Excavations in Saqqara (Egypt)

Excavation Saqqara: supervisor Maarten Raven (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden)Excavation Saqqara: supervisor Maarten Raven (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden)
Egyptian working men are moving an objectEgyptian working men are moving an object
Overview of a part of the excavationOverview of a part of the excavation

The project

The archaeological research project in Saqqara was started in 1975. Until 1998, the museum co-operated with the Egypt Exploration Society from London. Since 1999, the project has been carried out in co-operation with the University of Leiden. In 2015 the Museo Egizio of Turin was added as the third partner. The current supervisor of the research project is Dr. Maarten Raven, curator of the museum’s Egyptian collection, together with Dr. Christian Greco, director of the Museo Egizio.


The project’s goal is to get to know more about the backgrounds and history of the museum’s collection. This is done by gathering information about the objects found in this region. Over the years, these objects have become scattered over museums throughout the world, including the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden.
The research at Saqqara has shed new light on the origin and function of the objects found in the monumental tombs. In addition, tombs that were considered lost have been found again. New finds are kept in Egypt. The double statue of the high priest Meryneith and his wife Aniuia, for instance, which was excavated in 2001, is now displayed in the Egyptian museum in Cairo.


Saqqara is about thirty kilometres to the south of Cairo. From Saqqara, you can see the famous step pyramid built by pharaoh Djoser (ca. 2650 B.C.) on the horizon. For thousands of years, the desert near the village was used as a burial ground for the high-placed officials of ancient Egypt.
The museum has the permission of the Supreme Council for Antiquities of Egypt to conduct research in the part of the burial ground that was brought into use during the reign of the pharaohs Tutankhamen, Ay, Horemheb and Ramesses I and II (1334-1212 B.C.).

The team

The researchers work each year, mostly in January and February, in an international team made up of scientific experts, students and staff members of the university and both museums. Equally important is the group of Egyptians doing the hard work of digging. The team studies and registers the architecture, decorations and other finds on site. These are rigorously studied after their return in the Netherlands and then described in scientific publications.

Burial chambers

Most of the graves found in Saqqara consist of a small temple, with a burial vault or a complex of different burial chambers underneath it. The walls of the temples are decorated with sculpted reliefs and colourful wall paintings. The underlying burial chambers can be reached through deep shafts.

The project is funded by the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, the University of Leiden, the Museo Egizio, Travel agency 'Labrys Reizen', the Friends of Saqqara Foundation and a few private individuals.