Excavations in Saqqara (Egypt)
On 1 May 2015 an excavation team departed for the Egyptian village of Saqqara. The National Museum of Antiquities has been working on an excavation project there since 1975, carrying out excavations and conducting research for a few weeks each year. Because of the political conditions in Egypt, the curator Maarten Raven and his team were unable to go in 2014, but now they can resume their work. This May, together with their new partner, Museo Egizio in Turin, they will be continuing the excavations of the underground burial chambers that were discovered some time ago and carrying out research on them.
- You can follow the progress being made in the Saqqara dig on the special (English-language) website of the excavation.
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 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 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.
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.