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REPORT ON THE WORK OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE THEBAN MISSION 1996

Nigel Strudwick

[click on the small images to see the full photographs]

In summer 1996, the Permanent Committee of the Supreme Council for Antiquities granted permission for a mission from the University of Cambridge to continue Epigraphic, Clearance, and Conservation work in Theban Private Tomb 99, that of Sennefer or Senneferi.

I should like to thank Dr Aly Hassan, Principal Secretary of the SCA, his predecessor Prof. Dr Abd el-Halim Nur ed-Din, and all members of the Committee for agreeing to the request for permission to work in Thebes. In particular I am grateful to Dr Mohamed el-Saghir, Chief Inspector of Upper Egypt, and the staff in Abbassiya for enabling this permission to be carried out. In Luxor, I am indebted to Dr Mohamed Nasr, Director of the West Bank, and Mr Nour Abdel Ghaffar Mohamed, Chief Inspector of the Central area, for their assistance. The inspector attached to the Mission during the season was Mme Hanaa Moursi el-Dessouqi; she rendered us an immense amount of assistance and contributed very much to the success of the season. I also wish to thank our reis Baghdadi Diab Ittahir for organising our workmen so efficiently.

Financial support was generously provided by the British Academy, the Gerald Averay Wainwright Fund for Near Eastern Archaeology, and the Thomas Mulvey Egyptology Fund.

The Mission was in Egypt between 5 November and 28 December 1996. The staff of the mission consisted of Dr Nigel Strudwick (Field Director), Mrs Helen Strudwick (Archaeological Director), Dr Pamela Rose (Ceramics Specialist), Miss Julie Dawson (Conservator), and Miss Lynn Meskell and Miss Alison Gascoigne (Archaeological Assistants). Other commitments and illness prevented the other members of the team granted security clearance from coming to Egypt.

The work of the mission this season consisted of epigraphy, conservation, study of finds from previous seasons, and clearance. Here is a sketch plan of the tomb.

EPIGRAPHY AND DOCUMENTATION

The making of drawings of the paintings in the tomb continued the work in progress since 1992. There were two main aims: to ensure that all the scenes and texts, including many isolated and hard to read fragments, in the passage and rear room of the tomb were copied and collated, and to begin work on the paintings in the front hall which have been cleaned as part of the conservation programme. Both aims were successfully realised. Several passages of text left in an incomplete state by the tomb painters, and now very faint, were successfully copied. Two scenes in the front hall were also copied, namely a procession of men and horses returning from Senneferi's visit to Lebanon (4 on plan), and an enigmatic scene on the right-hand wall in the front room (5 on plan). This latter scene after cleaning proved to show two pairs of Syrian men and women standing in towers on a fortress-like building with their arms raised in adoration, while above them flies a pair of birds . This scene seems to be unparalleled in tombs of this date at Thebes.[1]

Detailed plans of the walls in the front wall of the tomb were also made, to document the position of the surviving scenes, and also to illustrate the remains of plaster and evidence for construction methods. These plans will also be used as the basis for attempts at paper reconstructions of the possible original decorative programme of the tomb.

STUDY OF THE ARCHITECTURE

Making the wall plans allowed us to study how the walls were cut and prepared for decoration. None of the red masons' marks often found in Theban tombs have yet been found in TT99. The walls in the front room of the tomb do not appear to have been damaged as a result of robbery of areas of painting, as there are none of the tell-tale cutting marks from chisels and saws which usually accompany such depredations; it seems likely that the plaster became detached simply due to the failure of the bond with the rock surface. The cutters of the tomb chiselled the rock surface reasonably flat, but in some places faults and other imperfections in the rock meant that there were holes which needed to be filled before the final surface plaster could be applied. Examination of the walls indicates that areas such as these were filled in with a moderately coarse lime plaster, into which small pieces of limestone were embedded to provide a more solid surface than would otherwise have obtained from a large mass of plaster.

Examination was also made of the facade and the possible superstructure. The latter is discussed below under Archaeology. In the centre of the facade, above the entrance door, and just below the point where the stone of the facade may have changed into mud brick, is a small niche. This niche is very roughly made, bordered with thinner pieces of the same roughly shaped pieces of limestone as used for the facade. It is very irregular in shape, and the following dimensions are only very approximate: the dimensions at the front are a height of 0.5 m, and a width at the top of 0.45 m and at the bottom 0.27 m. The depth is approximately 0.63 m, and the height at the back is 0.35 m and the average width 0.25 m.

CONSERVATION

The following is written by Julie Dawson:

This season conservation work was undertaken from 2-18 December. The work concentrated on continuation of the condition report and emergency stabilisation of the paintings according to the parameters set out in the report of the 1995 season, and also the cleaning of the paintings in the front room. Covers placed over shafts A, C, and E made access easier this year; however very limited time and the availability of only one conservator necessarily restricted the amount and type of work which could be undertaken.

In the rear room, condition surveys of walls 13, 14, 16, 17 and Pillar B were completed and accessible areas of detached plaster and flaking paint were secured, using Plextol B500[2] (meth ods as described in 1994 and 1995 reports). In the last season Japanese tissue covers had been placed over fragments of painting low down on wall 16 to protect them during excavation of shaft C. To allow documentation of the paintings these covers were now removed by application of acetone to the spots of Paraloid B72 adhesive[3] which held the tissue to the surrounding rock.

In the passage, small areas of ceiling plaster which seemed to be in imminent danger of falling were secured.

In the front room, the condition documentation of wall 6 was finished, the cleaning of wall 4 (described in the 1994 and 1995 reports) was completed and work begun on the surviving small fragment of painting in the corner of wall 5/6. This is very damaged, especially by the presence of a mud insect nest. The painted surface is extensively lost around the area of the nest and the remains of the mud cells of the nest obscured important features of the scene. Fragile edges of damaged paint layer were consolidated with 50:50 Plextol B500:water. Poultices of either Laponite (synthetic colloidal clay) or Arbocel BC 200 (highly pure cellulose pulp) combined with water and applied over an intervention layer of Japanese tissue were used to soften the mud without wetting the paint surface. The softened mud was then gradually pared away. This cleaning will be completed in the next season.

To enable documentation in this season of the ceiling text above Wall 7, this area of ceiling was cleaned with a Wishab (dry vulcanised latex) sponge after completion of a condition report and the laying of some areas of flaking paint.

In addition to the work on the paintings, six small pieces of inscribed linen were relaxed by humidification (method described in 1995 report) and packed for storage. The wooden face of a coffin (probably 25th dynasty) was also treated . The face, made from a single piece of wood, is covered by a layer of painted plaster. Three wooden securing pegs penetrate the depth of the face and project behind. The face is cracked in several places and there is some old insect damage, but otherwise the wood is in a sound condition. The entire surface was covered by a dense mixture of mud and straw up to a centimetre thick in places. This was carefully removed by mechanical methods. As the mud was removed extensive old losses of the painted layer on the top and sides of the head were revealed. Insecure pigment and plaster bordering the lost areas were secured with 50:50 Plextol B500:water preceded by an application of white spirit to prevent staining of the paint by the adhesive. The conservation of the head will be completed in the next season.

STUDY OF FINDS FROM PREVIOUS SEASONS

Small finds (Nigel Strudwick):

The month of November was given over to the study of the finds from the five shafts in the rear room of the tomb. These finds were sorted and divided into groups by the type of object, and each group was then studied individually, and some preliminary photographic documentation made to enable research to continue back in Europe.

Evidence discovered so far for the dating of these five shafts suggests a range from the second half of the 25th dynasty to the first half of the 26th dynasty. The name of Shabaka has been found on a number of objects, and some mummy bandages were located with a date of year 10 of that king, thus permitting one of the burials (of the priest Wedjahor) to be placed in approximately 705 BC.[4] A seal impression bears the title and name 'the priest of Amun-Re in Karnak, Psamtek' , which name is unlikely to be found in Thebes before the middle of the reign of Psammetichos I.[5] The following are notes on the principal groups of objects.

About 50 different types of shabtis have been identified, made from silt, clay, and faience. Attempts were made to join as many of the broken fragments as possible to ascertain how many discrete examples of each survive. Eight types have survived in over 100 examples; although these quantities are short of the standard 365 examples said to be buried with their owners from the later New Kingdom onwards, it is quite possible that some sets were composed of shabtis of more than one type.[6] Theft will account for the loss of a number of other examples. Only one type bears the name of the owner, Neshathor; 280 examples of this shabti survive, along with 34 of the overseer shabtis. The remainder of the shabtis are small and undecorated. There are no reasons why they should not date to the 8th-7th centuries BC as indicated above.

Work on coffins was only preliminary, but among the 14,000 fragments it was possible to identify large wooden box coffins, within which were placed plain or decorated inner coffins, some of wood and others made of cartonnage. Fragments of a number of wooden statuettes of falcons and jackals which adorned the large box coffins have also been identified, and one jackal was reassembled. Further pieces of coffins bearing the names and titles of the priests Wedjahor and Horempe, whose families seem to have been buried here, were also located, and the style of the material points firmly to the 25th dynasty. It is hoped that Dr J.H. Taylor will be able to assist our further study of this material.

A small but attractive collection of samples of decorated mummy linen was identified. The fabric and manufacturing techniques of these examples have been documented, along with the patterns of the decoration. Amulets examined consisted mainly of flat figures of the four sons of Horus which were sewn onto the mummy wrappings or incorporated into bead nets placed over the mummy, along with winged scarabs. A small number of other amulets which were placed on the mummy were also found. Other objects examined included mummy braces, sealings, and parts of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures, shabti boxes and canopic jars. In addition to their intrinsic interest, the quantification of all these types of material will also enable the development of estimates as to the number of individuals buried in the shafts.

A number of objects were found from the later occupation of the tomb. As expected, there was a certain amount of material from the modern habitation of the tomb which only ceased in 1907. Fragments of glass bracelets probably date to either the late roman or the islamic periods; in the case of the latter, one suspects they are earlier than the rest of the habitation material. A number of ostraca bearing coptic writing date to an earlier period of use for habitation.

It was hoped also to examine the human remains, but the illness of a colleague prevented Dr Waldron from being present. It was also our intention to study further the objects which have been registered and stored in the magazine, but access to magazines is presently prohibited until inventories are completed. It is hoped that this work will be accomplished next season.

All of the material found is consistent with that of the 25th-26th dynasties, and I am convinced that all the five shafts at the rear of the tomb were cut and burials effected in them at different parts of that time span. It is clear that in the course of robbery the material originally in individual shafts was mixed with that from other contexts, making it much harder to ascertain the original location of many of the objects found.

The Pottery (Pamela Rose)

This season' s work saw the completion of the basic recording of the ceramics from the shafts in the rear room of TT99. This consisted of pottery excavated after my departure last season from Shaft D Room 2, Shaft C, and Shaft C Room 1. The pottery was sorted into broad chronological groupings ('Recent', 'Late Roman' and 'Pharaonic') and within these into fabrics, each of which were weighed for comparative quantitative study. From this, it is possible to say that Shaft D Room 2 had suffered relatively little 'recent' disturbance, although some late Roman material was located within the room; the vast majority of the pottery, which included substantial parts of some of the reconstructed vessels, belonged to the Late Period (see below),. The fact that many of these sherds were large and well preserved (i.e. had not been reused as scrapers, were not discoloured, and the breaks were relatively clean) suggests either that their breakage was relatively recent, or that this material had not suffered much disturbance after its original smashing. The pottery from Shaft C contained abundant 'recent' pottery in its upper levels, although little was found in the lower part or in Room 1. Late Roman material was found throughout the shaft, and in Room 1. Of the earlier, Pharaonic material, there was little to suggest the presence of smashed vessels amongst the sherds, and it is not possible to make any deductions about the date of the original burial in the chamber. No unequivocally 18th dynasty pottery came from the contexts examined this year.

As the pottery from the rear room was examined, sherds from identifiable vessels were removed, labelled as to provenance, and bagged separately, as had been the practice during the previous season. As a result, sherds from well over 30 different vessels have been distinguished, and a start was made this year on repairing some of them. The major pieces reconstructed were three Phoenician amphorae, two of which were inscribed, perhaps in non-Egyptian scripts, and two large red slipped siltware jars, as well as a number of smaller bowls. All the reconstructed vessels have been drawn. Single sherds, i.e. vessel fragments which do not form part of reconstructable vessels from the material found-in the shafts in the rear room of the tomb, were put aside if diagnostic and chronologically significant. Altogether a total of 61 drawings were made during the season, concentrating primarily on material from the Third Intermediate and Late Periods.

One of the interesting points to arise from this season's work is the widespread scattering of sherds belonging to individual vessels throughout the shafts, and often also the rooms at the bottom of the shafts. Whilst there has not yet been time to look at this in detail, it is clear that in very few cases were one vessel's sherds confined to a single shaft; in the most extreme example, sherds of one of the Phoenician amphorae (V6) came from every shaft and every chamber. In this case, it is clear that large chunks of the vessel had been used as scrapers, presumably during one of the robbings of the shafts, which may account for its particularly far-flung distribution. This problem will, however, cause considerable difficulty if one wishes to assess which vessels may have come from which burial.

As yet it is only possible to assign provisional datings to certain of the vessels reconstructed this season, and further research will be needed. From a rapid assessment of parallels, however, it seems that the Phoenician amphorae are to be dated to the period between circa 800 BC and the early 6th century BC.[7] The red slipped siltware jars can also be attributed to the 8th and 7th centuries BC,[8] although similar vessels occur into the 6th century at the royal cemeteries of Nuri in Sudan.[9] A number of other types can be paralleled from 25th dynasty contexts at Medinet Habu. In general, the 'Late Period' types drawn this season can most easily be equated with Jacquet-Gordon's ceramic Complex CIIA, which she thinks 'coincides approximately with the beginning of the Saite period (although some [types] have been identified at a slightly earlier date)', and runs through to the Ptolemaic period.[10] The TT99 complex appears to be missing material of her Complex CIIB, which is found from the 30th dynasty onwards.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL WORK

Clearance work (Helen Strudwick)

Archaeological work was restricted to the exterior portions of TT99.

The courtyard is cut into the angle of the hillside, and extends from the facade of the tomb, approximately 11 m wide, an unknown distance towards the edge of the hill. The exact dimensions cannot be determined until excavation is complete.

In the previous season, two trial squares had been investigated to a depth of c. 25cm below ground level, revealing a circular mud oven. Before commencing excavation this season, a datum point was established in the north corner of the courtyard. An area either side of the tomb chapel doorway, each measuring 4 m x 10 m, was excavated down to bedrock in 2 m squares.

The debris filling the courtyard was found to vary in depth from approximately 1.05 m to approximately 1.35 m. In general, the debris revealed several floor deposition levels, consisting of areas up to 6 cm deep of straw and chaff, and between them the material was mainly powdered limestone and sand, with occasional areas of more silty material.

In the northeast half of the courtyard, the remains of a structure were found (squares 5-10) abutting the northeastern wall of the courtyard, with walls made of rough stone, one or two stones thick. The whole extent of this structure has not been uncovered but its approximate dimensions, as at present are 5.6 m x 3.9 m. The interior has a floor made of compacted mud. As excavated, it was found to be full of large stones, presumably the remains of upper parts of the walls, and bindings similar to those used in the roofing of latter day field-shelters were found, suggesting that it once had a roof. Also found inside were a large quantity of bird coops, hatcheries, and possible grain silos all made out of sun-dried mud. Built into the north corner, on the inside, was a small stone construction identified by our workmen as a manger. On this evidence, as well as the very crude construction of the structure, we would identify it as an animal shelter, perhaps latterly used for storage and bird rearing. The structure seems to rest on bedrock, but this will be confirmed only after the floor has been removed next season. In the centre of this floor is a depression which is not covered by mud. In this area, the ground level is certainly lower than the surrounding areas.

In the southwest half of the courtyard, immediately to the south of the doorway, the remains of a mud brick structure were found at a depth of 25cm below the surface, at approximately the same level as the oven found in the previous season. Although only portions of the first three courses of mud bricks were found, it is clear that this was much better made than the animal shelter, having walls plastered with a fine mud plaster.

The tops of two shafts have been revealed in this area. The more western example is c. 2.8 m x 2 m and the eastern one is c. 3 m x 1.4 m in area. From the evidence of the baulk section of squares 11 and 13 there is clear evidence of trenching in this area down to bedrock, although there has been approximately 20cm undisturbed deposition above the trench. The portions of the well-built mud brick structure in this area had been destroyed during the trenching. One must assume, then, that this shaft has been excavated relatively recently. The evidence for previous clearance of the eastern shaft is less clear cut, although it is clearly highly unlikely that it remains undisturbed. These may be the shafts cleared by Mond in this courtyard in 1903, about which relatively little is known,[11] but there is also a possibility that another shaft lies in an area yet to be cleared.[12]

On both sides of the courtyard, at the very bottom of the facade, were found traces of what seems to have been a fine plaster, possibly containing gypsum, with traces of paint on it. It is not clear how far up the facade this might have extended. This requires further study, but perhaps indicates the presence of a original plaster floor with a continuation onto the facade.

Excavated finds from the courtyard were dominated by pottery. Approximately 500 kg of sherds were excavated which appear, on cursory examination, to be Roman and Medieval in date. Apart from a few objects of earlier date, most notably a corner of a false door in rose granite, finds were clearly associated with the recent habitation in the area.

In addition to work in the courtyard, a rough trench was made across the area above the tomb, running parallel to the facade. Work in this area is very difficult because the rock is extremely badly broken up, and one runs the constant risk of debris falling down into the courtyard below. We had expected to find possible traces of a superstructure in this area, possibly of mud brick, but no evidence for this was found.[13] However, a large number of pieces of gypsum plaster, painted with decoration in a style indicative of the Thutmoside period, were found here. The structure in which they originated can only be guessed at, but it is not impossible that they are part of the dump from an excavation of one or more of the tombs above TT99.

The position of the tomb has now been plotted into the map of this area of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna being prepared by the German Archaeological Institute. At the end of the season, the areas excavated in the courtyard were secured by protective walls, and the likely locations of the shafts were covered over for reasons of security. Wooden covers were made for four of the five shafts inside the tomb for the safety of visitors and those working inside.

Material found (Nigel Strudwick)

A total of 1,076 objects was recorded from the courtyard in 1996. This number is relatively low in comparison to the quantity of material found in the shafts inside the tomb in previous seasons. The pottery is an exception to this, totalling at least 500 kg in weight; it has yet to be studied, but would appear to date from a wide range of periods, the majority belonging to Dr Rose's 'Late Roman' and 'Recent' categories (like the material from the tomb shafts above). The other objects can be divided into three basic categories: those from habitation of the tomb, architectural and decorative elements, and elements of tomb assemblages.

Habitation material includes items ranging from reuse in late roman times (such as a number of small coptic ostraca and fragments of glass bracelets), through other bracelet fragments of islamic date and ottoman smoking pipes, to pieces of modern cloth and paper. This has much in common with that found inside the tomb, although the quantities are larger.

Funerary cones composed the majority of the architectural and decorative elements. Of the 58 stamped examples recovered, 35 certainly bore the name and titles of Sennefer.[14] Only one further cone type was found in a quantity of more than 2 examples, Davies-Macadam Corpus 93, of which 16 were recovered. The name of the owner of this cone is uncertain, but seems to end in -nefer. As the titles on the cone are nearly all found in the tomb,[15] it is tempting to identify it as originating in TT99, although no positive evidence for this identification was found, despite it being possible to improve the reading of some parts of the impression.[16] Other objects in this category recovered include a small number of unidentifiable relief fragments, the top left corner of a pink granite false door which could just possibly have its origins in the tomb chapel, and part of the torso of a granite statue of a woman.

A small number of elements of tomb assemblages were discovered: some shabtis, a small amount of mummy bandage, beads from bead nets, and a few coffin fragments. Some of the shabtis could be linked with those from the shafts, but many were of new types, and in small numbers, which may be either from the shafts in the courtyard or be completely intrusive. This material seems to be exclusively of the Third Intermediate Period, and thus no traces of 18th dynasty interments have still come to light.

These finds indicate that thus far the courtyard contains a miscellaneous mixture of all types of material associated with most of the phases of use of the tomb. There is some evidence of contamination with material from the shafts inside the chapel, but it is not significant, tending to confirm the view that the material from those shafts, when cleared by robbers, did not spread much beyond the rear room of the tomb.

CONCLUSIONS AND THE FUTURE

The 1996 season of work in TT99 was very successful, and the results obtained should make it possible to produce a reasonable estimate of the final form of the publication in the course of 1997. The study season enabled an overview to be gained of the immense amount of fragmentary material excavated inside TT99, and this work has largely been completed, with the exception of work on coffins and human remains. The clearance of the courtyard and superstructure, while not yet complete, enables us to estimate with some degree of accuracy the amount of time needed to complete those parts of the work. The only remaining uncertainty is the amount of work which will be necessary to clear the shafts in the courtyard.

If sufficient funding, time, and appropriate personnel are available in 1997, it ought to be possible to complete the fieldwork in the tomb in another season of 2-3 months' duration, a significant part of which would be spent completing the clearance work. I sincerely hope that it will be possible to go back into the field with the aim of ending work in TT99 by Christmas 1997.

© Nigel Strudwick, February 1997


NOTES

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1 The only scene with something in common is in TT42, showing a fortress with Syrians adjacent to it (Norman and Nina de Garis Davies, The Tombs of Menkheperrasonb, Amenmose, and Another (Nos. 86, 112, 42, 226) (TTS 5, 1933), pl. xxxvi, p. 30-1).

2 Plextol B500 is a dispersion of ethylacrylate (60%) methyl methacrylate (40%) in water.

3 Paraloid B72 is an acrylic copolymer (ethyl methacrylate:methylacrylate 70:30).

4 N. Strudwick, 'The fourth priest of Amun Wedjahor', GM 148 (1995), 91-4.

5 I should like to thank Dr M.A. Leahy for this estimate.

6 Compare a shabti box from TT80, which contained 199 examples from no fewer than three different moulds (Abdel Ghaffar Shedid, Stil der Grabmalereien in der Zeit Amenophis' II., untersucht an den thebanischen Gräbern Nr. 104 und Nr. 80 (AV 66, 1988), 185, Taf. 67).

7 R. Amiran, Ancient Pottery of the Holy Land (Jerusalem 1969), 241-249.

8 D.A. Aston, Egyptian Pottery of the Late New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period (Twelfth-Seventh Centuries BC) (SAGA 13, 1996), 76, fig. 221.

9 A.L. Kelley, The pottery of ancient Egypt: Dynasty I to Roman times (Toronto 1976), Pl. 91.13, 91.14. Cf also Aston, loc. cit.

10 H. Jacquet-Gordon, 'From the Twenty-first Dynasty to the Ptolemaic period', unpublished paper written in 1975 for An Introduction to Ancient Egyptian Pottery.

11 'Report on work done in the Gebel esh-Sheikh abd-el-Kurneh at Thebes January to March 1903', ASAE 5 (1904), 101-2; 'Report of work in the necropolis of Thebes during the winter of 1903-1904', ASAE 6 (1905), 87, fig. 21, 22.

12 Cf F. Kampp, Die thebanische Nekropole (Theben XIII, 1996), 370.

13 It is likely that the niche in the facade described above, of a size capable of holding a small stela or stelaphorus statue, served broadly the same function as the pyramids of the ramesside epoch (cf Kampp, op. cit., 70, 109).

14 N. de Garis Davies and M. F. Laming Macadam, A Corpus of Inscribed Egyptian Funerary Cones (Oxford 1957), no. 154.

15 In particular, the epithet r shrr tA r Dr.f, also found on the east face of the northern pillar in the rear room of TT99, is restricted only to high ranking officials (A.M. Gnirs, Militär und Gesellschaft (SAGA 17, 1996), 103). The characteristic title of Sennefer imy-r sDAwty is perhaps to be reconstructed at the bottom of the penultimate column of this cone.

16 The stamp itself was larger than the end of the cone, and thus some examples bear the impression of the lower part of the stamp and some the upper. Two fired bricks bore the whole stamp. Some imperfections in the original stamp are indicated by the consistent illegibility of certain groups of signs.

© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2014