Busy with documentation and conservation of finds from TT 414

Meanwhile, we finished our first full working day of the Ankh-Hor Project in 2019. All worked out perfectly, working spaces, tents and tables were set up and documentation and conservation commenced today.

The nice and very spacious tent allows our large team of conservators a comfortable shady working space protected from the wind. Cleaning and consolidating coffins from TT 414 started with important pieces dating to the 30th Dynasty, including one quite complete inner coffin which belonged to a lady with the name Asetemakhbjt.

Mona and Cajetan documented various objects today, including pottery and funerary cones as well as coffin fragments.

I myself started re-organising the magazine further, still hunting for joining pieces in our large jigsaw puzzle – and really found some already today: more pieces joining one of our Roman coffins, hurray.

All in all, the next weeks here in Asasif will be exciting and of course busy – the 2019 season of the Ankh-Hor Project really started off very promising!

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End of 2018 season: summary and outlook

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Our first, quite short season just ended yesterday – the magazine in the Asasif is sealed and closed again, some of the team members are already back in Vienna and Munich, three of us arrived this afternoon in Cairo and will leave in the next days.

Altogether, the first season was very successful and all goals were achieved. The focus was on documenting coffins and other objects from the long use-life of TT 414. More than 80 drawings were produced by Patrizia and Mona, comprising small finds (mostly Ptolemaic faience shabtis with texts bearing the names of their owners), wooden objects including a beautiful Ptolemaic Ptah-Sokar-Osiris statue and pottery (complete pottery vessels and fragments, mostly Ptolemaic from the re-use of TT414, but also some Saite vessels from the original phase of use).

In addition to these drawing, 360 objects were photographed in very high resolution with a full-frame camera by Cajetan. These objects were primarily coffin fragments, fragments of wooden shrines and boxes and again shabtis. With these new photos suitable for publication, most of the objects are now fully documented.

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The conservation work was successfully started thanks to cooperation with the Austrian Archaeological Institute.  Daniel Oberndorfer joined the project in the field and managed to get a first general overview of the material, its needs and specifications to develop a program for cleaning and consolidation. Conservation work focused during the 2018 season on wooden objects, especially on coffins and fragments of shrines and wooden statuettes (Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures). It mainly comprised of consolidation and mechanical cleaning.

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A total of 23 wooden and painted objects were successfully cleaned, consolidated and photographed. Drawings of some selected pieces are planned for the next season. With the data and experience from the 2018, a larger-scale conservation programme can be designed for the next years, considering the individual properties of the material from TT 414. Conservation work will be the main focus of the upcoming seasons.

Related to this, I managed to reorganize the magazine according to priorities. The majority of the material still to be studied is the large amount of coffins – more than 180 coffins within the magazine are currently entered in our database, several dozen are still missing.

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Besides sorting the material regarding their state of preservation and thus the need of consolidation as well as of scientific importance (datable pieces, pieces of well-known persons buried in TT 414 etc.), the focus of this working tasks of the 2018 season was to find matches between the fragments preliminary registered under “K-numbers”. This proved very time consuming, but also quite successful – 16 new matches to registered coffins from the “K-numbers” were achieved. Furthermore, four newly identified registered coffin fragments can be noted and five additional parts to fragmented coffins were documented.

The importance of this search for joints, which will continue in the next season, can be illustrated by the examples of a new fragment of coffin of the daughter of Ankh-Hor and a newly identified black-and-yellow style Ptolemaic coffin as the outer coffin of a singer with the name Ta-net-Geb. More new names were noted on various fragments and still have to be added to our genealogical data and processed in detail.

The rich prospective of the detailed work on the complete set of finds from TT 414 became very clear during the 2018 season. But, in order to achieve major results and to support preliminary ideas with further evidence, work must continue in the near future and is planned for a next season in spring 2019. Large amounts of coffins, fragments of coffins and cartonage from the Late Period to Ptolemaic and Roman times still remain to be cleaned, consolidated and restored – and will for sure bring to light more new information about the use of the tomb of Ankh-Hor throughout the ages.

Group picture 2018

My deep thanks go to all team members for their enthusiasm for the project and making 2018 a great season! The photo gallery gives some impressions of all the various tasks achieved and also of how much fun we had working on this really interesting set of diverse objects. Of course, work would not have been possible without the support of the Egyptian authorities and especially of the local inspectorate on the West Bank; I am very grateful to a number of people, first of all to our inspector Zeinab Mohammed Elsayed for enabling us to work according to the working programme.

Looking already much forward to come back to Asasif next year! Updates about our processing of the data collected in 2018 will of course follow.

A complex jigsaw puzzle

We’re making very good progress with documenting the objects from TT 414. After the general cleaning at the beginning, we are now focusing on wooden objects and here in particular on coffin fragments. More than 200 coffins/coffin fragments were registered during work in TT 414. Some of them are in very good state of preservation, but the majority urgently needs consolidation.

Seminal work on the coffins from TT 414 was conducted in the 1970s by Elfriede Reiser-Haslauer who registered all the coffins and documented the texts and decorative programmes (see Reiser-Haslauer 1982). However, it goes without saying how much effort this meant during excavation, with new pieces coming in and various tasks at one time. The Austrian team did a great job back then, but at that moment detailed studies and especially the cleaning and consolidation of the coffins were not possible.

This is where our project steps in – aiming for a reconstruction of the phases of use of TT 414 and its burials, we now focus on details and a revised prosopographical study (cf. Budka/Mekis/Bruwier 2013; Budka/Mekis 2017). At this stage, quite a number of registered coffins are still scattered within the magazine, without indication of find location or find number – the big challenge is therefore reconstructing all joining pieces for one object and identifiying small fragments. Some joints were also not noted back in the 1970s, simply because of the large amounts of finds.

Identification

Today, we can built upon the original documentation and photos by the Austrian mission – also small fragments can be identified, although it is quite a time-consuming task requiring sometimes luck and of course always patience. With two new joints of important pieces today, I am really satisfied!

Our work resembles a big and quite complex jigsaw puzzle – but all efforts are definitely worth it, not only because of the high quality of the pieces and their significance for contextualising funerary customs in Late Period and Ptolemaic Thebes, but also because previous work in the magazine has shown that unexpected finds might show up during consolidation work – Book of the Dead papyri and mummy labels were found in the study seasons 2007-2009 (see Budka 2010). The material from TT 414 definitely still holds much potential for surprises!

References

Budka, Julia and Tamás Mekis 2017. The Family of Wah-ib-Re I (TT 414) from Thebes, Egypt & the Levant 27, 219‒240.

Budka, Julia, Tamás Mekis and Marie-Cécile Bruwier 2013. Re-use of Saite temple tombs in the Asasif during the early Ptolemaic time – the tomb group of Mw.t-Mnw from TT 414, Egypt & the Levant 22/23, 2012/2013, 209–251.

Budka, Julia 2010. Ankh-Hor Revisited: Study, Documentation and Publication of Forgotten Finds from the Asasif/Thebes, in: Fifth Central European Conference of Egyptologists. Egypt 2009: Perspectives of Research, Pułtusk 2009, ed. by J. Popielska and J. Iwaszczuk, Acta Archaeologica Pułtuskiensia, Pułtusk, 23–31.

Reiser-Haslauer, Elfriede 1982. IX. Genealogisches Register, in: Manfred Bietak und Elfriede Reiser-Haslauer, Das Grab des ‘Anch-Hor, Obersthofmeister der Gottesgemahlin Nitokris II, UZK 5, Vienna, 267–284.