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Abridged and updated from "Michael Allen Hoffman" by Barbara Adams in The Followers of Horus. Studies Dedicated to Michael Allen Hoffman, 1992. Egyptian Studies Association Publication 2, Oxford.


Michael Allen Hoffman was born in Washington D.C. on 14 October 1944 to Donald and Mary Hoffman; he was their only child. As a child, he roamed his home state of Virginia, reveling in the natural world and investigating its history; vacations were often spent with his uncle in Ohio. From his father he developed an eye and appreciation for architecture as well as the drawing skills that would serve him well in his chosen profession. 

In 1963 as a student at the University of Kentucky, he worked as a salaried assistant at the Museum of Anthropology. His training there included faunal and palaeo-botanical identification, microanalysis of lithic and ceramic materials, and conservation. He was also able to sharpen his trowel at the museum sponsored excavations of a Mississippian Indian platform mound and village site in south-central Kentucky in 1963 and Archaic, Woodland and Fort Ancient camp and village sites in eastern Kentucky in 1964-5. By 1966 he was the supervisor of archaeological surveys in the Ohio Valley and excavations in eastern Kentucky. These endeavours led to the authorship of several archaeological site reports and professional archaeological illustrations. 

mh02Mike and glyphs

After acquiring his B.A. in 1966 from the University of Kentucky, Mike went on to earn his M.A. in Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison with a thesis entitled Late Gerzean Settlement Patterns and the Rise of the Early Egyptian State. It was clear where his interests lay. In 1969 he joined the American Museum of Natural History's Hierakonpolis Expedition, directed by Walter A. Fairservis Jr. As well as excavating quadrants in the ancient city of Nekhen (Hoffman 1972b; 1974a), he spent his `spare time' surveying and excavating Predynastic and Palaeolithic sites in the desert. His sondage at the desert Locality HK14 stands out as the first excavation of a Predynastic Upper Egyptian settlement in over 35 years (Hoffman 1972c). His work at Hierakonpolis was incorporated into his doctoral dissertation Culture History and Culture Ecology at Hierakonpolis from Palaeolithic Times to the Old Kingdom, and he was granted a Ph.D. in 1971 from the University of Wisconsin. 

The political situation prevented the American expedition from returning to Hierakonpolis until 1978. From 1972 to 1979 Michael was employed at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville as the Director of the Archaeology Laboratory. In this interim period, he participated in field work on Chalcolithic and Pre-ceramic Neolithic sites in Turkey in 1970; Bronze Age village and cemetery sites in Afghanistan; Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Medieval sites in West Germany; palaeoecological research on Arctic peoples in Norway; Late Roman-Early Byzantine settlement survey in Cyprus; and the Harappan settlement at Allahdino in Pakistan. At home, he supervised the University of Virginia's excavation at the Old Rag Rock Shelter in Madison County, Wisconsin and directed the Shenandoah National Park Cultural Resources Project in Virginia. 

When it was again possible to work in Egypt in 1978, Fairservis returned to his excavations at Nekhen while Michael arrived as head of the Hierakonpolis Predynastic Research Team. Mike's particular interest was in uncovering the nature of the long ignored Predynastic settlements and accordingly, excavations were initiated at the extensive "Predynastic Town" in the low desert, specifically in the large cluster designated Locality HK29.The discovery of a burned house and associated kiln of Naqada IIa date, the oldest of its kind found in Egypt, demonstrated the value of archaeology at sites long believed to have been thoroughly denuded by erosion and looting (Hoffman 1980a; 1982).

mh03Mike and Moh Ib

Despite his passion for settlements, Michael knew that all aspects of a site needed to be investigated in order to grasp the whole picture. Although the cemeteries at Hierakonpolis had been probed by earlier excavators and ransacked by nameless looters, Mike began to investigate various sections of the cemetery at HK6 in 1979, clearing 12 tombs in all by 1985 (Hoffman 1982; Adams 1996, 2000). 

On the home front, the year 1979 saw the publication after six years of research of Mike's Egypt before the Pharaohs: The Prehistoric Foundations of Egyptian Civilization, a compendium and lively discussion of prehistoric archaeological work in Egypt into which he incorporated his own work at Hierakonpolis and with the help of ethnographic parallels suggested some theories for the formation of ancient Egyptian society. A revised edition came out posthumously in 1991, which contains as an addendum a synopsis of the literal explosion of new Predynastic research over the preceding ten years, for a large part of which Mike and the example he set can take credit. This was the last written work he was able to complete before his death. Although largely outdated on certain aspects, it remains amongst the most readable of books on the subject and appeared in the 1994 film ‘Stargate’. 

The 1980 and 1982 expeditions to Hierakonpolis were launched from Western Illinois University where Mike was an Associate Professor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department. Along with continued cemetery clearance, the 1980 season was devoted to the analysis of the vast quantities of archaeological material that had been collected in the two preceding campaigns in preparation for publication in The Predynastic of Hierakonpolis-An Interim Report, a summary of his Predynastic research which appeared in 1982. 

In 1982, Mike became a Research Professor in the Earth Sciences and Resources Institute of the University of South Carolina in Columbia, and the Friends of Nekhen, the fund-raising organisation that Mike founded in order to keep the expedition afloat, found a home there.

During his first season at Hierakonpolis in 1969, Michael had excavated quadrant 10N5W in Nekhen down to the level of the beginning of Dynasty I. In 1984 he returned to the town site to continue excavations in that particular quadrant and to go down to the prehistoric levels in order to link the Predynastic and Dynastic sequences. The only problem was that the earlier levels were under the rising water table. Ingeniously, he used sludge pumps generously donated by Peabody-Barnes of Ohio to excavate when the going got wet and was rewarded with a stratigraphic link ranging from Dynasty I to Naqada I (Amratian), a temporal span of over 500 years. His was the first use of pumps for archaeological excavation. At the same time, Mike undertook auguring across the town site which established the existence of 4 meters of stratified Predynastic settlement deposits under the Early Dynastic levels. The tiny fragments of pottery from the core samples analysed by Barbara Adams revealed for the first time that human settlement on the floodplain extended back to the Badarian period and in so doing provided science with evidence of the first deeply stratified Predynastic site since the work of Caton-Thompson at Hemamieh in 1924! (Hoffman 1986bd; 1989a). 

Having established the sequence in the flood plain, it now remained to fill the gap in the habitation record for the desert. In 1985 the objective was straightforward: an investigation of Locality HK29A, a site where surface indicators suggested a Gerzean (Naqada II) date. Despite the short season, the results were encouraging. The spectacular results of the following 1985-86 season were totally unexpected and taxed everyone's ability to cope. For what was thought to be a small house turned into a temple (Friedman 1996, Friedman et al. 2009). 

mh04Hoffman 1988Although in pain due to his incipient illness, from 1987 to 1990 together with the curatorial staff of the McKissick Museum, he had conceived the idea of an exhibition to celebrate the work of the Hierakonpolis expedition and the developments in the interpretation of the early periods of Egyptian history. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, he mounted a travelling exhibition entitled "The First Egyptians". The exhibition opened in the McKissick Museum in South Carolina in 1988. It then traveled to the Milwaukee Public Museum and onto the Denver, Los Angeles County and San Antonio, Texas over the next two years. The final venue for the exhibition was in the Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and over a million people viewed it during its traverse of the United States (Hoffman 1988b; 1989b). 

His last visit to Egypt in the summer of 1989 was leading a tour for Friends of Nekhen.  On 23 April 1990 he succumbed to cancer at only 45 years of age.


More about Mike and Tributes 

NEKHEN NEWS 6 (Fall 1990). A volume dedicated to Mike with tributes and reminiscences 

Adams, B., Friends of the Petrie Museum Newsletter 5 (1990-91): 6-7


Adams, B., Michael Hoffman, 1945-1990. Nekhen News 12 (Fall 2000), p. 2.


Bierbrier, M., (ed). Who was who in Egyptology. 4th rev. ed. London: 259.


Fairservis, W.A., 1990 "Michael Allen Hoffman (1944-1990)," Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 27 (1990): viii-ix.


Fairservis, W.A., 1992. Michael [in:] Friedman, R. and Adams, A., The Followers of Horus. Studies dedicated to Michael Allen Hoffman. Oxford: ix-xiv.


Snashall, B & Geller, J. 1991.Michael Allen Hoffman: 1944-1990. Conversation & remembrance. KMT 2.1(1991): 20-25, 65.


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