University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

The Shena of Senwosret at Abydos – Paul Verhelst


By: Anne Tiballi

September 19, 2016

Summer 2016 Penn Excavation Team. Front row staring from the left: Dr. Josef Wegner, Dr. Jennifer Houser-Wegner, Alexander Wegner, and Danny Doyle. Back row starting from the left: Molly Gleeson and Paul Verhelst. Photo by Dr. Jennifer Houser-Wegner.
Summer 2016 Penn Excavation Team. Front row starting from the left: Dr. Josef Wegner, Dr. Jennifer Houser-Wegner, Alexander Wegner, and Danny Doyle. Back row starting from the left: Molly Gleeson and Paul Verhelst. Photo by Dr. Jennifer Houser-Wegner.

For my fourth consecutive summer, I returned to Egypt to work on Dr. Josef Wegner’s project at the mortuary complex of Senwosret III, located within the ancient site of Abydos. As with previous seasons, I helped excavate around the Senwosret III tomb enclosure, which is part of a mortuary complex that consists of the tomb enclosure in the desert as well as the mortuary temple of Senwosret III and the town of Wah-sut near the floodplain. This summer also gave me the chance to perform some preliminary investigation into a possible dissertation topic related to the shena production area located between the mortuary temple and town within Senwosret III’s mortuary complex. The ancient Egyptian term shena can be translated as storehouse, labor establishment, or production area. Textual and iconographic evidence describe/depict the shena as a food production and occasional craft production area needed for an ancient Egyptian temple’s divine offerings. Fortunately, the mortuary complex of Senwosret III at Abydos preserves the archaeological remains of a shena, which has provided important information regarding the use of a production area in ancient Egyptian society.

Mortuary temple of Senwosret III on the left with the town of Wah-sut on the right, and the shena production area shaded in gray. Image from Wegner, The Mortuary Temple of Senwosret III at Abydos. New Haven: Peabody Museum of Natural History, 2007, pg 292.
Mortuary temple of Senwosret III on the left with the town of Wah-sut on the right, and the shena production area shaded in gray. Image from Wegner, The Mortuary Temple of Senwosret III at Abydos. New Haven: Peabody Museum of Natural History, 2007, p. 292.
A front (left) and side (right) view of a possible crucible fragment with copper slag melted onto it. The slag-covered crucible was found during the 2004 excavations of Dr. Vanessa Smith. A centimeter scale is included at the bottom of each picture. Photo by Paul Verhelst.
A front (left) and side (right) view of a possible crucible fragment with copper slag melted onto it. The slag-covered crucible was found during the 2004 excavations of Dr. Vanessa Smith. A centimeter scale is included at the bottom of each picture. Photo by Paul Verhelst.
While excavating the mortuary temple of Senwosret III and the adjacent area in 1994 and 1999, Dr. Josef Wegner uncovered architectural features and ceramics associated with baking and brewing as well as clay sealings, which revealed that some individuals held the position of “overseer of the shena” and “overseer of the shena of Senwosret.” These discoveries were the first indications of a production area associated with making offerings for the mortuary temple. Work in the shena production area continued in 2004, when Dr. Vanessa Smith excavated to the east of the mortuary temple for her dissertation research as a Penn graduate student. The excavations revealed clay sealings, which indicated that managing the shena was the responsibility of both temple and town officials, and produced archaeological evidence indicating the presence of both agricultural and craft industries in the shena production area.

Overall, these excavations show the purpose of the shena within the mortuary complex of Senwosret III at Abydos during the Middle Kingdom. As the ancient Egyptian architects were laying out the overall organization of the mortuary complex, they placed a production area between the mortuary temple of Senwosret III and the town of Wah-sut. While the mortuary temple served as a place for the cult of Senwosret III and the town served as an administrative center, officials from both the temple and town had oversight into the production, storage, distribution, and use of the goods produced in the shena.

So, how do I intend to further our understanding of the shena production area associated with the mortuary complex of Senwosret III? While we know that agricultural and craft industries operated in the shena production area, we do not know how the production within these industries was organized. Does the intensity of production for certain objects relate to full-time or part-time work? Was the scale of production on a small or large level? Did an object’s production concentrate around a single area of the shena or are there multiple areas related to a type of object’s production? Are all the industries in the shena attached to the mortuary temple of Senwosret III or are there some industries independent of the mortuary temple? These are only a few potential questions when looking at the factors that characterize the organization of production in the shena production area. Interestingly, aspects related to production organization were visible from the material recovered in the 2004 shena excavations. For example, the small amount of metal objects and metal byproduct called slag as well as the random locations of slag piles and some metal producing objects (like the possible melting crucible pictured above) indicate a small-scale, part-time production of metal objects that perhaps occurred in multiple places around the shena.

The shena production area looking east towards an elementary school, which now separates the shena from the town-site of Wah-sut. Photo by Paul Verhelst.
The shena production area looking east towards an elementary school, which now separates the shena from the town-site of Wah-sut. Photo by Paul Verhelst.

This summer gave me a few opportunities to visit the shena production area. The seemingly empty, sand covered area has been used to discard garbage, which is a common occurrence in the border areas between the floodplain and desert in Egypt and occurs at the nearby town-site of Wah-sut. Fortunately, only an elementary school has been built within the shena production area; however, it was built on the transitional space between the production area and the town. Unfortunately, the current condition of the area did not allow for a foot survey or test units this summer. Even so, visiting the shena production area this summer was a great motivation booster as I continue to do research and start working on a dissertation proposal now that I am back in Philadelphia. I hope that next summer I can return to the shena production area and start my dissertation research as I look at the industries and learn more about their production organization.

Ashraf, Abydos, and Egypt. Photo by Paul Verhelst.
Ashraf, Abydos, and Egypt. Photo by Paul Verhelst.

I will end my blog post with one of my favorite pictures that I have taken. On certain days at Abydos, the air is clear enough to give a great view of the green floodplain between the limestone cliffs that line the Nile River. On this particular day, I climbed the sand dune against the limestone cliff behind the tomb enclosure in order to get a picture of the Nile Valley. As I was on the dune taking pictures, Ashraf, who is a Qufti (foreman) with the excavation team, decided to get-in on the picture action. Ashraf’s photobomb produced one of my favorite memories at Abydos, and luckily, it was captured in a photo. I am not sure how easy it is to take a photo that includes the landscape of one of my favorite countries, the remains of my favorite archaeological site, and someone who is an all-around great person and friend. However, on this hot day in June, I was able to do just that, even if I did not know it at the time.

I would like to thank the donors of the Student Field Research Grant at the Penn Museum. Their continued support is much appreciated as it allows me to travel to Egypt and work on projects at Abydos.


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