Columbia Opens Dakhleh Oasis Project Library in Egypt

NEW YORK, January 5, 2004 Columbia University recently opened a new library as part of the Dakhleh Oasis Project, an archaeological fieldwork and research program in southern Egypt. The library is housed in a 16,000-square-foot dig house, built to provide housing and research facilities for faculty, staff, and the Columbia undergraduates enrolled in the semester-long fieldwork program.

Roger Bagnall, professor of Classics and History at Columbia, successfully raised funds to build the two-story building after acquiring permission to direct a dig at a hitherto-unexcavated site within the Dakhleh Oasis called Amheida. It is believed that Amheida was a town of several thousand, dating back to the Graeco-Roman period and abandoned around the 7th century. The dig house is located 12 to 15 miles from Amheida, and was constructed out of locally produced mud bricks coated with mud plaster.

In announcing the completion of the library, Bagnall said, "Most excavations have to make do with books archaeologists can carry in their suitcases and backpacks. We are exceptionally fortunate in having the help of the Libraries in providing our archaeologists and students with resources that will help them interpret what they find in our excavations and to understand the extraordinary environment of the oases of the Western Desert."

The materials at the library represent the only thematic scholarly collection in the entire Western Desert. The holdings currently number 300, with room to expand to approximately 1,000 volumes. The library is intended to provide historic information on Ptolemaic, Graeco-Roman, and Coptic Egypt (including reports of analogous digs and collections of primary source materials), and resources on archaeological methodology. Computers will be available for use, but Internet access will depend on dialup until broadband reaches the Oasis. While the books will not circulate, a searchable database of the library's holdings has been created using EndNote bibliographic software. When the project ends, the books will go to the American University in Cairo.

The Dakhleh Oasis site promises to be one of the most important digs in Egypt, providing a unique opportunity to understand the peoples and cultures of western Egypt and the central issues of Egyptian settlement archaeology. It is an international multidisciplinary project started in 1978 with a mandate to study human adaptation (both cultural and biological) to the harsh Saharan environment. Since its inception, the project has attracted academics and specialists from all over the world.

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 9.2 million volumes, over 65,650 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, and other nonprint formats. The collections and services are organized into 25 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. Columbia Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff to assist faculty, students, and researchers in their academic endeavors. The Libraries’ website at is a gateway to its print and electronic collections and to its services.

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01/05/04 JD