Czech archaeologists have an impressive reputation around the world, working in many different countries. This week they all came together in Prague to swap notes, report on progress made and outline prospects for the future.
Czechs are now involved in excavation work in Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, Bulgaria and Kuwait. All have come up with some important finds, but it is the Egyptologists who have really made an international impact. After more than a century of research and 40 years of excavation work in the land of the Pharaohs, Czech archaeologists have many important finds to their name. Ladislav Bares is head of the Czech Institute of Egyptology:
"Our work in Egypt definitely belongs to the most prestigious Czech archaeological work abroad. Out institute has been working in Egypt since 1960 and we have done quite a lot over that time."
"In 1982 it was one of the oldest papyrus archives in the history of ancient Egypt and in 1996 it was an intact shaft tomb of a lesser dignitary but in spite of that it was a very nice find - the first intact tomb to be found in 55 years. Abusir had been a neglected site for a long time, everybody thought that there was nothing new or interesting to be found there. So it was a big surprise when we started our work there and made those magnificent discoveries."
The Czech team is one of only a dozen which have been granted permanent status in Egypt. The Abusir excavation site has proved unexpectedly rewarding and Czech archaeologists there have big plans for the future. The head of the team in Abusir professor Miroslav Verner who discovered an unplundered tomb in 1996 is now hoping for greater things - the seat of a former government and a long lost palace:
"In my opinion regardless of everything that has so far been discovered in Abusir there is still a lot of work to be done, for instance, the discovery and exploration of the pyramid town Ba Neferir Kara - a pyramid town which is known from written documents and which surely existed in Abusir. Another archaeological challenge is the Residence from the 3rd millennium BC. The Residence was the seat of the government of that time, the executive branch of the Egyptian top administration. So far no residence of this kind has been discovered but there is a hypothesis that it might have been located in Abusir, possibly in the area of the Lake of Abusir. And I should not forget another great challenge namely the palace of Sahure. So far no royal palace from the old kingdom has been discovered. And again written documents inform us very clearly that such a palace which was named "Extolled is the Beauty of Sahure" must have existed in Abusir - definitely. So that's another important challenge for Czech archaeologists."
The Czech archaeological team headed by prof. Verner has just received a grant which will enable it to continue its work in Abusir for another 7 years. In the meantime, in Prague a new generation of archaeologists is in the making. Prof. Bares again:
"This year we are starting a new Egyptology course at the university and around 140 students have applied. That's a high number and it shows us that our work is good and brings results."