The world of Egyptology and archaeology mourns the loss of Barry Kemp, Director of the Amarna project and one of the most influential archaeologists of our time, who passed away earlier this week.

As stated in a special announcement issued by the Egyptian Museum, Turin, Kemp profoundly redefined and transformed the discipline of Egyptian settlement archaeology while training a whole generation of Egyptologists and archaeologists in the classroom and on excavation.

Born in 1940, Barry J. Kemp completed his formative studies in Egyptology at the University of Liverpool (1962). Soon after his graduation he joined the University of Cambridge where he taught throughout his life, acquiring Professorship in 2005. Meanwhile, he was working at Tell el Amarna, in Egypt, directing the survey and archaeological excavations at the remains of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s capital, for the Egypt Exploration Society since 1977. Upon his retirement in 2007, he was made Prof. Emeritus at Cambridge, and kept being an active researcher. Since 2008, he was a senior fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge and, most importantly, Director of the Amarna Project and secretary of the Amarna Trust.

The work at Tell el Amarna was Barry Kemp’s project of a lifetime. At Amarna, Kemp and his team worked tirelessly to excavate, preserve, and restore, the site’s ‘elite’ temple and palatial remains, sealing them from threats such as environmental change and settlement expansion due to population growth, as well as making them comprehensible to scholar and tourist alike. Meanwhile, under his direction, the work reached the wider public in a pioneering way, through the Amarna Project’s website, which gives instant access to an up-to-date academic bibliography on the site, excavation reports as well as the Amarna Project Newsletter. Upon Egyptian uprisings in 2011 and 2013, Kemp had publicly raised his concerns about antiquity looting, connecting it to the need in satisfying the antiquity market flourishing in Europe and the US, and calling the international community to “examine its conscience”.

Barry Kemp’s primary research interest focused on ancient Egyptian society as a whole. In that framework, he documented and explored settlement patterns of Egypt’s non-elite populations, alongside the surviving dwellings of the ruling classes.  His work at Amarna had given him the chance to compile a thorough documentation and research of the material culture related to the royal family and courtiers but also to the less privileged inhabitants of Akhenaten’s capital: commoners and even the workers of the city’s elite necropoleis. This thorough knowledge of Amarna in parallel with other surviving ancient Egyptian settlements, together with an insightful glance into written sources, allowed for the synthesis of Kemp’s magnum opus, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation, which changed the way we now perceive the development of ancient Egyptian culture and is a basic read for anyone studying Egyptology.  Alongside it, Kemp’s book The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti: Amarna and Its People is also a key reading for anyone interested in the way a city’s development, evolution and collapse is recorded.

Throughout his life, Barry Kemp had been honored with several high positions and titles: he was elected Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) in 1992, served as since 2008 and he was made  Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2011 for services to archaeology, education and international relations in Egypt.