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At the end of XIth or at the beginning of XIIth Dynasty, one of the successors of Mentuhotep Nebhepetra (Mentuhotep Sankhkara? Mentuhotep Nebtauira? or Amenemhat I as suggested by Dorothea Arnold?) started building his mortuary complex at Western Thebes, in a valley behind Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, known in Egyptology as the Third Valley or The Valley of the Last Mentuhotep. This project, perhaps planned as resembling the tomb complex of Mentuhotep Nebhepetra at Deir el-Bahari, was never finished. Remains of the terrace with some constructions, including the royal tomb (TT 281), are preserved in the southern part of the valley. They were excavated by Herbert Winlock in 1921. It is not clear whether the ruler was buried in the tomb. Some of his officials, however, who located their tombs in the slopes of hills surrounding the valley, were buried there, the best known one being Meketra (TT 280). Two of the officials hewn their tombs in the small hill south of the royal complex. They must have been two of highest nobles since their burials are the two closest to, and on the right-hand side of the king resting in his eternal residence. These tombs, named MMA 1151 and MMA 1152 were many times reused after the Middle Kingdom, and in 6th-8th centuries AD they were the site of a Coptic hermitage. 

Since 2003 this site is under research by the Polish Archaeological Mission at Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, directed by Tomasz Górecki from the National Museum in Warsaw. Till 2015 the work concentrated on excavation and research of the Coptic hermitage. Remains of mudbrick constructions were unearthed, including a storeroom/refugial tower in front of the tomb. Among the finds there were thousands of amphorae and objects of craftsmanship made by monks, but also parchment and papyrus books with oldest Christian texts.

The richness of the material from the hermitage, as well as other circumstances, caused that research of the Pharaonic remains, and especially the substructures of the tombs, had to be delayed. Finally, however, in February 2015 the project of research of Pharaonic structures and objects started, led by Andrzej Ćwiek from the Adam Mickiewicz University and the Archaeological Museum in Poznań, deputy director of the mission, assisted by Patryk Chudzik from the University of Wrocław. 

During the excavations made at the site of MMA 1151 and MMA 1152 in 2003-2014 were found many artefacts dated to the Pharaonic period, either belonging to interments in the tombs (mummies, fragments of coffins, funerary figurines, offering pottery, amulets), or brought from outside by the monks with the purpose of re-use (funerary cones to be used as stoppers for amphorae, fragments of stelae to make floors, wood for fire or as material for crafts, etc.)

At last, after twelve years of work in the hermitage, the time has come to go down and check, what is at the bottom of the shaft of MMA 1152 excavated partially by somebody (archaeologists? robbers?) in the 20th century. It was not Herbert Winlock, who excavated in 1921 the shaft and burial chamber in the neighbouring tomb MMA 1151. Writing on MMA 1152 in his notes, Winlock stated only: 'pit undug. French concession'. However, at some point later, somebody (French mission at Deir el-Medina?) excavated the shaft down to almost 18 meters, leaving no published record of these activities.

The team excavating in February and March 2015 the shaft of MMA 1152 directed by A. Ćwiek, included Arkadiusz Ostasz, conservator with engineering and climbing skills, who invented and organized a safe and efficient system of exploration of underground structures, and Marta Kaczanowicz, student of archaeology at the Adam Mickiewicz University, documenting the finds. To explore the shaft safely and efficiently, a special construction of wooden beams was built over the mouth of the shaft, for protection and as a support for special devices aimed at vertical transport of people and material. Climbing equipment of the latest generation was used, and everybody working in the room was secured by harnesses and lines.

The shaft is over 18 meters deep and its section is 3.5 x 2 m. 

At its bottom, a sloping corridor opens that leads for some 4.6 m to the beginning of another shaft, to be explored in the next season. In 2015 the team started removing the fill of the lower part of the shaft and the corridor starting at its bottom. The debris was pulled up in special leather sacks and then transported outside the tomb on wheelbarrows. Sieving enabled finding even smallest items. Typical finds from the bottom of the shaft included pottery, pieces of sandstone, granite tools, fragments of mud-bricks, pieces of wooden coffins and cartonnages, linen, and human and animal bones. 

Faience beads, fragments of faience amulets and small clay shabtis dated to the Third Intermediate Period come from secondary burials in the tomb, the question if it was used for its original owner’s burial in the Middle Kingdom is still open.

A highlight of the season 2015 was the discovery of a fragment of linen with remains of text written in ink. Two columns of the text contain cartouches of Ptolemy XII, the right-hand column starts with the name of Isis. Most probably it was a velum, i.a. a veil for the sacred image, in the temple of Deir el-Medina.

Ptolemy XII Auletes’ activity at Deir el-Medina is well attested. To his reign is dated the decoration of the gate. Probably rebuilding and embellishing of the temple was also an occasion for donation of items of ritual equipment, including linen veils. This may explain the cartouches and the name of the goddess.

The linen was found by Coptic monks and brought to the hermitage. Most probably they tore the small 'dirty' part of the linen, using the rest as a sheet or cloth. By their fortunate activity (cf. T. Górecki, 'It Might Come in Useful'. Scavenging Among the Monks from the Hermitage in MMA 1152, Etudes et Travaux XXVII (2014), pp. 129-150), a rare ancient Egyptian object has been preserved. 

 

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Polish Archaeological Mission at Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, Egypt works under the auspices of the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw, in cooperation with Adam Mickiewicz University.
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... Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw
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Adam Mickiewicz University,
Poznań, Institute of Prehistory
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