Digging diary, week 5: 8 - 14 April 2017

On Friday 7 April I was the last team member to arrive at Saqqara. It had already been four years since my last season here and I'm therefore very excited to be back! Especially as I received my doctorate last year (at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia) with a thesis on the Saqqara New Kingdom necropolis. It is great to again be able to work with the material that I've been studying the past few years. There are still plenty of questions to be answered – or tombs to be (re-)located. According to my estimate, approximately (or at least) 448 tomb structures of this period had been built on this elevated desert plateau. The location of less than 20% of these has been ascertained archaeologically. In other words: many tombs are waiting beneath the desert surface waiting to be excavated. We know of their existence only through objects held in public and private collections.

The small chapel north of Maya appearing from the sand


While finding the monumental tomb of an official known from museum objects would be nice, it is not the goal of this excavation. Instead, we want to try to understand, among other things, what happened to the monumental tombs after the burial had taken place. Or how the mortuary landscape developed as timed passed. In order to analyse these processes, excavating in between the monumental tombs is vital. The material remains of such practices are now being found to the north of the outer wall of Maya's tomb. These need to be excavated very carefully, which takes time – especially as a the spoils of previous excavations are covering the whole area. Today, for example, we excavated several embalmers' caches. These pits contain the materials left over after mummification. The find of the day certainly was an intact pot, found in situ, and containing a short line of hieratic inscription on the exterior!

Section showing the remains of an embalmers’ cache


Working at Saqqara also gives us the opportunity to meet colleagues working in other areas of the Memphite New Kingdom necropolis. This necropolis is of course not limited to the area the Leiden/Turin mission works at. To the contrary: it is likely to be only a very small part of an extensive cemetery stretching from Dahshur in the south to Abusir in the north. In Abusir, a Czech archaeological mission is currently encountering remains dating to the New Kingdom. They are our neighbours in the Saqqara dig house. On the second day of my stay Jana Mynárová visited us for an after-work gin & tonic. Nice to catch up!

1850s photograph showing one of the ‘lost’ tombs excavated by Mariette at Saqqara


Mohammad M. Youssef, director of the Saqqara antiquities, studies the New Kingdom cemetery located north and east of the Teti pyramid. Today, he visited the excavation together with professor Ola el-Aguizy. In 2010, she and her team of Cairo University (re-)discovered the tomb of Ptahmose, the early 19th Dynasty mayor of Memphis. This official received much attention in my PhD thesis: it is one of the tomb structures photographed during Auguste Mariette's excavations back in 1859. The tomb was discovered even earlier, in the early 19th century, and many of the tomb objects, relief decorated blocks, etc. were removed and subsequently distributed to museums across the world. While I do know Ptahmose very well, I have never seen the tomb since it was excavated. I was therefore very happy that professor el-Aguizy showed me around in the tomb and pointed out some of the relief decorated blocks that were found in situ. It is a truly magnificent monument and I am much looking forward to its final publication!

Nico Staring