Project Overview

The URU (UCLA/RU Groningen/U Auckland) Fayum Project aims to explore long-term human impacts on the landscape of the Fayum basin in the Western Desert of Egypt. Now hyper-arid, vegetation of this region consisted of a savanna-like landscape when the area was first inhabited in the Early and Middle Holocene. The URU Project aims to investigate occupation of this region both before and after the desertification of the Sahara, with a focus on both “Epipaleolithic” and “Neolithic” lifeways as well as urban life under the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Roman Empire.

Specific research foci of the team include the timing and intensity of crop and animal husbandry, mobility, food storage, vegetation community reconstruction, and taphonomic impacts on current sites. In addition, the team works to preserve sites before they are destroyed by recent and ongoing agricultural expansion in the region.

Additional information is available on the project here.

Environmental Archaeology Lab Member Involvement

John M. Marston has directed wood charcoal analysis on the URU Project since 2007. In recent years, Nami Shin has joined the project in Egypt and conducted work at the Roman-era sites of Karanis and el-Qarah el-Hamra.

Related Publications


Marston, John M., Simon J. Holdaway, and Willeke Wendrich. Early and Middle Holocene wood exploitation in the Fayum basin, Egypt. The Holocene 27:1812-1824.


Willeke Wendrich, Rebecca Phillipps, Simon Holdaway, Veerle Linseele, Joshua Emmitt, John M. Marston, and Kim Duistermaat. 2017. “Kom K,” in The Desert Fayum Reinvestigated: The Early to Mid-Holocene Landscape Archaeology of the Fayum North Shore, Egypt. Edited by Simon Holdaway and Willeke Wenrich, pp. 165-212. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, Los Angeles.

Related Presentations


Marston, John M. “Woodland ecology and wood fuel use in the Epipaleolithic and early Neolithic Fayum, Egypt” Paper presented at the 39th Annual Conference of the Society of Ethnobiology


Marston, John M., René Cappers, Veerle Linseele, Caroline Vermeeren, and Willeke Wendrich. “Archaeological perspectives on desert adaptation in the Roman Fayum, Egypt” Paper presented at the American Academy in Rome conference Diet and Environment in the Roman World, 2014

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  • The stark landscape of the Western Desert

  • Yet this pebbly cover, on close inspection, is a sheet of lithic flakes

  • Animal bone is also common on the deflated surface

  • There are few stratified deposits, but most are stacked hearths that contain charcoal

  • Haloxylon is one of the few plants that survives this area today

  • The desert sits in sharp contrast to the irrigated Fayum Basin, where intensive agriculture has been practiced since the Ptolemaic era