Digging Diary Week 6 (6 February - 12 February)

This week the weather was very turbulent, and today (Thursday) we were driven home early by a proper sandstorm. On Monday, too, we had to send the workmen away by mid-morning because they were blinded by the sand from their own baskets when they tried to empty them on the dump. On top of that, Sunday and Monday were very cold, and we are glad we now live in a dighouse which can be heated by air-conditioning. Yet we all miss the nice atmosphere of the old house, which is situated opposite us on the high edge of the desert plateau and looks very derelict already.

The nameless tomb..Otherwise the week was rather uneventful, because so far the new tomb has not given us a clue as to the identity of its original owner. We now got down to the pavement of the three west chapels, and the only surprise was that the central chapel has some sort of raised dais along the west wall, neatly set off with a cavetto cornice along its front edge. But no decorations, no inscriptions, and (apart from the central chapel and a bit of the adjoining wall of the preceding courtyard) not even dressed wall-faces but only rough stone blocks, just as they came out of the quarry. In the course of the coming week we hope to empty the remaining half-metre of clean wind-blown sand from the courtyard, and then that is it for this year. For lack of time we cannot consider emptying the tomb-shaft which will probably come up in the centre of the courtyard. But we already know it will have been robbed, thereby presumably depriving us of further means to identify its occupant.

New Kingdom stele against the facade of the tombIn spite of the unfinished state of the tomb, it was presumably used for a burial, because we keep finding fragments of New Kingdom pottery used in a funerary cult. Other finds consist of amulets in wood and glass, more broken shabtis, and yesterday a New Kingdom stela leaning at a funny angle against the façade of the tomb.

At the beginning of this week we made an effort to clear the shaft of the little chapel of Khay, which was found last season. Alas, we had to stop the work because the walls of the shaft proved to be very dangerous, so now we are working in the underground tomb-chambers of Tatia instead (the owner of the other chapel discovered in 2009). It produced an interesting scrap of papyrus, which could be successfully relaxed and framed in glass. Rob Demarée, the hieraticist who joined us last Friday, already identified its contents as a copy of spell 25 of the Book of the Dead. His help is also invaluable in reading our little collection of ostraca and dockets in hieratic, demotic and Coptic.

Excavating the underground tomb-chambers of TatiaOn Saturday the artist Will Schenck arrived, who is now drawing our few limestone fragments with relief decorations and inscriptions. Sunday brought us the Swiss anthropologist Frank Rühli who is assisting in the recording of skeletal material, and who quite enjoyed personally excavating his first burial. We have a few more of the Coptic interments this week, one with some interesting amulets. With thirteen members our team is now at its full strength, and from Saturday onwards we shall start to shrink again.

On Wednesday our French colleagues organized a lunch party for all archaeologists currently working in Saqqara, which proved to be a surprisingly large number. The guest of honour was our good friend Naguib Kanawati from Sydney, who has been out in the desert for 40 years now. Which actually proves that the life we are leading must be very healthy, in spite of the occasional sandstorm ...