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Saqqara Expedition

Curatorial Section


Research Discipline

  • Archaeology
  • Epigraphy


1995 - 2012

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The Pyramid complexes of the Old Kingdom were intended to perpetuate the immortality of pharaoh through continued rituals and offerings for the dead king.

To that end, funerary cults were established to protect and manage these royal estates whose products supported the operation of the cults. Some were short-lived, while others lasted more than hundreds of years, cared for by generations of devoted priests, many of whom chose to be buried nearby.

Location Information

Saqqara is the cemetery associated with the city of Memphis, the traditional administrative capital of Egypt which was founded in Dynasty 1 (3000-2800 BCE). Saqqara is located in northern Egypt, 22 mi/33 km south of Egypt’s modern capital, Cairo, on the west bank of the Nile.

Photo caption: Antiquities police heading to work at Saqqara.

Time Period Studied

At Saqqara, we work on a series of Middle Kingdom tombs and chapels. Most recently, our focus has been on the tombs of two Twelfth Dynasty (1938-1759 BCE) officials who served in the mortuary cult of King Teti of the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom (r. 2374–2354 BCE).

  • David P. Silverman, University of Pennsylvania
  • Jennifer Houser Wegner, University of Pennsylvania
Project Overview

Since 1995, the University of Pennsylvania Museum Saqqara Expedition has been working in the Teti Pyramid Cemetery concentrating efforts on a series of Middle Kingdom tombs and chapels constructed in this area of the necropolis.

In 2007, our expedition worked on the east side of the pyramid of the sixth dynasty king, Teti, in the south-eastern corner of the royal mortuary court. This work was a continuation of work the Penn Museum expedition undertook in 2004 and 2001 and is part of our broader long-term examination of Middle Kingdom Tombs in the Teti Pyramid Cemetery which we began in 1995 with work on the chapels and burial chambers of two Middle Kingdom officials, Ihy and Hetep, who had titles associated with the mortuary cult of the long dead pharaoh. Most recently, our work focused on the corridor and shafts associated with the burials of Sahthoripy and Sekweskhet, two additional Twelfth Dynasty (1938-1759 BCE) officials also serving in the mortuary cult of King Teti of the Sixth Dynasty (r. 2374–2354 BCE).

The corridor that leads to their above ground chapel extends south and slightly east and goes well beyond the enclosure wall of the pyramid complex. We concentrated on the intact shaft and the blocks that we determined derived from the chapel of Sekweskhet and Sahathoripy. Our last season had revealed architectural details and numerous painted relief fragments that clearly derived from a chapel dating to the mid-12th Dynasty. The style used on these wall fragments was similar to that used in the burial chambers of Sekweskhet and Sahathoripy. The different iconography and context, however, indicated that they derived clearly from an above ground structure. Our hope this season was to reveal as much information as possible about the chapels that originally lay just above the intact shaft we had found last season.

To maintain the safest methodology, we cleared this area from above, which allowed us to map the underground corridor system completely, discover more remnants from the chapel, and learn more about the types of chapels these individuals constructed for themselves. Some of the information derived from the 2007 season’s fragments includes titles similar to those found in the two burial chambers, a part of a biographical inscription (only found above ground), an associated false door, and a statue fragment. One relief fragment indicates part of the name of owner and the mother of the owner. The relief fragments show both raised and sunk relief, some of which is incised to a great depth, indicating that the chapels had both internal and external decoration. This data suggests that the chapels may have been similar in architectural style to the monuments of Ihy and Hetep, two other officials, who lived earlier in the 12th Dynasty, who chose burial on the north side of Teti’s pyramid. The large size of the hieroglyphic signs, the generous dimensions of the registers, and considerable proportions of the images in the reliefs suggests that this chapel may have been a good deal larger than those of Ihy and Hetep. There is also the possibility that the fragments may derive from more than one chapel.

During 2007 we cleared the area of the original stone-lined entrance shaft of Sekweskhet and Sahathoripi. This shaft is located beneath the south wall of the Anubeion. In order to define the shaft and any preserved features, we cleared a group of existing post-Roman period pits that cut through the center of the Anubeion wall. This allowed us to expose the upper part of the 12th Dynasty shaft which is constructed in the gebel below the Anubeion wall base.

The Anubieon wall is preserved to a height of ca. 8 meters and we found is constructed on a bed of debris that contains disturbed remains of burials (coffin fragments, skeletal remains, amulets and food offerings), as well as smashed limestone. The 2007 sondage through the wall shows that the Ptolemaic builders cut a ca. 10-m wide trench into which they poured a ca. 1.5 -2 meter deep leveling bed of loose debris that served as the base for the wall construction. The result is that pre-Ptolemaic structures that once stood in this area were largely destroyed and reduced to fragmentary remains in the leveling bed beneath the Anubeion wall base. These destroyed structures include the chapel of Sekweskhet/Sahathoripi which once stood immediately above the stone lined entrance shaft.

Although it was smashed by this later activity, many fragments of the relief decoration of the Sekweskhet and Sahathoripi chapel are contained in the debris beneath the Anubeion wall and also have fallen down into the subterranean shafts and chambers that post-date the Middle Kingdom, but pre-date the period of the Anubeion.

After clearing the pitted area above the 12th Dynasty entrance shaft, we conducted work on the underground area to the west of the Sekweskhet/Sahathoripi shaft. There we cleared a series of intrusive shafts and chambers. One major shaft measuring 2.5 x 1.5 meters was cleared entirely. In the debris in this shaft and adjacent areas we found significant numbers of relief fragments, which likely derive from the damaged chapel of Sekweskhet and Sahathoripi. The range of material, however, suggests the likelihood that a group of Middle Kingdom chapels once stood in this area on the south side of the Pyramid Temple of Teti. These chapels were abandoned and damaged in subsequent periods but can be recovered in the material at the base of the Anubeion.

We examined the system of interconnected shafts, chambers and passages adjacent to the Sekwskhet/Sahathoripi entrance shaft. The majority of these shafts are intrusive and date from the New Kingdom-Late Period. One shaft, however, is particularly important because it is empty and capped above by large blocks of limestone and granite. This shaft (located only 3.5 meters from that of Sekweskhet and Sahathoripi) is outside the area destroyed by the Anubeion wall and shows the probability of preserved architecture belonging to a Middle Kingdom chapel or mastaba which we hope to excavate in a future season.

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