In the winter of 1968 the staff of the Dra Abu el-Naga Project once more assembled in Egypt, for another season at Thebes. (A preliminary report on the project—with an explanation of our aims and an account of the activities of the first season—is published in Expedition, vol. 10, no. 2, Winter 1968.) I was the first to land in Cairo—on January 23—equipped with a brand new camera to record the progress of the varied activities we had planned. Immediately I set about completing preliminary arrangements for the resumption of work, and prepared for the arrival of the rest of the staff. I got in contact with the officers in the United States Interests Section of the Spanish Embassy who were authorized to release our Smithsonian grant, called on our friends in the office of the American Research Center in Egypt, went to Luxor to inspect the condition of the site, consulted with Professor Cerny, and began to accumulate essential supplies —most importantly, the solvents to be used in cleaning Tomb 35 (Bekenkhons). (Some of these chemicals are highly inflammable and could not be flown, so Miss Slater and I enjoyed a comfortable, day-long train ride, as we accompanied them through the towns and villages of the Upper Egyptian countryside on the way from Cairo to Luxor.)
After a few brief, cordial, pre-season meetings, our 1968 contract with the Egyptian Antiquities Service was successfully negotiated, and we were ready to set up field headquarters. We secured satisfactory working and living accommodations in the Habu Hotel at Medinet Habu on the west bank of the Nile, no more than fifteen minutes away from Dra Abu el-Naga. In addition to the convenience of its location, the hotel is comfortable and inexpensive, the food uncommonly good, and the staff very obliging: Ahmed Hasaan, the proprietor of the hotel, even made available to us one of his magazines for storage of our equipment and supplies. Our servant crossed to Luxor every day for mail, newspapers, and supplies. Freed from the delays encountered last year in traveling daily to and from the West; we had early breakfast, and worked at the site from 7:00 to 2:00, except for a half hour break at 9:30. Then we ate lunch back at the hotel, and had the rest of the afternoon and evening—before and after dinner—for relaxation, sight-seeing, personal work, record keeping, or preparations for the following day. Although fairly remote from the affairs of Luxor, we were by no means isolated. We were within easy walking distance of the Egyptian and German Egyptologists living near us, and it was not difficult to cross the Nile occasionally to go to the National Bank, do business with the Luxor City Council, purchase special supplies the selection of which could not be entrusted to the servant, and visit Professor and Mrs. Cerny and the staff of the Documentation Center’s houseboat, Chicago House, and our other colleagues in Luxor. (One night during full moon, we made the journey for a moonlight tour of Karnak Temple.) In turn we received many visitors, both professionally and socially, including Dr. Froelich Rainey, Director of the University Museum, and Mr. Ray Smith, Director of the Museum’s Akhnaten Temple Project (see Expedition, vol.10, no. 1, Fall 1967). We appreciate all our guests’ interest in us and our work.
The Habu Hotel is located just opposite the gateway to the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III, which gave us ready access to this well preserved monument for study and for viewing the surrounding countryside from atop its tall pylon; and the whole of the Theban Necropolis lay open to us for exploration on Friday, our weekly holiday. Toward the end of our stay there, the hotel became a depot for some of the props of a professional movie company on location for the filming of the story of the 1881 discovery of the Deir el-Bahri cache of royal mummies; consequently, we were able to witness at close hand some of the commotion and excitement so much a part of the production of a major picture.
Our presence alone at Dra Abu el-Naga would have sufficed to stimulate the local economy, simply by guaranteeing an income to the hotel and the merchants who supplied us. However, our contribution was significantly greater: because of the nature of the work we intended, we had to hire a body of local workmen. As many as thirty-seven men and boys were employed during the partial clearance of Tomb 157 (Nebwenenef), in addition to our special night watchman, stone-cutters and masons, carpenters and electricians, driver and servant. We began to train them, and prepared the reliable among them to form an experienced work force perennially. We cared for their welfare and saw to it that in spite of their natural reluctance they went to the doctor for treatment of the various wounds and afflictions which bothered them. (When one of our favorite workers was willing to go to the dentist in Luxor for extraction of a painful tooth, but was anxious about giving up a day’s pay to do it and unable to afford the small service fee anyway, we sent him at our own expense, lest he be disabled by a simple toothache.) Once we had selected our laborers, we were ready to get down to work.
We resumed collation of the Greenlees copies (see Porter and Moss, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings, vol. I, pt. 1, p. 61) of the texts in Tomb 35 (Bekenkhons), pursuing a schedule devised to promote maximum accuracy and completeness. According to this routine, an epigrapher first checks a collation sheet, making note of errors; after a second epigrapher has corrected the copy, together they must return to the wall to resolve any differences in their readings. The resulting version is compared to relevant parallel texts, such as offering lists, solar and Osirid hymns, ‘Opening of the Mouth’ scenes, and enumerations of titles; and significant variants arc reconfirmed. A final check will be made when the wall has been cleaned and repaired. Through painstaking epigraphy we have gleaned some information about the family of Bekenkhons. The name of his mother has so far been found preserved but once. It is quoted as Roma (see Porter and Moss, loc. cit.), presumably on the basis of the incorrect Greenlees copy. In fact, the mother’s name is quite different (see Seele, The Tomb of Tjanefer at Thebes, p. 6), and this Roma is none other than the father himself: the confusion derives from a rather elaborate misreading of the badly damaged original. Nor can it be doubted that Roma is elsewhere in the tomb designated High Priest of Amun (see ibid., p. 6). On another wall we recovered “his son the Adjutant of the Chariotry Hori, justified in the necropolis.” This inscription also is very difficult to read, and seems to have been overlooked entirely before.
It is perhaps of interest to remark here that Bekenkhons and his wife Mertseger are depicted in Tomb 158 among the relatives of the High Priest(?) (see ibid., p. 5) of Amun Tjanefer. They were the grandparents of Tjanefer’s wife Nefertari (see ibid., pp. 6-7 and pl. 17). Tjanefer’s son Amenemopet (Tomb 148), in his turn, was married to a daughter of the High Priest Ramessenakht (Tomb 293). Both Tombs 148 and 293, situated at Dra Abu el-Naga north, are largely unpublished, and it will be up to us to examine them in researching the family connections of Bekenkhons for the final publication of
our findings. It should be observed further on this point, as an indication of the general neglect which this part of the necropolis has received in the past, that of the four tombs of Ramesside High Priests of Amun of Karnak which are known at Thebes (see Engelbach, Annales du Service des Antiquites de l’Egypte, vol. 40 , p. 511), all four are at Dra Abu el-Naga, and all four remain unpublished. The fact that three of these lie within our concession serves to lend a certain urgency to our work and enhances its importance.
This season we undertook the cleaning and repair of Tomb 35. The procedure is twofold: the renewing of decoration long obscured by fire and smoke damage and the nests of mud-dauber wasps, and the consolidation of loose painted plaster in peril of falling to its destruction. This latter aspect of the endeavor involves replastering in holes and large cracks and around the broken edges of decorated surfaces and isolated fragments found still in place on the wall. (For some days we were distracted by an elusive mouse who nibbled at one of our sacks of burnt lime; we stalked him until we tracked him down and snared him.) Thus, though our short-term goal lies in affording the epigraphers one last opportunity to improve on their hand-copies of the inscriptions, readying the walls and ceilings to be given over to a draftsman to produce facsimiles of the scenes, and making photography practical, our broader purpose is to preserve the remains from further deterioration. After a little experimentation, our conservationist, Geoffrey Pearce, managed to adapt his methods to the particular requirements of the tomb, as he explains in the accompanying technical report. Chief among the major items of equipment acquired by the expedition this season—in addition to our electrical equipment—is a portable, adjustable, wooden scaffold, designed especially to facilitate this work.
To help control our method, we compared our own results with the modern cleaning and plastering in tombs we went to see on our days off. We discussed with Dr. Dieter Arnold and Dr. Jurgen Settgast of the German Archaeological Institute their conservation and reconstruction of the tomb of the General Antef (386), and were shown the progress of the Antiquities Service’s continuing struggle against corrosive salt crystals in the tomb of Queen Nefertari, the wife of Ramesses II. Considering the extensive damage suffered by Tomb 35 since its construction, the results of our cleaning have been very gratifying and certainly justify the undertaking. Legibility is generally much increased; and we have uncovered small, fragmentary, indistinct inscriptions, as well as additional individual signs of inscriptions already read. Colors emerge, and the detail of scenes becomes visible. Because of the possibility of accidental damage to the walls during cleaning, we prefer to postpone it until after the primary activities of collation have been completed. Our only major departure from this practice was in treating the high vaulted ceiling, whose surface is extraordinarily obscured, and upon which, by immediate cleaning, the most spectacular and unexpected discoveries have been made. With the exception of a few columns of inscription, the decoration of the ceiling had been concealed completely. Now we have found, besides many more columns and lines of inscription and ornamental patterns, elaborately painted scenes accompanied by brief notations which identify the deceased. One of these hieroglyphic labels contains a title alleging his authority specifically over all the priests of Upper and Lower Egypt. The claim is not so far corroborated in the tomb, but it is precisely this kind of meager documentation which will permit us to reconsider the career of Bekenkhons and attempt to ascertain the limits of his priestly prerogatives and pretensions.
Two other needs of Tomb 35 were attended to. First, we redesigned the modern doorway and modified its iron door and reinstalled it. We lowered the threshold to permit a maximum of reflected sunlight to penetrate the tomb, and improved its security by replacing the mud door jambs and threshold with constructions in stone and concrete. This precautionary measure was taken because our activities in and around the tomb inevitably attract the attention of modern tomb robbers, who might well covet a piece of its reconditioned decoration: in order to compensate for the greater immediate threat of surreptitious entry, we had to strengthen the tomb’s defenses. In removing the older doorway, we uncovered the beginnings of some columns of inscription which had been concealed by it even when Greenlees made his copies. Second, we cleared out the pyramid chapel of the tomb. Having noticed that the loose, dried earth lying inside on the floor contained bits of colored material, we dug partway into it and came upon traces of decoration fallen from the walls and ceiling. Inasmuch as this chapel is the best preserved one in our part of the site, we determined to rescue as much as we could of what was left of it. As we filled baskets with the dust and crumbled bricks to be hauled outside and dumped, we recovered many pieces of painted plaster and two inscribed fragments of a sandstone statuette of Bekenkhons. Before leaving, we also built a mud-brick blocking across the entrance of the pyramid, to prevent the incursions of man or animal during our absence.
Similarly, to free the carved and colored walls from the layers of dirt which enshrouded them and to find out what kinds of artifacts lay unknown within it, we carried out the partial clearance of Tomb 157 (Nebwenenef). Not the least of the contingent problems was the location of a dump for disposal of the trash displaced by us from its resting place of centuries: to be not too far distant from the tomb, and yet in an area already cleared and shown to be devoid of historical interest. The situation was complicated by the need for considering the wants and expectations of the villagers, whose life our work affects; but a suitable site was selected, to their eventual satisfaction. We removed from the tomb approximately half of the stratified occupation debris which had accumulated in it up to 183 centimeters above the lime-plaster and red-brick flooring of the broad-hall. This flooring, dated by the presence of the late pottery sherds set into it, is contemporary with the tomb’s reuse as a Coptic sanctuary. It was laid down directly upon the original rock-cut floor and partially covered over the lower traces of three Osirid pillars which once helped to support the ceiling. These three pillars—and perhaps a fourth, now preserved to a maximum height of only 30 centimeters—had already fallen down at that time, and at least two of them were replaced by limestone columns. One column base was standing in situ; and we identified the foundation cutting for a second and found a large fragment of one of the shafts and another stone architectural element bearing a cross. The mud-plaster filling in holes and cracks and over some of the relief decoration in the broad-hall seems likewise to date to this period. The piled up rubbish—containing ashes from fires, hard packed straw and manure from the stabling of livestock, and a heap of broken and plundered mummies which had been reburied along with a small animal, perhaps a kid—testifies to the continued habitation of the tomb after the Coptic building activity.
Of the objects so far recovered, aside from the fragments of the tomb itself, only one can be associated definitely with the burial of Nebwenenef: the fragment of a faience shawabti bearing his name. Among the other Pharaonic objects arc two broken, double seated limestone statues, one badly eroded with salt, the other uninscribed; a late, inscribed sandstone offering
table; a strip of linen inscribed with a single line of a late style of hieratic; mummy bandages with cursive hieroglyphic inscriptions; and several examples of three known funerary cones (see Davies and Macadam, A Corpus of Inscribed Egyptian Funerary Cones, types 21, 465, 549). Among the post-Pharaonic remains are four scraps of inscribed papyrus; a charred piece of Coptic painted wood, with a face drawn on it; a fragment of Roman mosaic glass; some strikingly painted pottery sherds; a single sherd with an ink graffito in Arabic; and some modern clay molds, along with a few of the faked antiquities produced in them.
A fragment of the finished sandstone facing of the walls of the forecourt has been found as far away as Medinet Habu, where it probably was taken for reuse soon after the completion of the tomb. (See Brundage, Notes on. Some Blocks from the Excavation of Medinet Habu,
unpublished University of Chicago Ph.D. dissertation, 1939, pp. 32-33 and p1. III. On March 9, while strolling among the miscellaneous fragments scattered about the grounds within the precinct of the temple enclosure of Medinet Habu, Miss Slater and I practically stumbled over this stone. Recognizing the original provenance of the piece, I marked its present location and made a hand-copy and photograph of it.) It is not, however, ancient stone plundering, but the clumsy and carelessly destructive assaults of modern antiquities hunters, which are responsible for the most unsightly scars that today disfigure the tomb. Before it was protected by a locked iron gate across its entrance, the tomb had long lain open, exposed to their wanton depredations. These villains have sometimes even cleared away the debris encumbering a portion of the wall from which they desired to hack out an attractive figure, or merely the head of a figure. But, fortunately, their resources were limited, and they were neither systematic nor thorough; much inscription and relief of high quality has been spared.
We completed the clearance of the lower part of the scene of Nebwenenef’s installation as High Priest of Amun in year 1 of Ramesses II (c. 1304 B.C.) (see Sethe, Zeitschrift fur agyptische Sprache and Altertumskunde, vol. 44 [1907-81, pp. 30-35, and Holscher, The Excavation of Medinet Habu, vol. III, p. 44) and the `crossword’ stela recently incompletely published (see Zandee, An Ancient Egyptian Crossword Puzzle). And we discovered, cut in a stratum of good limestone immediately to the left of the entrance corridor in the broad-hall, a well preserved, detailed depiction of the funeral procession, accompanied by inscriptions identifying many of the relatives and contemporaries of Nebwenenef, and conveying to us the deep sentiment of his widow’s lament. Such a fine scene would not have survived so nearly intact had it not been concealed beneath debris. It may be anticipated that the continued removal of this debris will bring to light more scenes of comparable artistic merit and historical importance. It is regrettable, on the other hand, that, except for some well executed, albeit fragmentary scenes on both sides of the entrance corridor just inside the long-hall (for one of which, see Save-Soderbergh, Mitteilungen des Deutsehen Archaologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo, vol. 14 [19561, pp. 175-80), the surface of most of the painted plaster decoration has decomposed.
In lighting the clearance of this tomb, reflected sunlight proved to be especially unsatisfactory. The entrance of the tomb is located today between two mud-brick houses built over its forecourt. The narrowness of the passageway which gives access to the entrance considerably restricts the positions from which light may be reflected into the tomb, while correspondingly increasing the difficulties of adjusting the mirrors to keep the light steady. Since the original floor level is somewhat below the present surface of the forecourt, the mirror-man inside could not rest his heavy mirror on the ground, but literally had to hold the light in his hands. In order to speed up the removal of debris, laborers worked simultaneously in various parts of the tomb; but because it was not practicable to use more than one large mirror inside the tomb, light could be directed only to one place at a time. The dust stirred up quickly covered the mirror, greatly impairing its reflecting ability; and as the clearance progressed, the length and breadth of the pillared halls became factors further reducing the effectiveness of the available light. (When they realized the size of the chambers we were clearing, the village women commented rather wistfully that several local families could be housed there comfortably.) Basket-boys coming and going along the narrow entrance way repeatedly broke the beam of reflected light, causing an erratic alternation of light and darkness inside the tomb. Before we discontinued the clearance, it became necessary to station a trustworthy assistant foreman in the dump area to inspect the contents of the baskets as they were being emptied, to minimize the accidental loss of evidence.
Electric light will now make possible the resumption of clearance under much improved conditions. Primarily to compensate for this particular inadequacy of the available natural light, we brought electricity from the municipal power lines along the road, up through the village to Tomb 35, where our meter and fuse box were installed. For their own protection, as well as the safety of the villagers, we strung the wires across ten 20-foot poles set up over the 310-meter distance. We had electric fixtures designed and prepared, so that light now may be carried to any tomb on the site. But electric light is not intended to replace, rather to supplement, natural light. It is available when high intensity illumination is unnecessary or undesirable, or when it is impossible or inconvenient to make use of reflected sunlight. Although reflected sunlight has been invaluable for the epigraphers copying the smoke blackened, painted plaster inscriptions of Tomb 35, the cool, steady diffuse light of a fluorescent lamp was more useful for the conservationist cleaning and repairing its walls and ceiling. Incandescent bulbs are suitable for lighting the clearance and reconstruction in Tomb 157, as well as for illuminating even the innermost of the chambers of Tomb 289 (Setau) and the burial chambers of any of the tombs, regardless of whether they are at the end of steep, winding tunnels or deep, vertical shafts.
It was in connection with the clearance of Tomb 157 that one of the hazards of working in an Egyptian village was realized rather painfully. One day, as I approached the entrance to the tomb, I was bitten on the leg by a dog from one of the neighboring houses who suddenly imagined me a threat to his master’s safety. By way of apology for this unseemly welcome, and trying to prevent ill will over the matter, the owner instantly leaped up and began to beat the dog with a stick and pelted him with stones, until the wretched animal, bewildered, fled into the desert. Then we all sat and drank tea—as is the custom—and reaffirmed our friendship.
Also in association with the clearance of Tomb 157, we began reconstruction of the pillars in its broad-hall. The huge, menacing fissures which cross the width of the ceiling must always have made its condition rather precarious and uncertain, even at the time of the construction of the tomb. But in the intervening centuries the four pillars intended to support the massive weight of the center of the ceiling have collapsed, as have also the Coptic columns erected to replace them; and the pressures bearing down on the remaining pillars have begun to shatter the two standing nearest the middle of the room. We suspended the clearance of the tomb as soon as the removal of debris from the broad-hall had reached beyond these two pillars, so that masons and stone-cutters could be set to work shoring up the ceiling to relieve these destructive pressures. They skillfully repaired one of the damaged pillars and completely rebuilt a ruined one.
These craftsmen also constructed stone emplacements for iron doors at the entrances of the tombs of the two Viceroys of Kush Setau (289) and Anhotep (300), both presently closed and inaccessible. At the same time, they filled in some of the holes in the walls of Tomb 300 through which it could be entered from adjacent tombs, and concreted them shut. When, in order to repair one of these holes, we had to dismantle the modem blocking built across the entrance of the unnumbered tomb immediately to the left, we removed fragments of stone relief and inscription and stamped mud bricks from the rubble of which it was composed. Earlier, during the necessary preliminary clearance operations conducted in the court before Tomb 289, we had uncovered a small ancient deposit of embalming materials.
In order to anchor the door jambs for Tomb 289 securely, we had to break down the stone and concrete blocking across its entrance. Those on hand for the opening included the Antiquities Service Inspector Mohammed Saleh and the Architect Ragaie Zaki, Professor and Mrs. Cerny, and Mr. Ahmed Yusef, an artist who, as a young man at the beginning of his career, had made the earliest copies of the paintings in this very tomb for Clarence Fisher’s expedition to Dra Abu el-Naga in 1921-23. (See Porter and Moss, op. cit., vol. I, pt. 1, p. xviii, “PHILAD. drawings” and p. 371, “Room N.”) To our disappointment and displeasure, the tomb was full of bats which had wandered in through the many holes and tunnels which link one tomb with another underground: they are destroying the decoration and must be driven out. After the tomb had been viewed—perhaps for the first time in forty-five years—we built a stone blocking to reclose its entrance. Some days later I picked up in the uncleared courtyard of Tomb 157, where they had been carried recently for reuse by an inhabitant of one of the houses nearby, two adjoining, inscribed fragments of the red granite sarcophagus of Setau. The discovery occasioned no small amount of consternation, inasmuch as we had seen many such fragments just inside Tomb 289. (These are mentioned in Porter and Moss, op. cit., vol. I, pt. 1, p. 372. Another of the finds from this tomb listed there is the coffin-lid of Setau’s wife, Nefermut. Without reference there is the portion of the case of her red granite sarcophagus which is now in the collections of the University Museum, registered under the number 29-87-633. For the anthropoid lid of Setau’s sarcophagus, on display in the British Museum, see ibid., vol. 1, pt. 2, p. xxii, “Tomb 289”.) Immediate inspection of the blocking of the tomb indicated that it was untampered with; and the source of these pieces probably is to be sought among the many bits of broken stone objects strewn over the surface of the whole site.
In accordance with the stated objectives of the project—namely, to prepare for publication the tombs of three High Priests of Amun, Bekenkhons (35), Nebwenenef (157), and Roma-Roy (283); two Viceroys of Kush, Setau (289) and Anhotep (300); and two Governors of the South-lands, Pennesuttaui (156) and Inhernakht (282) (for a discussion of the reading of the name of the owner of this tomb, and his identity, see Habachi, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 54 , pp. 107-13 )—our efforts this season were directed largely to the four tombs dealt with at length in this report (35, 157, 289, 300). But we did not neglect the general maintenance of the site: in all, fourteen tombs received some care. First, as a start on the way to effective control of bats and other pests, we fitted wire screens to the ten tombs having iron doors: inadequate screening was replaced, and screen was provided where it had been lacking entirely. Second, we made miscellaneous repairs and modifications—all minor except for the construction of a concrete threshold in the doorway of Tomb 160 (Besenmut)—in the emplacements for the iron doors of seven tombs. Third, we rebuilt a collapsed rubble blocking across the entrance of one tomb, and built a stone blocking for another tomb previously left standing open.
We closed down the site on April 11, and spent the next day packing up our personal possessions and storing away the expedition’s equipment and supplies. If everything develops as anticipated, the third season at Dra Abu el-Naga should be devoted to following up the projects already begun. In Tomb 35 (Bekenkhons), the cleaning and replastering will be continued, and the collation of texts completed as nearly as possible; and when all the pillars in the broad-hall of Tomb 157 (Nebwenenef) have been reconstructed, the clearance of the tomb is to be resumed. Finally, the iron doors intended for Tombs 289 (Setau) and 300 (Anhotep) have to be prepared and installed.