Egyptian tomb in Saqqara was never completed

18 March 2010

The excavation site in Saqqara, February 2010The excavation site in Saqqara, February 2010

Egyptian tomb in Saqqara as never completed

Every year, a research team from the National Museum of Antiquities and the University of Leiden travels to Saqqara in Egypt. Under the direction of the Egyptologists Maarten Raven and Harold Hays, excavations are conducted at the foot of the pyramid of Djoser. This year research was conducted from 9th January to 27th February. Maarten Raven, curator of the Egypt collection of the National Museum of Antiquities, provides a brief account.

What was the primary objective this year?

"Excavating a high hill to the south of the tomb of Ptahemwia discovered in 2007 was the first item on the agenda. For two years, an exterior limestone wall had already begun to appear out of the sand, hinting at the presence of another tomb monument. We could tell already from the location and material used that this had to be the next contemporary of pharaoh Akhenaton (1353-1335 B.C.)."

High hopes for this tomb?

"Yes, perhaps too high... although we did indeed find the tomb, it turned out to be unfinished. We found a very rough limestone building, but the finishing slabs of fine limestone had only been partially installed. The builders did not have enough time to add the nice wall reliefs or inscriptions on those slabs. That is a pity, because we had hoped for more information. We now have a tomb and do not know who the owner was. But it does teach us how such tombs were built. Next year we will have another go at it, and we hope to unearth underground tombs."

Are you going to find a nice tomb next year?

"You never know. Excavating such underground spaces does not always bring what you hope. This year we had the shafts of two small temples on our schedule. We had found them last year already. But one shaft proved to be so deteriorated that we could not empty it safely. The other yielded no more than three tombs that had already been plundered, without any special discoveries, besides two pages from a papyrus book of the dead."

And so was the digging season a bust?

"No, because there were also positive results. We had never before found so many intact remainders of excavations from the early Christian (Coptic) era. Some of them still contain very nice cloths and jewellery. An interesting study with underground radar was conducted. That is how we know where to dig next year to find the entry of an underground gallery from the time of the earliest pharaohs. We also were able to nicely restore the temple of Tatia found in 2009 and also to consolidate some other wall work. Adequate results to return to Leiden with a feeling of satisfaction."