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. The current field directors of the research project are Dr Lara Weiss, curator of the museum’s Egyptian collection, together with Dr Christian Greco, director of the Museo Egizio, Turin.
On 15 March 2019 the excavation team arrived in Egypt. This year they are going to dig a piece of land under which perhaps a grave is located. Just like last year, the Milanese 3D Survey Group will perform a number of underground scans. A stone restorer and a specialist for research of human remains were also brought along.
- Look for the latest news and digging diary about the excavation at the news items at the bottom of this page.
Friends of Saqqara
You can also follow the progress being made in the Saqqara dig on the website of the excavation. You can support this project by joining the Friends of Saqqara.
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.
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 supervisors of the research project are Dr Lara Weiss, curator 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.
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, NWO, 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.
Important finds at Saqqara
1975-1980 Horemheb’s tomb
Horemheb was a general under Tutankhamen. In 1319 B.C. he became pharaoh, and therefore he was buried in the Valley of the Kings near Thebes. The tomb already built for him in Saqqara was later used for his second wife, queen Mutnodjmet.
1981 Tombs of Paser and Raia
Paser was an architect and Raia was a first singer in the temple of Ptah in the time of pharaoh Ramesses II.
1982-1984 Tomb of Tia and Tia
Tia was a sister of pharaoh Ramesses II. Her husband was also called Tia. He was Ramesses II’s treasurer.
1985 Tomb of Iurudef
Iurudef was the private secretary of Tia and Tia. In later times (11th –10th century B.C.), his burial chambers were used as a mass grave, in which about 70 mummies and mummy cases from that period were found.
1986 Tombs of Ramose, Khay and Pabes
Ramose was an army officer. Next to his tomb, the tombs of Khay and Pabes were found. Khay was a gold washer and his son Pabes was a merchant.
1987-1992 Tomb of Maya and Merit
Maya was the treasurer of pharaoh Tutankhamen. Merit was his wife. Since the nineteenth century, the museum has been in possession of three very fine statues found in this tomb. It was rediscovered by the expedition through a robber’s tunnel leading to it from Ramose’s tomb.
1993 Tomb of Iniuia
Iniuia was overseer of cattle in the time of Tutankhamen. He worked under Maya’s supervision.
1994-1998 Tomb of Pay and Raia
Pay was director of the harem in the time of pharaoh Tutankhamen. After a military career, his son Raia became his successor. Later, Raia used his father’s tomb for his own burial.
1999-2000 Research near Horemheb’s tomb
An area of 25 by 12 meter to the south of Horemheb’s tomb has also been researched. The most important find, in 1999, was of an anonymous mummy case with a mummy in it.
2001-2004 Grave of Meryneith and Anuy
Meryneith was a steward and sun priest in the time of the pharaohs Akhenaton and Tutankhamen (1353-1323 B.C.). Anuy was his wife. Colourful painted reliefs and a rare double sculpture of the couple were found in the tomb complex. In 2002, the remains of a royal tomb from circa 2700 B.C. were stumbled upon under this complex.
2004-2006 Front squares of Horemheb and Tia
When excavating the area around the tomb of Meryneith, it was discovered that both Horemheb (see 1975-1980) and Tia (see 1982-1984) had a paved front square in front of their tomb. This had been overlooked during previous excavations. Horemheb even had a second limestone pylon. An important dumping ground for grave robbers was found on his front square containing items from Tia’s tomb.
2007-2008 Tomb of Ptahemwia
Ptahemwia was the cupbearer of the king during the time of pharaoh Akhenaton. Yet another tomb from the days of this ‘heretic king’! The tomb consists of columns and three chapels. Remains of reliefs show the dead during the inspection of a property and sacrifices to the deceased and his wife Maia. The tomb remained unfinished during the reign of Tutankhamen.
2009-2010 Chapels of Chay and Tatia
Both Chay and Tatia were connected with the god of the city of Memphis, Ptah. They were priests there and during processions they carried the front of the litter of the deity. Chay has a small clay chapel to the south of Horemheb’s tomb; Tatia has a limestone chapel beside the tomb of Meryneith. A large gravestone pillar that has been preserved virtually complete stood against the back wall.
2011 No excavation work because of political unrest
Because of the political turmoil in Egypt, the archaeological team from the National Museum of Antiquities decided not to go to Saqqara in 2011.
2012 Inspection of storerooms and historic structures
A small team went to Saqqara to inspect the historic structures and storerooms. They tidied up the site and performed restoration work where necessary.
2013 and 2015 A new tomb
In 2013 a new tomb was excavated which dates to the reign Tutankhamen or shortly thereafter. The underground burial chambers of another tomb found in 2010 were also examined. The expedition succeeded in finding the name of one of the buried people in it: Sethnakht. In 2015, the underground burial chambers were further excavated and studied. The Museo Egizio Turin, with Christian Greco as field director and Paolo Del Vesco as deputy, became partner in the excavation project.
2017 Tomb of Ry + new area north of tomb Maya and Merit
2017 was the last year of Maarten Raven as field director. He finalized his work from previous years in the south of the Leiden-Turin excavation area around the tomb of Ry. The new field directors Lara Weiss (curator Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) and Christian Greco (director Museo Egizio) opened a new area north of the tomb of Maya, with support of deputy field director Paolo Del Vesco, where two small Ramesside chapels were found.
2018 Ramesside chapel and new entrance
Maarten Raven is finalizing his publications of the tombs of Ptahemwia, Sethnakht, and the tomb of Ry, which shall soon appear in the PALMA Series of the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden. The Leiden-Turin mission continued the work in the new area north of Maya and found e.g. a Late-Antique occupation layer, a third Ramesside chapel, and the entrance to possibly a new monumental tomb. The excavations are now also co-funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) as part of the Vidi-project The Walking Dead at Saqqara.