From the field

Those of you familiar with the Penn Museum know that we have a lot of ongoing research projects, not all of which are based here at the museum. Since the museum was founded, it has supported and initiated archaeological excavations around the world, and this work continues today.

In fact, we have a team out in the field right now – Egyptian Section Curator Joe Wegner recently headed back to the field with a small team of graduate students to continue his work excavating in Abydos at the mortuary complex of Pharaoh Senwosret III.

Excavations underway in Abydos

Excavations underway in Abydos

Excavation of a tomb in progress

Excavation of a tomb in progress

Abydos is located 300 miles south of Cairo and is the cult site of Osiris, king of the afterlife and god of the netherworld. It was a place of pilgrimage and considered sacred throughout Egypt’s 3000 year history. The Penn Museum excavations there are focused on the classical phase of the Osiris cult during the Middle Kingdom (Dynasties 11-13, ca. 1050-1650 BCE) and has concentrated on three principal areas: (1) the subterranean tomb of pharaoh Senwosret III; (2) the mortuary temple and associated structures dedicated to the cult of Senwosret III; and (3) the urban remains of the Middle Kingdom town at South Abydos.

Senwosret III built the first hidden royal tomb there, abandoning the pyramid form and setting the stage for the later hidden tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

During the last field season, Joe’s team completed the construction of a cover building over the entrance to the tomb of Senwosret III. There are double iron doors to the left side, which lead down iron stairs set above the ancient mud-brick stairs down into the tomb.

The new tomb covering over the entrance to the tomb of Senwosret III (this photo was taken before the covering was plastered and painted to blend into the surrounding desert).

The new covering over the entrance to the tomb of Senwosret III (this photo was taken before it was plastered and painted to blend into the surrounding desert).

So far this season the team has been busy. One project is the continued excavation of newly-discovered tombs – one of which can be seen in the image below. In the photo, you can see the sloping passage which ends in a blocked doorway. It is evident that the tomb robbers who originally emptied this structure entered through the vault in the center of the image. To the right of the image is where the next chamber lies, through another door and down, and more excavation is required to enter this area of the tomb.

tomb 2_1One interesting feature of this tomb is that it seems that whoever made the bricks signed their work by impressing two fingers into the top of the wet mud before the brick dried (seen in the image below). Only one, seen in the center of image, has a single dot.

tomb 2 bricksThe team is also searching for fragments of artifacts which may help to indicate the date of this, and other tombs. I will continue to provide updates as they make new discoveries!

Special thanks to Kevin Cahail for sharing information and photos from the field.

Featured object series: falcon mummy

What’s to see in the Artifact Lab?

This is the first in a series of posts describing objects undergoing conservation treatment In the Artifact Lab.

This object appears to be a mummified falcon.

Mummified falcon, before treatment.

I say “appears to be” because we cannot be certain that there is a falcon, or any animal remains for that matter, under the wrappings. In Ancient Egypt, it is known that in addition to mummifying animals, “false” animal mummies were made-from the outside they look like they contain an animal but on the inside, there may only be a bundle of mud and straw, or just a bone or two, or some fur or feathers. These false mummies could have been made to deceive the buyer, but they may also have been made when there was a scarcity of that particular animal, and may have still been considered complete offerings.

Animal mummies were created for a variety of reasons-this article by Salima Ikram, the first in a recent issue of AnthroNotes published by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, summarizes the topic well, putting them into 5 categories: pets, food, sacred, votive, and “other.” The article explains that, yes, some animals were mummified because they worshipped, but many were mummified as offerings to specific dieties, and others because they were considered beloved pets.

This falcon mummy may have been created as an offering to the god Horus. It was excavated from Abydos in 1914 through the Egypt Exploration Fund (later Egypt Exploration Society) through financial support of the Penn Museum. Although the museum’s records do not include a specific date, it is likely that it dates to the Late or the Graeco-Roman Period-many animal mummies date to this time and the decorative linen wrappings seen on this object were popular during these periods as well.

This mummy is elaborately wrapped with strips of natural and dyed linen and details on the head and face are outlined in a brown/black paint. While the mummy is generally very well preserved, it is currently unstable because the head/neck area is partially detached and the linen strips at the feet are in poor condition-some are completely detached.

After fully documenting and researching this object, conservation treatment will include light surface cleaning, stabilization of the head/neck, andĀ stabilizationĀ of the wrappings as needed. A storage/handling support has also been created to allow the mummy to be studied without needing to directly touch the object. This work will also allow the mummy to be safely x-rayed and/or CT-scanned. We will post updates on this object as we uncover more details and begin the treatment!