Egypt in South Africa

New standards in archaeology

Flinders Petrie’s lifelong dedication to archaeology resulted not only in him making great discoveries but also in him setting new standards in the archaeological world. The quality of the workforce he employed, the reports he published, exhibitions held, his interest in photography, the way in which he thought antiquities should be stored and the typological classification of objects, or the Petrie Matrix, were amongst the ‘trends’ that he set for future archaeologists.

Workforce quality

Petrie's Qufti workforce became known all over Egypt as well-trained and honest people and their descendants are still well-sought after today. In Palestine Petrie built up another team of excellent workers; almost as good as his beloved Quftis.
Petrie wrote this in one of his journals:
….. ‘my workmen always form my natural guards and friends, and I have never known them to steal anything’.

Reports and exhibitions

Petrie made a point to publish a report after every excavation. In London Flinders started another trend – not only did he publish a report after every excavation, but he always exhibited his finds at an exhibition allotted to him by the Egyptian Antiquity Service. His first exhibition was of the Hawara mummy masks in the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. It was in the same room where Belzoni had displayed his replica of the tomb of Seti I.


Petrie became a keen photographer and designed and built his own camera. He mounted a swivel head onto the camera to be able to photograph the high temple walls. He also developed his own glass plates.  According to later reports the old glass plates are still in an excellent condition for reproduction, much better than the films of a later period.


Petrie proposed that all UK museums look at a national repository for all cultural artefacts, not just Egyptian. Antiquities not meant for display purposes, or ‘study collections’, would be kept in this repository.

Sequence dating

After Petrie excavated nearly 2 000 graves at Naqada in 1895, finding stone vessels, ivory labels, slate cosmetic palettes, mace heads and pottery, he initiated a system of typological classification, i.e. Sequence Dating also called Seriation, the Petrie Matrix or Petrification. He started by compiling a corpus/catalogue of outlines of the differing shapes of stone and pottery vessels, e.g. B for Black Topped, P for Polished Red, W for Wavy-handled pots with W1 the fattest type and W80 being cylindrical.
Young Petrie outside a Giza tomb during his first visit to Egypt in the late 1800s.

Workforce in Palestine from 1926 to 1927.

Petrie with a biscuit tin camera at Tell el-Ajjul in 1938.