John C. Darnell

Professor, Egyptology



John Coleman Darnell (B.A. 1984, M.A. 1985, The Johns Hopkins University; Ph.D. 1995, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago) joined the faculty of the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations as Assistant Professor in 1998; he became Associate Professor in 2004, and Professor of Egyptology in 2005. His interests include Egyptian religion, cryptography, the scripts and texts of Graeco-Roman Egypt, and the archaeological and epigraphic remains of ancient activity in the Egyptian Western Desert. The latter work has led to his interest in state formation, the use of rock inscriptions in the creation of "ordered" space, the development of iconographic syntax in the Predynastic rock art of the Egyptian deserts, and the economic status of the oases and the desert regions, particularly from the late Old Kingdom through the Third Intermediate Period.

Darnell has considerable field experience in Egypt. After working on the staff of the Demotic Dictionary Project in Chicago, in 1988 he joined the Epigraphic Survey of the Oriental institute, based at Chicago House in Luxor, Egypt. Before leaving the Epigraphic Survey as Senior Epigrapher in 1998, to take up his current duties at Yale University, he had helped to collate over three-quarters of the epigraphic copies now published in the first two volumes of the Reliefs and Inscriptions at Luxor Temple series, had co-authored the commentary volumes for those volumes, and had worked extensively on the scenes and inscriptions of both the original core and later additions of the Eighteenth Dynasty temple at Medinet Habu.

Darnell is director of the Yale Egyptological Institute in Egypt (see; under the auspices of that institute he is director of the Theban Desert Road Survey, an expedition continuing to grow and expand in the Western Desert of Egypt, now in its nineteenth field season (2010-2011); he is also director of the Yale Toshka Desert Survey, a complementary expedition to the Theban Desert Road Survey farther south.  Darnell's twin expeditions—with Deborah Darnell serving as co-director of both—have discovered a wealth of material of considerable importance ranging in date from the earliest Predynastic cultures through the early Islamic period. Several publications of the work have already appeared, including J.C. Darnell, et al., Theban Desert Road Survey in the Egyptian Western Desert 1, Gebel Tjauti Rock-Inscriptions 1-45 and Wadi el-Hol Rock Inscriptions 1-45, OIP 119 (Chicago: Oriental Institute Press, 2002). Discoveries have included the Scorpion tableau, perhaps the earliest historical record of ancient Egypt, recording the Abydene subjugation of Naqada and the foundation of a unified Upper Egyptian state at the dawn of Dynasty 0; the earliest alphabetic inscriptions in the Wadi el-Hol; a new Middle Egyptian literary text from the same site; important archaeological remains of the Tasian culture; Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, and New Kingdom outposts on the high plateau; the earliest major occupation site thus far known for Kharga Oasis; and many more things too numerous to detail here.

Darnell is the author of a number of scholarly articles, dealing with many aspects of pharaonic culture, history, and language. At Yale he has taught image-assisted courses on Egyptian religion and religious architecture, and a survey of Egyptian history, focusing on the mechanics of unity and disunity within the Nile Valley.  His Freshman Seminar on Egypt and Northeast Africa provides students with a broad overview of the history and cultures of Egypt, Nubia, and the Western Desert from remote prehistory through the nineteenth century; students in the seminar also learn the basics of ceramic analysis and epigraphy, working with original material in the Yale Peabody Museum.  Courses he has taught with other Yale faculty include a survey of the history of human communication (with Beatrice Gruendler [NELC] and Michael Fischer [Computer Science], and other guest lecturers); an introduction to the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures (with Eckart Frahm [NELC]); an examination of the impact of Egypt and the Near East on later cultures (with Kathryn Slanski [NELC]); and an in-depth examination of the age of Akhenaton and Tutankhamun (with Colleen Manassa [NELC] and Karen Foster [NELC/Art History]).  Darnell also teaches a wide range of Egyptian text courses, for both graduate students and qualified undergraduates, reading the ancient texts and scripts; titles of these have included: Ancient Egyptian Netherworld Books, Lapidary Hieratic Inscriptions, Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry and Related Texts, Medinet Habu Inscriptions, Demotic and Demotic Texts, Cosmographic Books, etc.


<p>Egyptian religion, cryptography, the scripts and texts of Graeco-Roman Egypt, and the archaeological and epigraphic remains of ancient activity in the Egyptian Western Desert</p>


Selected Recent Publications

Recent Articles

2007 "The Deserts," in T. Wilkinson, ed., The Egyptian World (Routledge), pp. 29-48

2007 "Food Supply Along the Theban Desert Roads (Egypt): the Gebel Roma', Wadi el-Hôl, and Gebel Qarn el-Gir Caravansary Deposits," (with R.T.J. Cappers, L. Sikking, and D. Darnell), in R. Cappers, ed., Fields of Change: Progress in African Archaeobotany. Groningen Archaeological Studies 5. Groningen, 2007, pp. 127-138

2008 "The Tundaba Cistern," on-line article at

in press "The Archaeology of Kurkur Oasis, Nuq’ Maneih, Bir Nakheila, and the Sinn el-Kiddab," (with D. Darnell), in D. Raue, ed., The Archaeology of the First Cataract (with D. Darnell)

2009  "The Eleventh Dynasty Royal Inscription from Deir el-Ballas," in Revue d'Égyptologie 59 (2008): 81-106

2009  “Iconographic Attraction, Iconographic Syntax, and Tableaux of Royal Ritual Power in the Pre- and Proto-Dynastic Rock Inscriptions of the Theban Western Desert,” in Y. Tristant and B. Midant-Reynes, eds., Archéo-Nil 19: L’art rupestre des déserts égyptiens 19 (2009): 83-107

2010  “A Pharaonic de profundis from the Western Desert Hinterland of Naqada,” in H. Knuf, C. Leitz, and D. Recklinghausen Honi soit qui mal y pense: Studien zum pharaonischen, griechisch-römischen und spätantiken Ägypten zu Ehren von Heinz-Josef Thissen. OLA 194. Leuven, pp. 39-48

2010  “A Midsummer Night’s Succubus—the Herdsman’s Encounters in P. Berlin 3024, the Pleasures of Fishing and Fowling, the Songs of the Drinking Place, and the Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry,” in S.C. Melville and A.L. Slotsky, eds., Opening the Tablet Box: Near Eastern Studies in Honor of Benjamin R. Foster. CHANE 42. Leiden and Boston, pp. 99-140.

in press "Festival of Opet," in the UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology (on-line resource)

in press "Graffiti and Rock Inscriptions," chapter in J. Allen and I. Shaw, eds., Oxford Handbook of Egyptology (Oxford)

in press "A Stela of Sety I from the Region of Kurkur Oasis," in S. Snape and M. Collier, eds., Ramesside Studies in Honour of K.A. Kitchen

in press  “The Wadi of the Horus Qa-a: a Tableau of Royal Ritual Power in the Theban Western Desert,” in R. Friedman, ed., Proceedings of “Egypt at its Origins 3”

Recent Monographs

2006 Two Early Alphabetic Inscriptions from the Wadi el-Hôl: New Evidence for the Origin of the Alphabet from the Western Desert of Egypt, Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 59/2 (with C. Dobbs-Allsopp et al.)

2007 Tutankhamun's Armies: Battle and Conquest in Ancient Egypt's Late Eighteenth Dynasty (J. Wiley and Sons, Inc.; with C. Manassa)

in press Theban Desert Road Survey II: The Rock Shrine of Pahu, Gebel Akhenaton, and Other Rock Inscriptions from the Western Hinterland of Naqada