In Late Antiquity, the Monastery of Apa Thomas was established in abandoned stone quarries at Wadi Sarga located about 25 km south of Lykopolis (modern Asyut).

Active from about AD 600-800, the Christian settlement at Wadi Sarga provides an excellent case-study for the social function of monasteries during the period in which Christianity became the dominant religion in Egypt and Islam was introduced.

Large numbers of surviving literary and documentary texts on papyri (ancient paper) and other writing surfaces indicate that the population operated in a Coptic/Greek bilingual milieu, while pottery and other finds suggest the extent of trade and other social networks.

British Museum collection

The collection of more than 2,800 objects includes stone funerary stelae, architectural elements, pottery, glass, textiles, Coptic ostraca, coins and other material from everyday life. Greek papyri and ostraca, and Coptic papyri are now in the British Library. A selection of objects remained in Cairo.

The British Museum also houses the documentation from the unpublished excavation: field notebooks, architectural plans, tracings of wall-paintings and watercolours, photographs and negatives, and R. Campbell Thompson's unfinished manuscript.

Excavation history

In 1913-14, R. Campbell Thompson excavated Wadi Sarga, three nearby cemeteries and a so-called villa on behalf of the Byzantine Research Fund.

As a result of the outbreak of the First World War, a full record of the excavation was never published. In 1922, a selection of papyri, ostraca and stone inscriptions were edited and published (P.Sarga), but the uninscribed objects and the documentation of the archaeological site, were not.

Annotated bibliography: 

Project objectives

The project will make R. Campbell Thompson’s unpublished 1913-1914 excavation documentation and British Museum objects from the excavation available through printed and online publications.

The Wadi Sarga pottery provides valuable comparative source material for monastic pottery studies in Egypt. Jane Faiers' study of pottery and glass will confirm or challenge the dates suggested by texts excavated on site.

Latest news 


Cromwell, J. 2013. A Coptic epistolary exercise from Wadi Sarga. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 99: 272275.

Cromwell, J. In preparation. Writing exercises from Wadi Sarga: O.Sarga II 1–14.

Faiers, J. 2014. Wadi Sarga revisited: A preliminary study of the pottery excavated in 1913/14. In Egypt in the First Millennium AD: Perspectives from new fieldwork, E. R. O’Connell (ed.),  177–89. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 2. Leuven: Peeters.

Faiers, J. In preparation. Late Roman pottery and glass from Wadi Sarga.

O'Connell, E. R., T. Sweek and S. Vasiliou. 2019. Remaking martyrs. British Museum Magazine 94 (Autumn).

O'Connell, E. R. 2014. R. Campbell Thompson’s 1913/14 excavation of Wadi Sarga and other sites. BMSAES 21: 121–92.

O’Connell, E. R. 2016. Wadi Sarga at the British Museum: Sources for study­ (with annotated bibliography). In Coptic society, literature and religion from Late Antiquity to modern times: Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies, Rome, September 17th–22nd, 2012, and plenary reports of the Ninth International Congress of Coptic Studies, Cairo, September 15th–19th, 2008, ed. P. Buzi, A. Camplani and F. Contardi, 1547–66. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 247. Leuven: Peeters.

O’Connell, E. R. 2016. A monastery and society. British Museum Magazine (Autumn) 2016: 8.

Pritchard, F. 2017. Textiles from Wadi Sarga, a 6th8th-century monastic site in Middle Egypt excavated in 1913/1914. Excavating, analysing, reconstructing: Textiles of the 1st Millennium AD from Egypt and neighbouring countries. Proceedings of the 9th Textiles from the Nile Valley conference of the research group ‘Textiles of the Nile Valley’, Antwerp, November 27–29, 2015, A. De Moor, C. Fluck and P. Linscheid (eds). Tielt, Belgium: Lannoo.

Smart, T. 2018. ‘Commemorating the dead: A study of the stelae discovered at Wadi Sarga.’ Unpublished MA thesis, King’s College London.

Image: Watercolour of the so-called Rock-church at Wadi Sarga (C. O. Waterhouse 1920).