I+D National (2017-2020)

Ministry of Universities – I+D Project HAR2017/84505-P

Middle Kingdom Theban Project: archaeology, epigraphy and conservation of late

Eleventh Dynasty and early Middle Kingdom tombs

in Thebes (Luxor, Egypt)


The present I+D+i project, entitled “Proyecto Reino Medio Tebano”, aims at the examination, understanding and rewriting the history of early Middle Kingdom Egypt (2050-1900 a. C.), a period traditionally considered “classical” in the field and extremely influential in the later pharaonic history. Despite its importance, this period has not been intensively analyzed and there is some lack of information regarding its origins. Since the initial excavations in the area at the beginning of the 20th century (e.g. Howard Carter, 1910-1912; Herbert Winlock, 1920-1930), the academia has accepted –as well-founded interpretations– a series of patterns and models in the early Middle Kingdom that are poorly known or uncertained. These patterns have determined our understanding of history, ideology, and intelectual production in the period, and need to be reconsidered. The innovative architecture, the emergence of literary compositions, and the advent of new religious traditions in Thebes originated in a situation of political conflict (end of the Eleventh Dynasty) and configuration of a new state (early Twelfth Dynasty). At this point, culture, ideology, society and beliefs adapt to a new situation with the aim of consolidating and unifying the country. In this sense, the I+D+i project and the MKTP aim at contributing to rediscover the

true origins of this Middle Kingdom and study adequately the history, culture and society of the period.

The work of identification and study of textual, archaeological and iconographic sources for this period is challenging, but this project has been designed with the necessary specialists and resources to face this task. The research team and advisory board of this project, based at the University of Alcalá and headed by the PI, Antonio Morales, constitute a competent team to develop this project involving historical, archaeological, and philological research.

The UAH archaeological expedition to Deir el-Bahari plays a fundamental role in the development of the project. This expedition aims at excavating, documenting, studying, and publishing several Middle Kingdom tombs in the necropolis of Asasif and Deir el-Bahari in Thebes (Luxor). The project includes a series of tombs dating to the Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties (ca. 2050-1900 a. C.) that are located in the northern hills of Deir el-Bahari and in Asasif, including the tombs of the vizier Ipi (TT 315), the royal treasurer Henenu (TT 313), the vizier and royal majordomo Dagi (TT 103), the overseer of the king’s harem, Djari (TT 366), and the archer Neferhotep (TT 316). The monuments of these high officials from Thebes are a critical source of information for the reconstruction of the political, cultural, social and religious circumstances in the Middle Kingdom. In addition, the incorporation of the archaeological materials discovered by the UAH expedition to the conducted research implies an unparalleled access to unpublish primary evidence from the Theban necropolis.


Based on the lack of sources associated with the early Middle Kingdom at Thebes –at least up to the transfer of the capital to Itjy-tawt and El-Lisht– and the expedition capacity to access primary unpublished material, the project distinguishes four fundamental areas of research:

a) State and provincial administrative structure at Thebes in the late Eleventh Dynasty and early Twelfth Dynasty. Only a few studies focusing on the administration and elite at the end of the First Intermediate Period and the early Middle Kingdom

have dealt with fundamental questions such as the order and chronology of the most prominent individuals in the state and provincial administration at Thebes during this period and their impact on the state configuration experienced under Amenemhat I and his successor, Sesostris I. One of the main lines of research shall focus on the administrative structures at Thebes, in particular through the textual and archaeological evidence, considering the tomb owners, their titles and roles in the local and state administration.

b) Origin and function of biographical, wisdom, and literary compositions.
A second area of research within the project shall consist on the examination of the earliest forms of biographical texts, wisdom compositions, and literary works in the early Middle Kingdom. Thus, researchers might work on the relationships between these works and and their antecedents from the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period, and identify common themes (power, authority, morality, individuality) and forms, on the other.


c) Adoption and adaptation of religious tradition in the composition of new corpora.
In the process of unification of the country, according to the current bibliography, Mentuhotep II Nebhepetre adopted previous religious corpora, mainly consisting on mortuary texts from the northern tradition (Memphis, Herakleopolis) and anew compositions from Middle Egypt (Bersha, Beni Hasan, Meir), more accessible to the provincial high echelons. The latter constitute the Coffin Texts, and became a novelty in the late Eleventh and early Twelfth Dynasty burials

at Thebes. However, it seems plausible that the Theban culture were exposed to the older traditions reflected in the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts prior to the unification of the country by Mentuhotep II by means of textual transmission during the First Intermediate Period.

d) Tradition and innovation in art and architecture
The archaeological excavation and detailed examination of the Theban Middle Kingdom monuments have revealed the necessity to deepen our knowledge on the architectural forms occurring in the necropolis prior to the reign of Mentuhotep II, mainly in the necropolis of provincial governos and “southern kings” in El-Tarif. Despite previous studies, the reassessment of the precedent architecture styles and features seems useful in the comprehension of the Middle Kingdom Theban monuments.

Members of the I+D National

  • Manuel F. Carrillo Rodríguez (University of Alcala)
    Carlos Gracia Zamacona (University of Alcala)
    Wolfram Grajetzki (University College London)
    Jochem Kahl (Freie Universität Berlin)
    Juan Carlos Moreno García (CNRS, Université Paris IV-Sorbonne)

  • Ludwig Morenz (Bonn Universität)
    Leire Olabarria (University of Birmingham)
    Jónatan Ortíz García University of Alcala;)
    Kei Yamamoto (Hill International)
    Antonio J. Morales (University of Alcala, PI)