Closing of the 2021 season

Times flies by – we worked in the Asasif from September 16 to October 14, 2021, closed the mission last Thursday and are now back in Germany and Austria.

All set for the transport of our boxes with coffins to the study magazine!

As one of the highlights of the 2021 season, the transport of three fragmented coffins from TT 414 to the study magazine on the West Bank was realized on October 13. These are two early Ptolemaic coffins and one 26th Dynasty coffin, all of them lower parts of wooden anthropoid ones. All three were fully consolidated and documented during our mission.

Three lower parts of coffins from TT 414 and a box with fragmentary statues, shrines, stelae and coffin boards was transported to the study magazine.

Each of these coffins shows very special features – I especially like the base of Reg. No. 656, owned by the temple singer Aset-em-Akhbit III. The back pillar of her coffin is decorated with a Djed-pillar and a sun disc.

The colourful base with the back pillar of Reg. No. 656.

Although the composition as a whole is appealing, the individual strokes and proportions, especially of the ram horns below the feather crown, show signs of a very quick execution. Since several family members of Aset-em-Akhbit III were buried in TT 414 and are also attested by wooden coffins, we will compare the style of coffin painting on Reg. No. 656 with contemporaneous coffins. Tracing specific Ptolemaic coffin workshops based on the material from TT 414 is one of the future goals of the project.

Much material and many new data were collected in the last weeks and will keep us busy post-processing the very successful 2021 season!

Summary of week 3: more than TT 414

A very busy and successful week just came to an end – more team members have left today, and we will finish off the 2021 season in a small group with one more week to go!

We started into the week with a very pleasant and productive visit by my dear friend and colleague Salima Ikram. We have been working together on some embalming deposits this season for the South Asasif Conservation Project. Salima kindly passed by to have a look at the black goo – bitumen and resin – in the interiors of our coffins from TT 414. One lower part of an anthropoid Ptolemaic coffin was particularly interesting.

Salima and our “beetle coffin”.

A number of beetles were stuck into the resin/bitumen – did they enter the coffin together with the mummy? According to Salima, these are darkling beetles, Pimelia nilotica in Egypt. Since these feed on animal (and human) tissue, it is indeed likely that they entered the coffin when the mummy was put there, presumably before the funerary ceremony when the pouring of the black goo took place. However, many questions are still open, and we cannot exclude a reuse of this coffin and a more complex story behind the “coffin beetles”. This is even more true since we documented smaller fragments of lower bases of coffins with similar findings – less well preserved, but also with clear remains of beetles stuck to the resin in the coffin.

The focus of this week was preparing the coffins and other objects which we will transport to the study magazine of the Egyptian authorities next week. Here, one particular challenging piece is the once beautiful 26th Dynasty coffin of Psammetik-men-em-Waset, Reg. No. 591. He bears the same name like one of the brothers of Ankh-Hor, but belongs to the family of Nes-Menw which is closely related to the family of Ankh-Hor. Maybe the owner of our coffin was the grand-nephew of Ankh-Hor, making his coffin set of an inner anthropoid coffin and a qrsw-coffin extremely relevant for understanding late 26th Dynasty tomb groups. The piece we are currently working on is an anthropoid wooden coffin with a layer of linen which was painted in white and decorated with texts in blue and green. Unfortunately, the linen was almost completely detached from the wood and the painted layer has suffered much in the last decades in the provisional storage place.

Our team of conservators is still busy with consolidating this important piece from TT 414.
Many challenges in the conservation tent: the painted linen/cartonnage of the 26th Dynasty coffin in the front, the undecorated 25th Dynasty Kushite coffin in the back.

However, this week was also occupied with documentation work of coffins which were not found in TT 414 and are dating to other periods than the 26th Dynasty to Ptolemaic times. One of them was a poorly preserved 25th Dynasty wooden coffin of an anonymous Kushite lady found in Tomb VII – one of the most important findings within the Austrian concession with intact burials of Kushites (for details see one of my earlier articles). The coffin fully consolidated this season was found in burial chamber 3 together with three infant coffins and one painted and inscribed coffin of a Kushite male with the name Irw.

In situ situation in Tomb VII of the Austrian concession with a pile of Kushite coffins (after Budka 2007), including the one of an anonymous female consolidated this year.

Another important find from the Austrian mission was made in 1971 in one of the Middle Kingdom shaft tombs in the bed of the causeway of Thutmose III. It is a complete, undecorated Middle Kingdom rectangular coffin which was a big challenge to photograph. Cajetan managed to put the piece together and assembled the coffin box with the help of some external supports for photography.

Last, but not least, several new joints to Ptolemaic coffins from TT 414 were made this week based on new infrared photography. One of my favourite pieces belongs to a woman with the name of Mutirdis – we knew already some fragments of her lid and side boards, but I managed to identify three additional pieces from the pedestal and foot part. Like it is the case for several other Ptolemaic pieces, reconstructing this beautifully decorated coffin will clearly take another season but is full of potential!

One of the newly identifed pieces of a Polemaic coffin of Mutirdis.

For now, I am very happy and thankful to all the team and looking forward to our last week which will focus on consolidation work and reorganising the space within the provisional magazine.

Summary of week 2 of the 2021 season

We just finished another successful week of our 2021 season. Cleaning, consolidation and documentation of small finds, ceramics, shrines and wooden coffins from TT 414 continued.

Consolidation of Reg. No. 702, the coffin of Imhotep.

Among other things, work focused on the lower part of a Ptolemaic painted wooden anthropoid coffin. This coffin, Reg. No. 702, was found in the debris of the original burial chamber of Ankh-Hor. It belongs to a priest of Amun in Karnak Imhotep, called Padiaes. His family is well-known, and he was one of the grandsons of the famous Padiamunnebnesuttawy I, founder of the reuse of TT 414 in the 4th century BCE. For me, it is still puzzling that until now, we only have Imhotep’s coffin preserved and nothing else. Because of the intact state of the lower part of this coffin, this is quite surprising. I am still hoping to find some cartonnage pieces belonging to Imhotep and after the field season, I will also check museums and collections in Europe – maybe part of his funerary assemblage was removed from the tomb in the 19th century by the antiquities dealers.

His coffin is now fully consolidated and documented. Cajetan took great pictures with our full-frame camera and we also used my infrared camera for the text and decoration. The results for this piece are amazing – the painted figure of Imhotep is now clearly visible as are the other figures and texts! The footboard of this coffin shows a very unusual design with an important text excerpt from an Osirian liturgy – this was previously unknown, and I will come back to this in a later blog post. Really exciting!

Unprocessed infrared photo of footboard of Reg. No. 702 with kneeling figure of Imhotep.

Just as an example of the progress I am making in sorting the finds in the magazine, I found another joining pieces for the important coffin Reg. No. 661. In 2019, I was already extremely happy to find more parts of the lid of this painted coffin. This week, I finally located one of the missing pieces from the foot board, showing a motif from the Litany of the Sun.

This piece of Reg. No. 661 was newly identified and already consolidated.

All in all, so many new details, joining pieces and new personal names came up already in our first two weeks of the 2021 season that I will be more than busy processing all this data after fieldwork!

Since some of the 2021 team members will be already leaving back home to Munich respectively Vienna tomorrow, I must thank all the 2021 team: everybody did a great job, it has been a fantastic season so far and I am very happy that we still have two weeks to go! Numerous pieces of our large jigsaw puzzle are still waiting to be correctly placed and interpreted.

 For some impressions of our current season, please also have a look at the photo gallery.

We proudly present: first tests with infrared photography

Back in 2018, the conservator of the Austrian Archaeological Institute, Daniel Oberndorfer, made some tests with infrared photography with very good results. In the case of painted coffins with stains on the surface or simply darkened surfaces, the original decoration became visible again. Sometimes these stains are also caused by bitumen applied to the surface. And since the pouring of bitumen above the coffin and the mummy was very common in Ptolemaic times, this seemed like a suitable way to deal with our large set of material from TT 414.

For the 2021 season, I therefore purchased a second-hand Sony Cybershot DSC-F828 camera. First tests with a magnet and the use of an IR-filter were extremely successful. The camera kit is also useful for landscape photography, site views turn out really nice – here is just a shot towards the mountain from our place of work.

But most importantly, for the wooden coffins, the photos are like magic and make things visible again! The decoration and the texts of some darkened pieces are much clearer and nicely readable. But also what appears as a “black coffin” because of its current surface, becomes visible as a formerly colourful piece completely covered with resin. The original JPGs and RAWs can be further processed and will assist us to fully document the design of the coffins from the tomb of Ankh-Hor.

I am very grateful to Daniel for introducing this new documentation method back in 2018 and super happy that I invested in my own new camera kit – the results are simply stunning! Especially for large fragments with important pieces of texts (and figurative panels) this will allow a fresh reassessment of the coffins from TT 414 – stay tuned for more very soon!

Summary of week 1 of the 2021 season

We just finished a first, very successful week of our 2021 season. We started off with cleaning, dusting, and sorting things and are now well underway to document small finds, ceramics, shrines as well as wooden and cartonnage coffins.

The painted coffins from TT 414 belong both to primary burials of the family of Ankh-Hor and to secondary burials of Amun priests, mostly dating to the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE, which appear as relatively wealthy. Most of the material derives from the secondary use of the tomb. I am still busy collecting fragments which can be dated stylistically and because of the technique to the 26th Dynasty – these are usually very small pieces, sometimes just small splitters of the painting.

Example of small fragments of 26th Dynasty coffins including a piece from the outer coffin of Ankh-Hor (bottom right).

These are nevertheless important to reconstruct the original burials in TT 414 – yesterday, I found one loose fragment of the foot pedestal of the outer coffin of Ankh-Hor himself. This foot part is in a very fragile condition and will be consolidated later this season, including fixing the loose fragments back in place. Among the most interesting finds is another 26th Dynasty coffin giving the female name of a Mutirdis – a common name in this era, but I still do not know to which specific person this coffin once belonged. During the Austrian excavations in the 1970s and 1980s, no Mutirdis from the 26th Dynasty was recognised in the material from TT 414 – another example why our current work is so important to understand the complete phases of use in the monumental tomb of Ankh-Hor!

Jessica working on one of the late Ptolemaic coffin fragments.

The Ptolemaic wooden and cartonnage coffins are much better preserved and are currently treated by our conservation team. Since 2018, our conservation programme is conducted in cooperation with the Austrian Archaeological Institute (OeAI) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. This year, our team is comprised of four young conservators, all graduates including one current student of the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. We are kindly supported by one of the experienced Egyptian conservators from the West Bank. The team finished already a considerable number of pieces in week 1 and these objects are now ready for their final photographic documentation with a full-frame camera with high resolution (Nikon D810 with a 35mm objective lens).

In terms of documentation, the Egyptologists of our team concentrate on ceramics and small finds. This week, Hassan and Patrizia were both busy with funerary cones. Patrizia, who is about to finish her PhD about Late Period statuary, wrote some years ago her BA thesis about funerary cones and thus shares my own enthusiasm for these intriguing objects which still pose some questions in the Late Period. Drawing these cones (among others funerary cones of Monthemhat, Padineith and Pabasa), Patrizia does not only focus on the stamped end but also on technical features, remains of colours and other details.

Although very challenging objects to draw, we love Late Period funerary cones! And Patrizia is doing a perfect job here.

Our youngest Egyptologist is Caroline, a MA student from LMU Munich. She is very talented and enthusiastic and started with drawing Late Period and Ptolemaic vessels. Later this season, she will join me working for the South Asasif Conservation Project.

Caroline very quickly adapted to our “drawing office” at the site and made already a good number of pottery drawings in her first week.

It is wonderful that the two sites, Ankh-Hor and South Asasif, share so many similarities in terms of re-use – Caroline will thus be perfectly prepared, knowing the most common vessel types already from our mission.

Today, the last team members will arrive, and we are all looking much forward to another exciting week starting on Saturday in the gorgeous setting of the Asasif in front of Deir el-Bahari.

Our conservation tent and a view to the Theban mountains.

All set for the 2021 season

Tomorrow will be the day: we will open the 2021 season of the LMU Ankh-Hor project. Not all members of the field season have yet arrived but will do so in the next days.

Thanks to much help by kind colleagues both in Cairo and in Luxor, I was able to get all paperwork done well in time. In addition, I joined the South Asasif Conservation Project directed by Elena Pischikova and started to work on the amazing amounts of pottery they unearthed in newly discovered tombs! I will continue to work in part-time for this mission and I am looking much forward to such an opportunity of a direct comparison between the South and the North Asasif. The parallels are really intriguing!

At our site in northern Asasif, we were already allowed to set up our beautiful conservation tent. Starting from tomorrow, this tent will be the centre of our conservation programme focusing on Ptolemaic wooden coffins and cartonages but including other painted objects as well.

We will keep you updated about our progress in the next four weeks!

Finally: preparing the 2021 season

After a long break because of the pandemic, it is finally happening again: we are preparing our next season for the Ankh-Hor project in Luxor, Asasif. Because of the covid-19 crisis, the season will be a bit shorter and the team smaller than originally envisaged – nevertheless I am very excited and happy to soon be back in Egypt! We will start by mid-September for four weeks. I also plan to join the South Asasif conservation project and document the new ceramics the team found this year and in 2020.

For the Ankh-Hor project, the goals of the 2021 season are to continue what was sucessfully started in the 2019 season: the large-scale conservation programme and our detailed documentation of finds from the tomb of Ankh-Hor (TT 414). A fresh team of young conservators, both students and graduates from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, will join us for the consolidation work. This season, we will focus besides the wooden coffin fragments also on a large number of cartonnage pieces of which many are still unregistered.

These fragments, covering a large time span and showing various styles and colouring schemes, will potentially reveal important prosopographic information on the persons buried in TT 414 starting from the 4th century BCE. My hope is that we can find new evidence on such cartonnage cases for the names of fathers or mothers of persons holding the same name (and sometimes the same titles) to identify specific individuals. There is no doubt that this will be again a challenging jigsaw puzzle and of course we will keep you updated about the process and the results.

More videos of the study day now online

By today, all presentations of our Study Day are now available as videos on LMU cast – for free of course.

Check out Veronica’s video!

I am especially happy that despite of the technical problems on October 12, we can now introduce the presentation by Veronica Hinterhuber about “The Theban cultic landscape in the Late Period”. This lecture makes it very clear, how much attention we always have to pay to the embeddedness of a necropolis into the general sacred landscape. And in Late Period Thebes, this is very evident.

Learn about creating 3D models by Hassan!

Hassan Ramadan Aglan nicely points out the potential of 3D models of Egyptian tombs – taking the tomb of Ankh-Hor as a case study, but also showing some examples from the tombs he studied for his PhD, located at Dra Abu el-Naga.

I hope these free videos are as well perceived as the Study Day!

Many thanks again to all presenters and also to all participants!

Videos of the study day of the Ankh-Hor project

The first study day of the LMU Ankh-Hor Project was successfully held online using Zoom last week. We were very proud and happy that more than 120 colleagues and friends from several countries in Europe, from Egypt and even from the US were joining us! Many thanks, this wide interest is much appreciated and means a lot to us.

Although there were of course some technical problems – no surprise – all participants remained patient with us and our programme highlighted the challenges, achievements and problems connected with the study of TT 414.

I received much positive feedback and also a number of very useful comments and advice – again many thanks for this! Besides the scientific benefits, it was also just very pleasant to see so many colleagues and friends one hardly sees in person in these challenging times!

As promised, all presentations will be accessible as videos on LMU cast – for free of course. For now, the lectures by Cajetan and Patrizia are already available, more will follow soon.

Check out the video of Cajetan’s presentation to know about our applications of photography!

Cajetan spoke about technical aspects and logistics connected with photography of objects from TT 414. He also gave some comparisons with different set-ups in Sudan as we experienced in the framework of the AcrossBorders project.

Interested in archaeological drawing? Patrizia’s presentation will give you insights in practical details!

Patrizia highlighted our technical equipment, both hard- and software, for archaeological drawings from a large set of different objects from the tomb of Ankh-Hor. She also introduced our latest purchase in terms of graphics tablets.

An upate with more videos will follow shortly! And for sure this was not the last study day of the LMU Ankh-Hor project.

Announcing the first online study day of the Ankh-Hor project

I am very proud to announce the first study day of the LMU Ankh-Hor Project which will run online using Zoom on October 12 2020. This online format has many advantages – participation is free and we hope to reach many people worldwide interested in Theban archaeology, the Late Period and Ptolemaic times and funerary customs. Participants may also attend just individual time slots – just have a look at the preliminary programme. Please note that registration is mandatory via: https://eveeno.com/109463542

The main aim of the study day is to introduce the lines of research currently carried out by the LMU project working on TT 414 in the Asasif, high lightening the potential of this monumental Late Period tomb for our general understanding of the Theban necropolis.

I am especially delighted that the excavator of TT 414, Manfred Bietak, will present in a key lecture the discovery of the tomb in the 1970s – an exciting excursion back in time!

TT 414 throughout the decades: from its scientific discovery in the 1970s to the 2000s.

Research on TT 414 continues to bring interesting and highly relevant findings to light – we very much hope that despite of covid-19, we will soon be able to work again in the Asasif. Join us all on October 12 for a virtual tour through one of the intriguing monumental tombs of the Saite period in western Thebes with a complex life history!