Digging diary, week 3: 16 - 22 May 2015


The Third Week

By Paolo Del Vesco

The third week is finished and we are all a bit sad as we approach the end of this short but special season, being the first one of the new Leiden-Turin cooperation. This week has also been extremely warm with peaks of 38o C in the shade, hardly bearable without the refreshing breeze of the northern wind. In these high temperatures even the simplest activity becomes hard, not to mention removing layers of sand or carrying heavy loads. Everyone must be very careful not to expose skin to the fierce sun and remember to constantly consume water: the risk of dehydrating is very high. Lara and I were really worn out after just one hour of photographic recording of registered finds in the forecourt of the tomb of Meryneith, can you imagine how the workers must feel? Work pace inevitably slows down and some activities must be postponed to another day: the vessel fragments tidily spread on square mats in the pottery courtyard (actually the second court of Horemheb's tomb) were untouchably hot by the end of the morning break.


The excavation of the new shaft, located between the front of tomb X and the back of the chapel of Tatia, carried on this week until we reached the rock-cut bottom about -8.50 m down from the surface. Although we decided to leave the exploration of a big chamber opening onto the south side of the shaft for next year, the numerous fragments of reliefs that were found in the shaft filling were reward enough for the work done.

A second area that has been explored this week is that to the South and South-East of the chapel of Tatia. Here a stone foundation and wall, most likely pertaining to an earlier structure, were revealed. In addition, the northern mudbrick wall of an adjacent tomb, although damaged by later pits, has been identified and followed until the southwest corner of Sethnakht's tomb. In the same area, the fill of a big pit yielded a nice wooden mask originally part of an anthropoid coffin.

The unexpected opportunity to spend an extremely pleasant afternoon came this week from the kind invitation of Alain Zivie, director of the French Archaeological Mission at the Bubasteion for almost 40 years. The wonderful garden and terrace of his new house in Saqqara even inspired our artist Lyla Pinch-Brock to produce a lovely sketch.

Being almost at the end of the season and considering that this area of the Saqqara necropolis is open to tourists, we also had to undertake time-consuming site management activities. Among them was the complete backfill of Sethnakht's tomb, the removal of excavation dumps and the building of new dry stone retaining walls. We also excavated a strip of deposit located between the tomb of Meryneith and tomb X, which had been spared in previous seasons.

Of course exactly from this last seemingly unpromising deposit came the most exciting find of the week: a very rare four-sided limestone stela, once wonderfully plastered and incised but now badly damaged by crystallized salts. Regardless we can still see that the four faces show the deceased, a stone-cutter named Samut, together with his wife in adoration of Osiris, Isis, the Hathor cow and the Apis bull. While cleaning the northern side of the monument a touching moment occurred. We uncovered three almost complete shallow bowls, probably part of ritual offerings, still lying under the wind-blown sand where they were placed more than three thousand years ago!!

A quite common experience in archaeology is the "big" discovery made on the last day of an excavation. We are all wondering what fate is preparing for our last three days next week. Make your guess!