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The Leiden-Turin Excavations at Saqqara

Update : March 2020 Directors: Dr. Lara Weiss and Dr. Christian Greco Deputy directors: Dr. Daniel Soliman and Dr. Paolo Del Vesco

From 1975 to 1998 the joint mission of the National Museum of Antiquities (RMO, Leiden) and the Egypt Exploration Society (EES, London) excavated over 10 elite tombs in the New Kingdom necropolis south of the pyramid of Unas, dating from the time of Akhenaten to the early Ramesside period (dynasties 18-19, c. 1350-1200 BCE). In 1999, the role of the EES was taken over by the department of Egyptology of Leiden University and 6 further tombs were found. Since 2015, the project’s main partner is the Museo Egizio of Turin. From 2017, the project is also supported by a generous grant of the Dutch Research Council under supervision of Lara Weiss (click here for more information).

Apart from the original aim to contextualize tomb fragments and statues in the RMO, the excavations exploit the abundance of the archaeological data at Saqqara to investigate the underlying conceptualisation of the necropolis. Research looks at patterns of spatial/chronological distribution, of offering cults, of access and communication, of architectural and iconographic design, of social status, of demography and of reuse in later periods to reveal the dynamics in various subsystems of the Egyptian culture. News about the excavations is published on the museum websites RMO and Turin and on a website created and hosted by the supporting society, the Friends of Saqqara.

The RMO and the Museo Egizio in Turin have worked together since 2015 to excavate an area of the Saqqara necropolis. The research team uses new documentation techniques, like 3D mapping in cooperation with the 3D Survey Group of Politecnico di Milano, in order to get a clear overview of the long history of use of the necropolis. The 3D model on the left shows the different archaeological layers in the area directly north of the tomb of Maya, where the expedition has worked since 2017. 

Research history

Among the most important finds were the tombs of Horemheb (1975), Maya (1986), and Pay (1994) - all of them high officials of king Tutankhamun - and Meryneith (2001) and Ptahemwia (2007), who served under king Akhenaten. In 2011, the site was opened to visitors, following an extensive site management and consolidation project. Several galleries dating back to the Early Dynastic Period (c. 2800 BCE) and found under the tombs of Maya and Meryneith are currently studied by Dr. Ilona Regulski. In 2017, professor Maarten Raven finalized his work in the sector south of the tomb of Meryneith and decided to retire as a field director after 43 fruitful years. Dr. Christian Greco continued his work as field director together with Dr. Lara Weiss with Dr. Paolo Del Vesco and Dr. Daniel Soliman as deputies. After almost two generations of excavations, the scope of research was broadened and new accents set. The project now emphatically investigates Saqqara’s 3,000 years long history as a cemetery. Fieldwork now strives to expand the scope of investigation to include the whole range of human activities that took place in this area in various phases of the ancient, as well as of the more recent, Egyptian history, and to look at the “life” of the necropolis according to a more holistic perspective. The area north of the tomb of Maya and Merit had never been excavated before, providing an excellent opportunity to test new research questions and make a fresh start with a largely renovated team.

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