First visit to the site
In August 2014, Antonio Morales –at that point at Freie Universität Berlin– received permission of the Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo for entering into nine Middle Kingdom tombs at the necropolis of Asasif and Deir el-Bahari in the West Bank of Luxor. At that moment, Dr. Hany Abu el-Azm was the Head of the Permanent Committee and the Office of Foreign Missions, and Mr. Ezz el-Din er-Noby was the General Manager of the Section for Deir el-Bahari. The monuments included in the working list were the tombs of Meru (TT 240), Khety (TT 311), Henenu (TT 313), Harhotep (TT 314), Ipi (TT 315), Neferu (TT 319), and the “sixty soldiers’ tomb” (MMA 507), located in the necropolis of Deir el-Bahari, and the complexes of Dagi (TT 103) and Djari (TT 366) in Asasif. In addition, Antonio Morales visited the tomb of Meketre (TT 280), located in the southern section of Asasif, associated with a temple construction that was left unfinished in the early years of Amenemhat I.
The preliminary visit to these tombs of the late Eleventh and early Twelfth Dynasties was a sine qua non for the preparation of the Middle Kingdom Theban Project. Understanding the conditions in these monuments, beyond the bibliographical references that at times are scanty and inaccurate, was fundamental to decide the particular tombs that could become the target of the project in the following years. All the previous research associated with this visit was conducted at Freie Universität Berlin and the University of Pennsylvania, with short visits to the archives of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The aim of this work was to prepare a meticulous plan and necessary resources for a project committed to explain the main ideological and cultural mechanisms of the classical period of pharaonic Egypt, the Middle Kingdom.
In the last days of August, together with the MSA inspector and the tireless rais, Ali Farouk, the group visited the northern hills of Deir el-Bahari where most of the tombs are located. If reaching the upper part of these hills was a difficult task, climbing them with the necessary tools for opening the tombs (hammers, pickaxes, shovels, etc.) was even harder. Additionally, two local workmen were hired to bring water, cement, and pick up stones to seal the tombs after our visit. After two days of work, the group had completed the visit to each of the complexes included in our permission. We took notes of the main characteristics and features of the tombs: their conditions, remains, and historical potential… Indeed, the architectonic features and monumentality of most of these monuments astonished us.
Each tomb showed architectural features and remains that got our attention: the sarcophagus built into the pavement in the tomb of Meru (TT 240), the funerary chamber of Ipi’s tomb (TT 315), the iconography and inscriptions from the tomb of queen Neferu (TT 319), the paintings in the tomb of Djari (TT 366), and the mummified remains in the “sixty soldiers’ tomb” (MMA 507) surprised all of us greatly.
In August 2015, after the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and Home Security Ministry provided us with a concession at Deir el-Bahari (Luxor), the MKTP was initiated. Getting the permissions by the Ministry of Antiquities is hard since one needs the approval of the local authorities in the West Bank and Luxor before the Permanent Committee in Cairo can really take a final decision based on the positive consideration of the application. Inmediately, the project took shape and the three initial members of the MKTP started with the arrangements for working at the necropolis of Deir el-Bahari.
At first, the Ministry of Antiquities offered to the MKTP the tombs of Henenu (TT 313), Harhotep (TT 314), and Ipi (TT 315). Besides, the project also received the permission of the Director in Cairo Museum, at that moment the current Minister of Antiquities, Dr. Khaled el-Enany, for studying and publishing the mortuary chamber and sarcophagus of Harhotep. These items were dismantled by Gaston Maspero at the end of the XIX century and delivered to the museum in Cairo, where they have been catalogued as CG 28023. In the following season, however, the project would not retain the tomb of Harhotep, which was transferred to the Polish Mission in Asasif. Our work and goals are very similar. For this reason, we accepted the decision of the Ministry and look forward to collaborate in the examination of these tombs and the understanding of the early Middle Kingdom at Thebes.
Regarding our work, the first season was logically dedicated to identify the main issues and problems in the site, understanding the main characteristics of the concession, the problems and technical issues to face in the following years, the methods to be applied, and the kinds of specialists needed to confront these challenges. At that moment the team was constituted by three members that evaluated the various targets of the site and considered the main lines of work strategy. In addition, as part of the initial activities of protection and conservation, archaeologists cleaned the superficial areas in front of the tomb entrances and installed doors, built on new adobe walls with restoration mortar. This procedure allowed us to adapt modern features, such as a metal door, to ancient surfaces without causing any damage on stone walls, adobe structures, or gypsum surface.
In the second campaign, once we understood the major questions to be dealt with, the team initiated the archaeological excavations in the tombs of Henenu (TT 313) and Ipi (TT 315), with a larger group of specialists (6 members). One of the fundamental goals was the excavation of the large courtyards in the two funerary complexes. Despite the fact that the Mission of the Metropolitan Museum of New York had worked previously in the area, the courtyards had not been completely excavated and published. We considered this task as a very significant step in the comprehension of the site and work consistently in these areas since then. Both tombs show large courtyards with enclosure walls and a small chapel in the entrance into each complex (at least Henenu, probably Ipi as well), with subsidiary tombs and mummification deposits in the surroundings.
In the funerary complex of Ipi, the work of the second season concentrated on the cleaning of the descending corridor into the sarcophagus chamber and the excavation of the latter. Outside, our work progressed with good pace, above all in the western area where the enclosure wall of Ipi run down the hill in parallel to another wall that belongs to the tomb to the west. In the complex of Henenu, meantime, archaeologists located the small adobe chapel discovered and excavated in 1910-1911 by the famous British archaeologist Howard Carter.
The third season would bring interesting surprises. After only three days of work, the entire team had to modify the original plans, compelled by the discovery of the mummification deposit of the vizier Ipi in the eastern sector of the upper section at the courtyard. The remains of the vizir’s mummification (wrappings, jars, tools) were deposited in this small chamber. The discovery of a human’s mummified heart, probably belonging to the vizier, caused great surprised and will no doubt become a significant question to be examined. In addition, in Ipi’s courtyard we continued with the excavation work at the eastern sector and cleaned the subsidiary tomb of Meseh, where the famous Letters of Heqanakhte appeared. In the last days of the third season we completed the excavation of the entire upper section of the courtyard. In the following season (2018), we shall work on the medium section of the courtyard, a sector of the complex with a pronunciated bending of the slope.
In the inner section of the tomb, it was decided that the archaeologists would leave the conservators to continue working on the restoration of the sarcophagus since they were taking longer than expected. With the exception of the epigraphic and conservation works, no task was conducted in the sarcophagus chamber at that point.
Meantime, in the funerary complex of Henenu, the initial archaeological works for cleaning, planimetry, and preliminary study of the various chambers and shafts in the tomb offered some interesting evidence. Multiple fragments of reliefs with painted and carved hieroglyphs and iconography were found, registered, and examined. A preliminary analysis revealed that they originated from various stelae and, at least, a large sarcophagus, which might have belonged to the royal steward Henenu.
The fourth season was conducted in the last days of March and the full month of April 2018, although due to some bureaucratic issues half of the team members could not initiate their work until the third week. This matter refrained us from initiating some of the important work we wanted to develop, but working even on the weekends (with the permission of the inspector and the kind diligence of our workers) was much helpful to catch up with the planned work.
In general, the season ran with normality. In the area of the northern hills of Deir el-Bahari, in the funerary complex of Ipi (TT 315), archaeologists continued working in the mid-section of the courtyard, aiming at cleaning the eastern sector for the next campaigns since there are several subordinated structures needing much study in the area. In addition, the field director in this area, Mohamed Osman, focused on the wastern section to complete the cleaning of the complex wall, associated with the next tomb wall. In that way, he would count with more data to interpret the relative chronology of our complex in relation to the surrounding structures, including the nearby western tomb. Meantime, in the tomb of Henenu (TT 313), archaeologists continued working in the outer section of the complex, excavating down the hill in the mid-section of the courtyard without new findings. Although we were expecting to find a mummification deposit –a common feature in the upper courtyard sections of these complexes in the early Middle Kingdom–, we will have to wait to see the rest of the courtyard to answer some of our questions. As for the excavations conducted in the eastern section of the necropolis at Deir el-Bahari, the head of these works, Sebastian Falk, has completed the cleaning of debris and sand from the corridor of tomb E1, and we hope to continue excavating the inner sections of this structure in 2019 or 2020. Finally, for their protection, we have conducted some architectural studies and 3D digitalization of the tombs of Dagi (TT 103) and Djari (TT 366) at Asasif; in the case of the tomb of Djari, we have covered and protected the funerary garden found in this complex by Herbert Winlock in the 30s.