The site of Kafr Hassan Dawood (KHD) is located slightly to the east of the Egyptian Delta. It is located in a dried-out tributary of the Nile called the Wadi Tumilat, which was once used as a trading route ("the Canal of the Pharaohs") between the Egyptians and their neighbors towards the coast.
However, it has a far longer history. The whole area was very fertile in prehistory, and was extensively used by mobile, then sedentary pre/Neolithic groups. Hunter-gatherers tend to move quite lightly over the landscape and are often difficult to detect archaeologically. Early sedentary sites of the Neolithic are of crucial importance to understanding how human society changed and evolved in the millennia prior to pharaonic Egypt. They are also known for their spectacularly beautiful artworks, testifying tho the emergence of elites, and probable long distance trade in the Delta and beyond.
KHD is one of the most important early sites in Egypt, with extensive funeral remains (covering at least 38.5 hectares) dating from the Predynastic and early Dynastic periods (c. 3400-2750 BC). This period hinges around 3100 BC, when an enterprising king named Narmer united the two halves of what would become Egypt under his single rule, setting the scene for the foundation of what we now recognise as the Egyptian state. Cemeteries became a major spot where social status, identity and conspicuous consumption were all used to demonstrate aspects of social hierarchy, and are thus a goldmine for understanding the nature of society at the time. Yet in terms of the current project we are more concerned with the remains of the humans themselves.
The way in which people's health, lifestyle and behavior changed - or didn't - at this period in history is thus a major field of interest for modern Egyptologists and Egyptian archaeologists. We can age and sex and calculate the stature and weight of all the dead people at the site. We can work out the diseases they suffered from, their diets, where they may have come from, if they were violent (or merely accident prone) and what traditions were in place concerning hierarchical structures, social mores and much else besides. The site clearly has massive potential - it already yielded over a thousand burials in the 1980s and early 1990s, but very few of these were fully analyzed and even fewer were preserved, and now the clock is ticking to rescue what is left. Late remains - the site was also used in the Pharaonic period, the Late Period and the Late Classical - are also under threat.
The threats to the site are manifold. The entire region is susceptible to rising groundwater levels (partly from a local artificial lake dating to 1997), which are detrimental to all archaeological remains and particularly human skeletons/mummies. The burgeoning population of Egypt is also resulting in the rapid development of potentially fertile areas into agricultural land. Finally, building is running rampant across the Delta region, and while this is an issue at the site it is particularly being affected by the spread of two neighbouring cemeteries that are encroaching on the site from the NE and NW in a sort of pincer movement that has already done untold damage to the remaining skeletons.
Kafr Hassan Dawood (KHD) is one of the most important ancient sites in Egypt, and contains hundreds of burials from the earliest period of Egyptian history, right the way through to the Romans. Only a portion of the original site is left, but is now being encroached upon by rising water levels and building works; the ancient mummies and skeletons will be destroyed unless we act now. The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) has given us permission to rescue what we can while we can. This is our last chance to rescue vital data from the site, so we have to take urgent action.
Geoffrey Tassie (better known as Tass), stood out in a field that prides itself for its eccentricities. He started off as a celebrity hairdresser in the London scene of the 1980s, then fell abruptly and totally in love with Egypt, following a trip there in the early 1990s. He did a BA, MA and Ph.D. at the Institute of Archaeology in London , where I met him. He then went on to found the Egyptian Cultural Heritage Organisation (ECHO) and to work all over Egypt. He published a blizzard of papers and books about everything from predynastic lithics to ancient tattoos to dynastic hairstyles, taught at SOAS and the University of Winchester, then carried out research at the Freie Universität Berlin. He won a coveted position as curator of predynastic and early dynastic holdings at the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and was about to return to his favourite site (Kafr Hassan Dawood ), when he fell ill and passed away in the spring of 2019. Everyone who knew him will remember him for his irreverent sense of humour, his tiny hats, his inimitable sense of fashion, his organised chaos and his endless enthusiasm and determination that won him the regard and friendship of archaeologists and Egyptologists all over the world. His friends and I continue to work at KHD, and are collaborating to ensure that his legacy continues.