History of the Institute for Papyrology and Egyptology of the University Charles de Gaulle Lille-3 and its collection

The founder of the Institute for Egyptology: Pierre Jouguet

P. Jouguet was a lecturer at the University of Lille and a future director of the French Archaeological Institute in Cairo (IFAO). In 1902, he suggested founding an institute to house the finds from the excavations he had been doing since 1901 in Middle Egypt and in the Faiyum at Medinet Ghôran and Medinet Nahas - ancient Magdola. The institute was officially founded at the end of 1902 by the Arts Faculty and the Council of the University of Lille. It was solemnly inaugurated in January 1903 by the famous archaeologist Théophile Homolle, the former director of the École d'Athènes, and representative of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres.

Jouguet's intention in founding the Institute was to intensify the participation of France and Lille University in the search for Greek papyri, which at that time was reaching its height in Egypt with all the great nations participating in the search. This goal was successfully achieved, as demonstrated by the sheer quantity of papyrus, in both Greek and Demotic, discovered between 1901 and 1903, and which would be published by the Institute of Papyrology between 1921 and 1928.

P. Jouguet not only brought papyri back to the Institute, but also the objects which were found while searching for the texts. These objects are of widely varying dates. The collection was thus enriched by a predynastic Egyptian jar, a schist palette of outstanding quality, a rare fragment of a magical ivory object dating from the Middle Kingdom, and many objects from the Graeco-Roman tombs which contained the precious mummy cartonnage coveted by the papyrus hunter. This steady stream of finds was interrupted in 1903, when it ceased to be possible to bring back entire assemblages of finds - the objects now had to stay in Egypt instead.

The impulse given to the Institute by its creator encouraged local talent. The first students were Paul Collart and Henri Henne, who studied Greek papyrology at Lille, followed by Henri Sottas who studied the Demotic papyri. This flourishing period was interrupted by the First World War and the invasion in 1914. Pierre Jouguet moved to Paris never to return, and H. Henne took his place as the head of the Institute as soon as the Lille Arts Faculty could reopen it. His policies were a continuation of those of Jouguet, and he enabled the University of Lille to participate in excavations in the Nile Valley, notably at Tell Edfou in Upper Egypt from 1921 to 1924. In 1939, the excavations would be interrupted by the Second World War.

Continued additions to the collection.

The French Archaeological Mission to the Sudan was founded in 1953. It was funded by the 'Direction Générale des Relations Culturelles, Scientifiques et Techniques' of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and associated with the CNRS (URA 9). In 1960, Jean Vercoutter, a pioneer of archaeological research in the Sudan, was put in charge of this mission. In 1961 he was appointed Professor at the University of Lille-3, and he revived the Institute of Papyrology and Egyptology of Lille (IPEL) tradition of maintaining contact with archaeological fieldwork. He also continued his own research in the Sudan.

Jean Vercoutter breathed new life into the Institute. He taught history, archaeology and the Egyptian language, he founded the journal CRIPEL (Cahiers de Recherche de l'Institut de Papyrologie et d'Egyptologie de l'Université de Lille), and attracted new generations of students of Greek papyrology, Egyptology, and Sudanology, and he involved them in his large-scale archaeological projects in the Sudan.

Between 1960 and 1964, his attention shifted from the site of Kor, where he had been working since 1953, to two sites which were threatened by the construction of the new high dam at Aswan. The first of these, Aksha, lies close to the Sudanese border with Egypt. The excavated structures include a temple of Ramesses II, a Meroitic cemetery, as well as small cemeteries of the A and C-groups.

Mirgissa lies opposite the Second Cataract. It is a very rich site, consisting of a cemetery of the Kerma civilization, a city with several cemeteries, and a fortified area with a shrine to Hathor located inside it. Apart from the objects found in these various contexts, the discovery of a deposit of execration texts should also be mentioned.

The Sudanese government applies the rules for divisions liberally, and it is thanks to this generosity that the latter two sites have yielded the majority of the objects currently in the collection.

Jean Vercoutter also excavated at the site of Saï, which lies on an island. The remains of every civilization in the Sudanese Nile valley, from palaeolithic times down to the present day, are represented in its extraordinary archaeology.

In 1977, Jean Vercoutter was appointed director of the IFAO in Cairo. In Lille, he was succeeded by Adolphe Gutbub, in turn followed by Professor Dominique Valbelle, the current director of IPEL. She heads the research unit attached to the CNRS at the University of Lille-3 (URA 1275), with archaeological investigations taking place in Egypt and the Sinai. For several years, her assistant has been Francis Geus, senior lecturer and a former student and collaborator of Jean Vercoutter, who excavated at Saï in the Sudan. Brigitte Gratien, who has been the director of research project URA 1275 since 1993, has worked at Saï since 1969, as well as at Mirgissa. Her current excavations are at the Sudanese site of Gism el-Arba.

Excavations are not the only way of enriching the collection. Thanks to a one-off grant from the University of Lille-3, a number of papyri could recently be purchased. The generosity of a private sponsor made it possible for the Vandier Papyrus to enter the collection in 1976. In that same year, a public fund-raising was organized by the towns of Lille, Roubaix and Tourcoing, which made it possible to buy a group of Demotic papyri. The Regional Council of Nord-Pas de Calais has also contributed to the collection by donating a group of papyri from the Coptic era.

Furthermore, a gift to the Institute in 1990 from the École des Arts Plastiques, consisting of a group of Coptic textile fragments must also be mentioned. The only clue to provenance is a hand-written note attached to them: 'Given by an excavator in Lower Egypt or in Middle Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century (?) to the director of the École des Beaux-Arts who has passed them on to the library'.