Digging diary, week 5: 16 February - 22 February 2013


Cleaning an Ancient Cesspit...

By Maarten Raven

Week four has largely been devoted to tidying up all around the new tomb and studying its intriguing plan. Thus it is now quite clear that it has neither a north nor a south chapel, but merely a central one protruding beyond the west wall of the courtyard. Clearing the outside of this chapel led to the find of a large blue-painted pot, still provided with its sealed lid and containing a black powder. The pot had been deposited in the corner between the chapel and the courtyard's west wall. We have now been able to verify that the south wall of the courtyard was not built by the owner of the present tomb but belongs in fact to the adjacent tomb of which it forms the north wall. Accordingly, the east and west walls of the courtyard have not been bonded with this structure. We are now also clearing the façade of the tomb, which lies partly hidden behind a small limestone chapel dating to the Ramesside period but not provided with any reliefs or inscriptions.

Tidying up also involved dismantling an ugly 'chimney' jutting up in front of the tomb's north-east corner. This was originally a brick-lined pit connected with some later Coptic huts erected over this part of the site, but since our excavation now lies more than two meters under the Coptic floor level, the pit became a tower. Dismantling did not take long, but o, that awful brown dust and that smell! Clearly we were dealing with an ancient cesspit, filled to the brim with goat and donkey droppings, straw and feathers, date and apricot stones, eggshells, discarded rags, lots of potsherds, and other unmentionables! In other words, an archaeologist's paradise, although the harvest was not very rich in this case and we ended up in bad need of a shower.

Work to the north of the tomb of Meryneith was not very rewarding on the whole. We have clearly failed in locating the entrance to the Archaic Period galleries, and the presence of later shafts and burials makes it difficult to cut down to the underlying rock. One of these burials contained the remains of a mummy originally covered by a bead net. Three days after lifting it, we are still sieving the black sand from the coffin in an endeavour to obtain all the mummy beads from its fill. A single handful will contain about fifty of these minute rings and cylinders! We were very pleased, however, with the find of two relief blocks in the same area which prove to come from the tomb of Pay (excavated between 1994 and 1998). We have been able to identify their original place in the tomb and will try to put them back on the walls. And today our sondage really managed to get down to rock level, and there lay a single Archaic Period sherd from a stone vessel! The gallery must be nearby …

The past week also brought the completion of another task we set ourselves for this season: the installation of two wonderful replicas from blocks in the Bologna Museum, one in the tomb of Horemheb and the other in the tomb of Ptahemwia. Both represent a gift sponsored by various Italian institutions and made by means of ultra-modern laser technology. Once again we thank our team member Daniela who brought us this present and who will return to Bologna on Saturday. The coming week will bring the end of this year's short season, though new team members keep arriving, such as our artist Dorothea last Wednesday, who immediately started drawing the newly-found reliefs. Coming Friday our epigraphist Rob will join us, who should be able to help us deciphering several inscribed objects. And on Sunday we expect to see our architect Nicholas again, who already did the actual installation of the replicas but will also perform some restoration to roofs and walls. More about this next week !