Digging Diary Week 5 (30 January - 5 February)

The beginning of this week brought clouded weather and even a little rain, but then the weather improved and we had a number of days with glorious sunshine and high temperatures. All this helped to make great progress with the fieldwork. The new mud-brick tomb is gradually emerging from the sand, and since last week we have gone down about a full metre over the whole surface of our sondage. But unfortunately, so far the few limestone elements that we can see are all unfinished, undecorated and uninscribed. This goes for the doorjambs of the east entrance into the forecourt, for the jambs of the door into the central chapel, and for a pilaster against the north wall. On top of that, most of the wall revetment seems to have been robbed away.

The new mud-brick tomb is gradually emerging This means, of course, that we are unable to give you the name of the mysterious tomb-owner. The few inscribed fragments of objects dating to the New Kingdom and found in the sand fill of the tomb are not decisive: they may have come from adjacent tombs, and some of them look Ramesside in date whereas we would be tempted to date the tomb itself to the late 18th Dynasty. There was beautiful stuff around, but alas: most of it has been destroyed in a great conflagration which took place in the central chapel of the tomb. Here there was a whole stratum full of charcoal, ashes, burnt rock, shattered canopic jars of alabaster and faience, smashed shabtis, and even lumps of molten glass which indicate that the temperature of the fire must have been very high indeed.

Maarten, Ladislava and Barbara are excavating a coptic burialWho lit this fire? We just do not know, but it may have been in the Christian period. Several burials dating to that period escaped the utter destruction, although they were lying in hollows and niches cut in the mud-brick walls that were actually situated very close to the fire. Some of these burials are very interesting: these people were buried in their beautiful tunics with decorative bands woven in or in embroidery, and one burial contained an attractive necklace, an earring, and other jewellery. Never before has our expedition found so many fragments of Coptic textile, which turn up all over the area. Clearly, there must have been many more of these burials which have been rifled by robbers, their contents then blowing all over the desert surface.

In the meantime, our team member Christian Greco has arrived, and he is now directing the excavation of the shaft of Khay, whose little chapel was discovered last season. We also had the palaeobotanist René Cappers among our company this week, who took samples from ancient mud-bricks and made some ethno-archaeological excursions. He and our photographer Peter Jan Bomhof are leaving again today, but tomorrow and on Sunday we expect several other team-members. More about that next week ...


Beautiful Coptic textiles are found One of the Coptic burials