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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:3, Fall 2023

Who Did It?

By Jeffrey R. Zorn

Which Egyptian archaeologist worked on and helped supervise a dozen excavation projects in Egypt, Palestine, Transjordan, and Turkey during the early 20th century?

Answer: Labib Sorial

Labib Sorial was a Coptic Christian from Luxor. In 1917, he graduated from Assiut College in Egypt, and he was soon hired by Clarence S. Fisher, an archaeologist with the Penn Museum, to assist him in excavations at Dendereh and Memphis. Fisher had been seeking someone versed in both Arabic and English, and Sorial came highly recommended. Eventually, Fisher began to train him in surveying and drafting, skills he would employ on many later excavations.a

In 1921, Fisher moved to work in Palestine, and Sorial joined him. Between then and 1935, Sorial worked at Beth She-an, Megiddo, Tell en-Nasbeh, Beth Shemesh, Jerash (in Jordan), Tell Beit Mirsim, Beth Zur, Tell Abu Hawam, and Antioch (in Turkey). He also worked for a few years with Fisher at Dra Abu el-Naga in Egypt and for a season with a German team at Hermopolis. In total, Sorial helped excavate a dozen sites over 18 years.

Sorial was a skilled surveyor who created site contour maps, laid out excavation grids, and drew architectural plans and sections. He could draw pottery when needed and also mend it. He drew hieroglyphs on at least one occasion. At times, he supervised excavations while directors were away and served an as invaluable intermediary between local residents and dig directors.

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