are: Macquarie University - Faculty of Arts (Department of Ancient History and Discipline of Croatian Studies), Muzej hrvatskih arheoloških spomenika (Split), Muzej grada Šibenika (Šibenik), Croatian Studies Foundation (Sydney), Università degli Studi di Perugia and Centro di Eccellenza S.M.A.Art (Perugia), Institut za arheologiju (Zagreb), Hrvatska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti - Antropološki centar (Zagreb).

CI: Linda Evans

This ongoing study to document and analyse the depiction of invertebrates (insects, arachnids, and molluscs) in ancient Egyptian art is based on a Macquarie University Research Fellowship project (2008-2011). The aim of the project is to expand our knowledge of this neglected, yet pervasive, class of animals in Egyptian cultural remains dating from the predynastic to the New Kingdom period, to identify the species represented, and shed light on the Egyptian people's uniquely positive response to invertebrates. Papers examining the representation of arachnids and butterflies are now in press, and a volume summarising the project findings is planned.

CI: Linda Evans

The study was initially intended to produce an environmental history of the ancient Egyptian site of Meir via an analysis of the flora and fauna depicted in Old, Intermediate, and Middle Kingdom tombs. The focus of the project was changed in 2011 when it became apparent that a history of the entire country from an environmental perspective would be of more value to the discipline. The planned volume will examine and summarise current scientific knowledge of all aspects of the ancient Egyptian environment (geographical features, climate, flora, and fauna) and evaluate the impact of environmental phenomena on Egyptian cultural expression. The site of Meir will be presented as a case study in light of these findings. Research into each environmental category is underway.

CI: Trevor Evans, PI: Mark Depauw (KU Leuven)

Greek and Demotic papyri preserve unique evidence (in many respects barely tapped by previous scholarship) for the extent of literacy and acculturation in third-century BC Egypt. This project investigates the process of letter composition and the role of professional scribes revealed in these papyri. The aim is to isolate linguistic, palaeographic, and format-related criteria for assessing scribal practices and approaching the larger question of the extent of literacy beyond the social elite and scribal profession in the culturally and linguistically mixed society of the period.

CIs: Trevor Evans, John Lee

This project aimed to analyse the language of individuals in the third-century BCE Zenon Archive. It provided a significant advance in understanding individual language and style in ancient documents and yielded new knowledge of ancient literacy, scribal practice, bilingualism, and processes of acculturation. The central outcome is a powerful new model for assessing the effects of idiolect and social dialect on synchronic diversity in ancient Greek. This has provided the platform for Evans and Lee's more recent Zenon Archive research (see 13 below). A further result of our work is the facilitation of international research on the language of the ancient Greek papyri, developing a key sphere of investigation into the history of the Greek language. Outputs directly linked to this project include, to date, seven B1s, four C1s, and two E1s, as well as an A3 edited volume published by Oxford University Press. A linked A1 monograph is in preparation.

CIs: Trevor Evans, John Lee, James Aitken

This major project aims to produce a state of the art lexical analysis of early Greek papyri, to appear in both hard copy and electronic versions. This will be a highly significant outcome for a sphere of research starved of such fundamental tools. It will also offer an important contribution to the larger study of the ancient Greek language and lexicon. The project is now in its fourth year and proceeding very successfully, employing a team of eight research assistants. In September 2012, Evans collaborated with Belgian scholars from Leuven and Ghent to convene the first of the project's three scheduled international colloquia, a Contact Forum of the Royal Belgian Academy in Brussels, which attracted participants from Australia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, the UK, and the USA. Further colloquia are planned in the fifth year of the project. For more on the project, click here.

CI: Andrew Gillett

Analysis of the main corpus of texts has produced a series of book chapters (one in an Oxford University Press collaborative volume) and conference papers. Analysis of secondary texts has produced one further book chapter (in an OUP collaborative volume).

CI: Andrew Gillett

The focus of the study is a critical analysis of the ideological function of both ancient and contemporary presentations of 'barbarians' and the collapse of the Roman Empire. A book proposal has already been accepted by Cambridge University Press.

CIs: Tom Hillard, J Lea Beness

The external funding period for this project finished at the end of 1998, by which time the fundamental database had been completed. The first major goal is the publication of a volume focusing on the transformative period of the second century BC: A Dictionary of Roman Political and Social Biography 168-111 bc.

Beness and Hillard have continued their work on the Project, with detailed articles published annually since 2000. In 2012 and 2013, they carried out research at the British School in Rome to further this work.

CI: Jana Jones

Mummification was fundamental to the ancient Egyptian belief in eternal life, but a dearth of modern scientific analysis means that little is known about the composition of the preservative materials employed. 

This project is an interdisciplinary Humanities and Sciences collaboration between Jones and national and international scientists. It aims to integrate archaeology, history and cutting-edge science to redefine the origins and development of mummification in the context of changing religious, political, economic and environmental conditions.

Samples of mummification materials were sourced from leading museums outside Egypt. Using minimally invasive analytical techniques to identify the organic (tree resins, oils and fats) and inorganic (e.g. natron) substances present in the embalming mixtures, combined with analysis of proteins in soft tissue and radiocarbon dating, this project is generating meaningful data and significant outputs. We have shown that current knowledge of the origins of Egyptian mummification should be revised, with the beginnings pushed back to the prehistoric period, some 1,500 years before the process is generally accepted to have begun. Remarkably, the prehistoric Egyptians possessed empiric knowledge of the 'science' of embalming, preparing complex, processed recipes with antibacterial and preservative properties. See 'Evidence for Prehistoric Origins of Egyptian Mummification in Late Neolithic Burials'.

CIs: Naguib Kanawati, Boyo Ockinga

The overarching aim of the five-year ARC DP study within which this project is nested, was to investigate ancient Memphis, Egypt's first capital, via systematic analysis of tomb structures at the site. This sub-project was concerned with the area situated to the west of the Step Pyramid and north of the Teti pyramid. Excavations in this sector subsequently uncovered and recorded a number of previously unknown Old and New Kingdom tombs. Tombs included, for example, that of Ptahhotep I, a vizier, probably under the 5th Dynasty king Djedkara, and possible author of the well-known text, Instructions of Ptahhotep. The mastaba appeared to have gone through different stages of expansion, which were documented and studied, generating evidence that later generations used the scenes in this tomb as a model. The findings allowed the role played by the Ptahhotep/Akhethotep family in a difficult period at the end of the 5th Dynasty to be evaluated.

CIs: Naguib Kanawati, Linda Evans, Alexandra Woods

The purpose of this project is to produce a new record of Old and Middle Kingdom tombs at Meir and to study the family relationships of the tomb owners with special emphasis on the transition from the Old to the Middle Kingdom. The beautifully decorated tombs of Pepyankh-heryib and Pepyankh-henykem have now been recorded and published in two volumes (Kanawati, The Cemetery of Meir, vol. 1 [Oxford, 2012]; Kanawati and Evans, The Cemetery of Meir, vol. 2 [Oxford, 2014]). Volume 3 on Niankhpepy the Black is in preparation and will hopefully appear in 2015. Numerous fragments of coffins and pottery from the end of the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period have been discovered in Section A of the cemetery. The recording is currently in progress in Section B belonging to the governors of the province in the Middle Kingdom. For more on the project, click here.

CIs: Naguib Kanawati, Linda Evans, Alexandra Woods

Work is currently underway at the site of Beni Hassan, an elite provincial cemetery of the Middle Kingdom period, for which Macquarie alone has been granted permission to excavate and/or record by the Egyptian government. Unlike elsewhere in Egypt, here the painted walls of the tombs have survived intact in dazzling colour, revealing detailed images of life along the Nile over 4,000 years ago. The project began in 2010, following successful MQRDG funding awarded to Alex Woods, Naguib Kanawati, and Damian Gore (Department of Environmental Sciences) to examine the tomb of Khnumhotep II (no. 3), a former governor of the local area. Since then, the tomb of Amenemhat (no. 2) has also been recorded. The project will produce a series of volumes devoted to the tombs, with the first published in late 2014 (see Kanawati and Evans, Beni Hassan, vol. 1: The Tomb of Khnumhotep II [Oxford, 2014]), and applications for external funding are pending to allow the remaining structures at the site to be recorded in full.

CIs: Sam Lieu, Gunner Mikkelsen, G Fox, J Sheldon

This ongoing international research project sponsored by the International Union of Academies and the Australian Academy of the Humanities was restructured during the first year of the MQACRC, placing Lieu as co-Director and Editor in Chief (jointly with Prof. Johannes Van Oort of the University of Utrecht). The project published 2 vols. - Series Syriaca I and Series Turcica II in 2013, making the number of volumes published to date at sixteen. The international project team consisting of Gunner Mikkelsen, Sam Lieu, N. Sims-Williams and N.A. Pedersen was awarded an ARC DP and DORA (for Prof. Sam Lieu) to continue work on Manichaean and Nestorian texts in China and prepare them for publication in the Corpus (see Appendix 5.a). For more on the project, click here.

CIs: Sam Lieu, Gunner Mikkelsen, Jonathan Markley (South California State University Fullerton), Geoffrey Greatrex (University of Ottowa), Nicholas Sims-Williams (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London), Torbjörn Lodén (University of Stockholm, Sweden)

The project was successful with an ARC application in the 2009 round. Funding has enabled Lieu to visit Ottawa for collaborative research with G. Greatrex and Los Angeles for collaborative research with J. Markley. He was also able to assist John Sheldon in completing the first major publication of the project (see Studia Antiqua Australiensia: Appendix 1). With the assistance of Dr Duncan Keenan-Jones, the project quickly established a major website 'SERICA'. This has attracted a great deal of positive comments and was fundamental in helping the project to receive a mark of 'felicitation' (the highest) at the annual assessment of major international projects by the Union of International Academies. The first volume of texts and translations of Greek and Latin Authors on the Far East was published in early 2011 (with back-dated 2010 d.o.p.). A second volume containing a commentary on these texts is in the final stages omf preparation. In 2012, Lieu was able to visit China and consult with a number of key collaborators on the project at two universities in Beijing. The project also publishes extensively on its SERICA website, most recently adding:

  • A new translation of the Xi'an Nestorian monument (L. Eccles and S.N.C. Lieu)
  • Gazetteer of place and ethnic names from Central Asia (S.N.C. Lieu)
  • Set of four maps on Central Asia (Tristan Doust)
  • A collection with photographs (many in colour) of Palmyrene inscriptions on trade

Visit SERICA website

CIs: Sam Lieu, H Broadbent 

This project aims to produce a website as well as a monograph for the series, Studia Antiqua Australiensis (SAA) (see Appendix 1) that will look at the ancient and medieval history of the Dardanelles, a famous site in the ancient and Byzantine periods as well as being the scene of a tragic clash between East and West in 1915. With the assistance of Dr Duncan Keenan-Jones, a preliminary website, 'Gallipoli before Gallipoli', was launched in late 2010, to which research findings have been added subsequently. Lieu is in the process of completing a monograph on the history of the Dardanelles Ancient and Modern to coincide with the ANZAC Centenary in April, 2015.

CI: Gunner Mikkelsen

The project aims to edit, translate and study the thirteen gāthās in the eighth/ninth-century Chinese Manichaean Hymn-scroll from Dunhuang in northwest China. These hymns and prayers were transmitted along the Silk Road and translated mainly from Parthian. The project investigates systematically all relevant texts, their contents, structure and special technical terminology, deals with hitherto unsolved problems, and seeks to determine the place and role of the gāthās in the liturgy of the Manichaean church in Central Asia and China.

CIs: Malcolm Choat, Alanna Nobbs

The project aims to produce a volume of all the papyri (including ostraca, parchment, and tablets) that document the rise of Christianity in Egypt down to the victory of Constantine over Licinius in 324. It will include text, translation, and commentary on all such inscriptions, incorporating both documentary and literary texts.

Visit website

CIs: Boyo Ockinga, Susanne Binder

The aim of the project was to investigate and record the New Kingdom and later occupation levels of the cemetery to the west of the tomb of Amenemone and north of the Old Kingdom tomb of Inumin. The objectives were 1) to determine the use-history of this area of the cemetery, by recovering new evidence of New Kingdom tomb structures and their owners as well as evidence for the use of the area for minor burials from the 18th Dynasty to the Roman Period, and 2) to identify changes and developments in funerary practices over this period.

CIs: Boyo Ockinga, Susanne Binder, Malcolm Choat

The Macquarie University Theban Tombs Project is contributing to an international effort devoted to the study of the history and development of the New Kingdom necropolis at Dra Abu el-Naga, Thebes (other missions involved come from Germany, Spain, Italy and Hungary). The Macquarie project has worked on four of the numbered tombs in the necropolis: TT 148 of the Third Prophet of Amun, Amenemope (Dyn. 20); TT233 of Saroy and Amenhotep/Hui (Dyn. 19); TT147 of Neferrenpet (Dyn. 18); and TT149 of Amenmose (Dyn. 19). The aims of the project are to produce scientific publications of the tombs, their architecture, iconographic and inscriptional evidence, as well as archaeological artefacts; to analyse the material for the information it provides on the prosopography of the tomb owners and their families, funerary beliefs and practices, and their development; to establish the history of the systemic use of the tomb structures in pharaonic times and what this can tell us of the ancient Egyptians' understanding of sacred space, as well as their non-systemic use in Late Antiquity (Coptic Period) down to early modern times. Final preparations for a second monograph on the major tomb of Amenemope (TT148) are underway.

CI: Brent Nongbri

Ancient Greek papyri from Egypt are one of our most important witnesses to the text of the New Testament. Biblical papyri have fascinated both scholars and the general public, largely because of the early dates often assigned to them by the analysis of handwriting or palaeography. However, palaeography is an imprecise science that produces only ranges of possible dates, not the highly specific dates often assigned to biblical papyri. This project pairs a fresh investigation of the earliest remains of the New Testament, built on a new methodology for dating the texts, with a historiographical analysis of their use in the academic world and popular media.

CIs: Malcolm Choat, Ken Parry

This project has surveyed hitherto unexamined remains of monastic communities on the West bank of the Nile near Akhmim (Egypt). Building on preliminary surveys made by Macquarie Egyptologists in the area has provided the first scientific assessment of important early (4th-8th centuries CE) communities of monks in the region of Hagasa. The first season focused on monastic settlements near the White and Red Monasteries. The second and final season of this project took place at El-Haragsa in the district of Sohag. The mountain was surveyed and many monastic cells were located and recorded. A large stone structure was planned, and a number of long inscriptions were recorded. A publication arising from this grant is being prepared.

CIs: Ken Sheedy, Damian Gore, Gil Davis

This project explores the thesis that locally mined silver had an important impact on the public revenues of the Athenian state throughout the years c.550 BC-480 BC. It is the first to combine a comprehensive corpus and die study of archaic Athenian coinage with a statistically significant survey of the metal composition of these coins.

In the first year of funding, a fieldwork season was conducted at the French national numismatic collection (Département des Monnaies, Médailles et Antiques) in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. XRF analyses were made of over 180 silver coins minted in Athens, Siphnos, and Northern Greece. The database for the project was constructed by Dr K. da Costa and earlier records subsequently transferred. The catalogue of Athenian coins was enriched with new material from Paris and Athens. As part of the project plans, a conference entitled 'More things to do with Owls: Aspects of Silver Mining, Coinage, and Finance in Athens during the Archaic and Classical Periods' was held on 31 August 2012. Here the planned project research and current progress was presented within the context of lectures on the numismatics and political economy of archaic and classical Athens. The invited keynote speaker was Prof. Matthew Trundle (University of Auckland).

CI: Yann Tristant

Situated 8km to the northwest of the Giza Plateau and 15km to the West of Cairo, the archaeological region of Abu Rawash belongs to the northern end of the Memphite Necropolis region. The Abu Rawash area is made up of archaeological sites that include many different periods, ranging from the Predynastic through until the Coptic Period. The earliest occupation corresponds to the Early Dynastic 'M' Cemetery, which is situated upon a small knoll east of the plateau of Abu Rawash. Although investigated by Pierre Montet in 1913 and 1914, the results remain largely unpublished.

On behalf of the French Archaeological Institute (IFAO), the intent of the project (originally started in 2007) is to initiate a re-excavation of the 1st Dynasty M Cemetery, which will enable better understanding of the earliest activity in the area, its relationship to the Early Dynastic Period and the region as a whole.

CI: Yann Tristant

The aim of the project is to record all the extant archaeological sites present in the Wadî 'Araba valley. Work thus far has focused on the middle part of the survey area, between Wadî Birayda, Gebel Galala North and the northern part of the Zafarana-Koreimat asphalt road. The area covered is c. 25 x 20km (500 km²). In 2011, a total of 104 new sites/archaeological features were examined, including pharaonic sites and tracks; ancient and modern Bedouin camps; rock art engravings; visual landmarks; unidentified cairns and stone features; modern abandoned military camps

CI: Yann Tristant

This project is an interdisciplinary research partnership between the Department of Ancient History and Macquarie Medical Imaging, Macquarie University Hospital. The project aims to undertake scientific investigation of archaeologically derived human remains from ancient Egypt using non-invasive diagnostic medical technologies, including ultra-high resolution CT scanning. This is the first time an Egyptologist has undertaken biocultural studies of curated human remains in Australia. Findings derived from scientific investigations will be placed within their historical context, enabling original contributions regarding Egyptian palaeo-health, demography, nutrition and socioeconomics, and cultural/religious/technological findings regarding mummification practices. Outcomes include publications in leading Egyptological, bioanthropological, and medical journals.

CI: Sam Lieu

This website highlights the research undertaken by the Australian team on Nestorian and Manichaean remains discovered in Quanzhou since the early days of the Second World War. The project which was funded for an almost unprecedented period of eight years by the Australian Research Council (final DP0557098) has a large photographic and epigraphic archive in addition to its principal publication: S.N.C. Lieu et al. Medieval Christian and Manichaean Remains from Zayton (Quanzhou), = Series Archaeologica 2 (Turnhout : Brepols 2012) ISBN: 9782503521978), 281 pp.

CIs: Gunner Mikkelsen, Sam Lieu
CI: Paul McKechnie
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