Digging diary, week 7: 22 - 28 April

The Leiden-Turin 2017 expedition was a very successful season which we could realize with the generous support of the Leiden National Museum of Antiquities, the Museo Egizio in Turin, and the Friends of Saqqara foundation. While unfortunately for various reasons not all team members could join us in Saqqara as scheduled this year, we still had a large team of fourteen archaeologists, pottery specialists, surveyors, anthropologists, and architects joining forces with eighty local employees.

Final group picture of the team


Looking back at seven intensive and delightful weeks in the field we would like to summarize the results of our work and provide a few insights of our plans for 2018. In 2017 work was divided in two main areas, the ‘new’ area north of Maya and the finalization of the area in the south where we excavated also in 2015. In the South, between the tombs of Pay and Raia and that of Sethnakht, Maarten Raven worked to further illuminate the monuments found in earlier years in this area. Results include the identification and the excavation of the shaft of the tomb of Samut, the owner of the four-sided stela found in 2015. Another task was a sondage west of the chapel of Tatia where three burials of children, presumably dating to the late New Kingdom were found. All three were wrapped in reed mats and then laid in shallow trenches protected by slabs of stone or large mud-bricks. One burial contained a small scarab, another child had an amuletic necklace in stone, glass and faience.

General plan of the area with the two main sectors indicated by the grid reference numbers


In the northern area of the concession, the main aim was to explore the high ground located to the North of Maya’s tomb, mostly deriving from 1970s and 1980s excavation spoils, as could be ascertained from the dated newspaper articles found in the deposit. Traces of previous activity, most probably by 19th century robbers, were also identified in a series of pits cutting into the earlier stratification: an old reed zambil basket was even found in one of pits, left by the robbers. The underlying layers have shown an extensive occupation during the Coptic period, with a thick stratification of surfaces and installations covering the Late Period and Late New Kingdom levels.

Coptic period occupation layers with later robbery pits


The lower deposit is rather uniformly represented in the area by the collapse of previous funerary structures and by a thick layer of fine wind-blown sand in which, during the Late Period, numerous pottery caches (probably embalming caches) have been dug. Some caches contained linen bags still intact, and two flint stone knives found in surface layers could originally have been part of similar assemblages. During the excavation, great attention was put on collecting linen, wood and plaster samples, because hopefully in 2018, specialists will temporarily join the team in order to thoroughly investigate these materials. The wind-blown sand deposits seal the New Kingdom levels, where the remains of two small funerary chapels and relative shafts were uncovered.

A small Ramesside chapel, from the East


Time restrictions did not allow us to fully excavate the shaft of the small chapel, which we hope to excavate next year. The reliefs are very weathered, but the remains of several offering scenes could be traced. Unfortunately, no names or inscriptions have been preserved. To the west of the small chapel, a larger chapel was found which consisted of an antechamber, maybe originally a double-column portico, and a small inner chamber.

The bigger chapel, with the rim of its shaft in the foreground, from the East


The decoration of the larger chapel is unfortunately also badly damaged and almost no inscriptions remain. Traces of text suggest the chapel could have belonged to a man called (...)khau. Only the lower part of the name has been preserved. A lady attested on a block possibly from the same chapel is called Ranury, but her relation to (...)khau is unclear. A second lady - Ray - is attested, but it might as well be the same Ranury whose name is half broken. This chapel shows quite unusual reliefs, still bearing traces of colour, among which a child figure sitting in between the feet of two adults and a cow or a donkey. Unfortunately large parts of the reliefs have flaked.

South wall of large chapel North of Maya


Last but not least, architectural conservation work was carried out under the supervision of Nicholas Warner in ‘Tomb X’, south-west of the tomb of Meryneith, that was enclosed by protective mud brick walls and subsequently backfilled once the final consolidation of the outer walls of the tomb was completed. The Egyptian restorers cleaned and consolidated the reliefs of the small chapel North of Maya’s tomb and placed back a relief block, found and restored in 2015, into Tatia’s chapel, in the southern sector.

To sum up, we are very happy with the results, but also the atmosphere, motivation, and team spirit during this first six-weeks season of our Leiden-Turin cooperation. Several young enthusiastic specialists have and will join the team, and together with the ‘old hands’ will scrutinize Saqqara and its findings as always with new questions and new methods.

Thank you all for your kind support!! We are very much looking forward to further explore the area North of Maya in 2018!

Paolo Del Vesco & Lara Weiss