Digging diary, week 1: 13 - 17 March 2017

It is such a good feeling to be back in Saqqara after an absence of almost two years! This season is only the second campaign of the present cooperation between the Leiden and Turin museums. The first time was in 2015, but last year we suffered the same fate as so many other expeditions: we did not receive permission to continue our fieldwork from the Egyptian security office. Things in Egypt are still a bit unsettled after two revolutions in four years... Therefore, we consider ourselves very fortunate that this year the final permission came through two weeks before the planned start of the expedition. The reason why we moved our current season to March and April (instead of January-February as usual) lies in the fact that on March 11 our Turin colleagues had to open an important exhibition on the Italian excavations at the beginning of the 20th century (Missione Egitto, 1903-1920, until 10 September). But now everybody is eager to make a start again to resume our wonderful work at Saqqara!

 Back in Saqqara and on to new excavations


On Monday (March 13th) field director Maarten Raven and deputy directors Lara Weiss and Paolo Del Vesco flew to Cairo, and the next day we signed the contract for this year’s mission at the offices of the Supreme Council for Antiquities. We also bought some supplies and met our new surveyor Piet Collet, with whom we had dinner. On Wednesday we left Cairo and installed ourselves in our dighouse at the foot of the desert plateau of Saqqara. We immediately went to the local inspectorate of antiquities and were helped very efficiently by general director Sabri Farag and the director of Saqqara South, Mohammad Mohammad Yousouf, with whom we discussed our plans. By midnight of the same day, our pottery specialist Barbara Aston presented herself at the dighouse, straight from the airport: she had had an eventful flight due to blizzards in Ohio. On Thursday 16th a committee of local inspectors kindly opened the site for us. It looks just fine after our two year’s absence and we cannot wait to make a start coming Saturday. By that time, more team members will also arrive to assist us in the work.

 Lara Weiss, Barbara Aston and Maarten Raven


The plans this year are to quickly finish with the southern sector of our area, where we found the remains of two further tombs during the 2015 season. One of them belongs to a stone-cutter Samut and the other (tomb Y) is just a deep shaft of an unknown tomb-owner. Both monuments deserve some more investigations before we quit that part of the necropolis. In the meantime, we want to make a start with a major sondage along the north border of our site, to the north of the tomb of Maya. We hope it will reveal the mud-brick walls of another New Kingdom tomb, hopefully in a better condition than what we are finding in the south. This section is covered by heaps of sand and debris, so it may take a while before we hit something. The weeks ahead of us will doubtless be full of excitement...

Maarten Raven