Digging diary, week 4 february- 10 february 2012


Finally we are back!

Our small team (Maarten Raven, Barbara Aston and Christian Greco) left Cairo on Friday 3rd February and reached Saqqara. We were all so excited and happy to be back. Our Egyptian friends were waiting for us. Thanks to the effort of our house crew (Atef, his brother Amr, helped for the first two days by their cousin Aymad) we were able to settle down quite soon. In the afternoon we went up the hill and visited our old house, Bait Emery. It was sad to see how, after we have been forced to leave it, the house is almost falling down. The shutters are gone, the garden is completely abandoned, all the plants are dying, most of the walls have been stripped, the kitchen and the bathroom have been completely destroyed and there is sand and dirt everywhere. It is hard to recognize this as the place where our team spent many happy moments during almost 35 seasons.

On Friday evening Daniela Picchi joined our team and we could all together have our first dinner at the dig house and discuss the plan for the coming days.

On Saturday we went to the site. We could not wait any longer, we really wanted to know how much the monuments had suffered in the days after the revolution. We saw that the doors of some of the tomb chapels, used as our site storerooms, were open. At a first glimpse we had the feeling that we had been very lucky and that the damage was really limited. We noticed that in the forecourt of Meryneith the most northern stela slab was lying on the floor. It had been removed by the robbers who tried to make a hole in order to break into the north west chapel of Ptahemwia.

Some of the protection shelters covering the reliefs had been damaged and will have to be replaced. A chip of the relief of the northern doorjamb of the tomb of Ptahemwia had been damaged. This seems to be the only damage inflicted to the reliefs. We have been so lucky! (see image)

Damaged Ptahemwia relief

We had to wait till Sunday, though, to have a clear picture of what had happened. After discussing the work with Kamal Wahid, director of Saqqara and signing the papers we went off to the site together with Mohammed Yousuf, responsible of Saqqara south, and Sayyed Ibrahim Sharif, also known as Shabl Donql, our inspector for the season.

At 10.30 we were finally able to inspect the storerooms after having worried about them for more than a year. Most of the doors had been broken open. We saw some pot sherds lying on the floor, but most of the crates were still standing along the sides of the walls and they seemed to be in good shape. We had the impression that the robbers gave up quite soon and we were pretty confident that most of the data concerning the pottery and the bones were not lost.

We were more concerned about storeroom Maya D (where part of our relief blocks are stored) and storeroom Maya E. We saw that boxes had been turned over, objects were lying on the floor. Only a complete inventory of the objects could tell us what was really missing.

The object storeroom before cleanup The object storeroom after we cleaned it

We could finally start to work on Monday 6th January. We realized that it was necessary to re-organize the material from storeroom Maya E. We decided to make a complete inventory of all the objects. We started examining the content of the crates organizing them by year of discovery. We made a list and checked object by object. We have been able to complete this task in three days. We realized that some of the wonderful Coptic textiles retrieved on the Christian burials above the anonymous tomb in 2010 must have been stolen by the robbers. In order to know what we are exactly missing we need, though, to check the Saqqara central storerooms. We hope to do that in the coming weeks.

The restoration work supervised by Nicholas Warner has also started and made already incredible progress. The stone slab fallen from the niche of the Meryneith forecourt has been replaced, the shelters covering the reliefs have been repaired and repainted. The roof of the tomb of Pay has been modified to prevent rain damage. Nicholas and his crew also put back in place the very heavy lid of Raia's sarcophagus, that had been moved by the robbers. The central part of it shows a crack on the surface, formed when the lid was lifted. It will be restored in the coming week. The column base from the central chapel of Ptahemwia, broken and removed by the robbers (probably looking for gold!), is now standing again and probably already by the end of next week Nicholas will be done with his very important restoration work and our site will be safe and protected again in order to be admired by tourists. The New Kingdom necropolis is in fact open to tourists since last summer, and we already had a few visitors.

The removal of the old roof of the tomb of Raia The new roof of Raia with a protruding edge to protect it against rain

Ladislava Horáčková joined the team on February 6th. She will remain for two weeks. Fortunately the bone material has not suffered much damage, and she did not have a lot of tidying up work to do. She could start a study season right away and she is processing the material coming from the Coptic burials. All these anthropological remains will be included in the next volume on Ptahemwia.

Barbara Aston is repairing again some 18th dynasty pots found near the chapel of Khay II. She had already been working on this material, but part of it was smashed when the robbers entered the pottery storerooms. Fortunately she will be able to retrieve most of the information, and she has already selected some sherds that could be drawn and processed during the season. Next week Lyla Brock will join the team and help Barbara with the drawing of the pots.

In the meantime Daniela Picchi has started making notes and describing the reliefs of the tombs of Maya and Ptahemwia. She is collecting as many data as possible to prepare her study on the iconography of the tomb of Horemheb. Another important project she is working on, is the making of the replicas of two reliefs preserved in the archeological museum in Bologna. Once the casts are made they will be inserted in the tombs of Horemheb and Ptahemwia joining the original New Kingdom blocks still in situ. She has brought a nice sample from Italy and we have already received the visit of a special committee appointed by the Ministry of State for Antiquities to discuss the way these new replicas should be inserted. Hopefully next week we will know more about it and we can start designing an informative panel that will inform visitors about the casts of original reliefs now preserved in various European museums.

After one week we can be satisfied with the results that we already have achieved. We are making progress in our inventory of the material, and fortunately the damage is limited. We will be able to have a study season and process some of the bones and pottery still waiting to be studied. Today Vincent Oeters will join us for one week and with the arrival of Lyla on Monday our team will be complete.