Digging diary, week 3: 25 - 31 March 2017

Pottery specialist Valentina Gasperini's Digging Diary for this week:

Beside the very interesting discoveries on bones and burials, described by Ali Jelene last week, pottery is revealing as well quite an intriguing picture in the New Kingdom Necropolis at Saqqara. Our work on ceramic remains is following two paths: the analysis and study of the materials excavated in the previous seasons – our focus is currently on the pottery from the 2015 campaign – as well as the sorting of the materials which are currently under excavation.

Studying pottery sherds from the 2015 campaign, and sorting materials from this year's campaign


The pottery lab is set up in a unique scenario: the first courtyard of the Horemheb tomb, where every day Alice and I, greatly helped by Mohamed and Guda (our two Egyptian workmen) and under the supervision of Barbara, spend a great amount of our time looking into the sherds collected from the "Platform North" in Tomb X two years ago. Our first task is to reconstruct as much as possible of the profiles of the vessels in order to obtain detailed information on the original shapes of jars, amphorae, and plates used more than 3000 years ago. At the moment, a great deal of our efforts are dedicated to the restoration of a series of jars, belonging to the so called "Blue-Painted Ware". This class of materials is a typical New Kingdom fine ware, characterized by a very distinctive blue decoration, usually representing motifs of flower petals as well as parallel bands. Between the late 18th and the 19th dynasty, in fact, a wide range of ceramic forms received decoration prior to firing in which the dominant color was pale blue (therefore "Blue-Painted Ware"), supplemented by red and reddish-brown to black. Currently, one jar has been completely restored, while another four are on their way!

Mohamed, Guda, and Valentina at work in the first courtyard of Horemheb's tomb


The pottery team is also following very closely the ongoing excavation of the Necropolis area and we were pretty busy in the last three days since an embalmers' cache has been found, just next to a series of burials recently unearthed. The pottery cache consisted of five huge late 18th dynasty jars, four of them belonging to the previously described "Blue-Painted Ware". One of them has also a quite distinctive decoration based not only on petal patterns but also on a "feather" motif. The intriguing element of these vessels is represented by their contents: other ceramic remains! In fact all these jars were filled in with broken pots and linen bandages, most probably indicating that they all belong to the embalming process of a deceased inhumed somewhere close-by. The last jar was carefully excavated this morning (March, 27th) and we are now planning to start looking into the contents of these almost entirely intact jars. And our main question is: are these fragments scattered in different jars, and may they belong to specific vessels thus proving an intentional scattering? The answer is yet to come and we will keep you updated!

Barbara Aston and Valentina Gasperini, pottery specialists


Valentina Gasperini