Mission archéologique française du Bubasteion (MAFB)

Supported by: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

Director: Alain Zivie

Area: Eastern escarpment of the Saqqara plateau, Bubasteion area

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Alain Zivie in the tomb of MaiaDuring the heyday of the animal cults at Saqqara (between Dynasty 30 and the Roman Period) thousands of mummified cats were buried in subterranean galleries cut in the eastern cliffs of the plateau. In contemporary papyrus documents the area was known as the Bubasteion, or cult-place of the cat goddess Bastet. In 1976 Alain Zivie realised that originally these galleries had been made as tombs for the high officials of New Kingdom Memphis. In 1980 he started the exploration of a first tomb, belonging to the vizier Aper-el (a contemporary of the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Akhenaten). Over the years, his team emptied about 15 of these hypogea which are distributed on two levels in the cliffs. Two of these tombs date to the Old Kingdom, the others range in date from the reign of Hatshepsut to that of Merenptah. Some of the tombs possess open-air gateways and courtyards built in front of the cliffs. The interior parts consist of rock-cut pillared halls and chapels, with stairways or shafts leading down to the proper tomb-chambers at deeper levels. The rock walls bear paintings, reliefs and inscriptions, but in order to expose these the expedition has had to dismantle the Ptolemaic walls and pillars made to support the rock-cut ceilings which were already in danger of collapse at the time, and constructed when these tombs were converted into cat galleries. The strenuous work has been rewarded by the discovery of considerable remains of the original burial gifts, whereas the wall decorations compare very well with the contemporary material found by the Dutch expedition elsewhere in Saqqara.