Excavations in Saqqara (Egypt)
In mid-March 2017 an excavation team set off on the museum’s annual journey to the Egyptian village of Saqqara. The National Museum of Antiquities has been working on an excavation project in Saqqara since 1975, carrying out research and excavations for a few weeks each year. In 2014 and 2016 the trip could not go ahead on account of the difficult political conditions in the country. In 2015, however, a team from the museum was able to get to work. During that trip the researchers teamed up with their new partner – Museo Egizio in Turin – to continue the excavations of the underground burial chambers that had been discovered some time ago and to conduct research on them.
- You can follow the progress being made in the Saqqara dig on the special (English-language) website of the excavation. You can support this project by joining the Friends of Saqqara!
Partners excavation project
The archaeological research project in Saqqara was started in 1975. Until 1998, the museum co-operated with the Egypt Exploration Society from London. Also the University of Leiden (since 1999) and the Museo Archeologico from Bologna (since 2011) are involved in the project. 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 current supervisors of the research project are Dr Maarten Raven and Dr Lara Weiss, curators of the museum’s Egyptian collection, together with Dr Christian Greco, director of the museum in Turin.
The object is to learn more about the background and history of the museum’s collection. To achieve this, the excavation team works in the immediate vicinity of sites where museum objects were found in the nineteenth century. Many of these objects, such as reliefs and stelae, have become dispersed over the years among museums all over the world, including the National Museum of Antiquities. The excavations have taught the researchers more about the tombs in which these objects were found long ago. For instance, thanks to the research in Saqqara they now know more about the places and functions of the objects in the monumental tombs. In addition, tombs once believed to have been lost have been rediscovered. New finds are kept in Egypt. Examples include the double statue of the high priest Meryneith and his wife Anoey, which was excavated in 2001 and 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.
Egypt’s Ministry of Culture gave the museum permission to conduct research in part of the burial ground – a section that dates from the reign of the pharaohs Tutankhamen, Ay, Horemheb and Ramesses I and II (1334-1212 B.C.). The grounds were also used for burials in later periods of Egyptian history.
The researchers set to work every year – nowadays usually in March and/or April. The international team consists of scientific experts and staff attached to the two museums. Equally important is the group of Egyptians who do the hard work of digging. The team registered all finds, traces, and other research findings on site. They study and analyse these findings at length afterwards, eventually publishing their reports in scientific journals.
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. The Friends of Saqqara Foundation provides financial support to the ongoing excavation project. Donors to this foundation can attend the annual Saqqara day (in June) free of charge and receive the printed Saqqara Newsletter, which is sent out in autumn each year.