National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: John Coleman Darnell

Affiliation: Yale University

John Coleman Darnell is Professor of Egyptology at Yale University, Editor in Chief of Yale Egyptological Studies, Curator of the Anthropology at the Yale Peabody Museum, and Director of the Elkab Desert Survey Project.  He holds his degrees from the University of Chicago (Ph.D.) and Johns Hopkins University, and his research interests include Egyptian religion, cryptography, the scripts and texts of Graeco-Roman Egypt, and the Egyptian Western Desert.  He has published extensively, and recent projects include Theban Desert Road Survey II: The Rock Shrine of Pahu, Gebel Akhenaton, and Other Rock Inscriptions of the Western Hinterland of Qamûla (Yale Egyptological Publications, 2014), and “New Kingdom Cryptography: Graphic Hermeneutics”, forthcoming in A. Stauder and D.Klotz, eds., New Kingdom Cryptography, Basel.


In May 2017, the Elkab Desert Survey Project (of Yale University and the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels) discovered the earliest monumental hieroglyphic inscription at the site of El Khawy, just north of the ancient city of Elkab.  High on a cliff face along an ancient road, this ancient “billboard” is an undeniable expression of power by an early Upper Egyptian ruler, quite possibly King Scorpion, whose tomb at Abydos (ca. 3250 BCE) contained the other earliest datable proto-hieroglyphic texts.  In combination with Predynastic rock art of the fourth millennium BCE in the Eastern and Western deserts of Egypt and Nubia (including several important tableaux also discovered by the Elkab Desert Survey Project), the El Khawy site offers an unparalleled glimpse into the “phonetic zoo” of hieroglyphic writing—the process by which the symbolic world of Predynastic animal imagery became the nascent script of pharaonic Egypt

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