The Eckley B. Coxe Jr. Egyptian Expedition

By: Clarence Stanley Fisher

Originally Published in 1917

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In the MUSEUM JOURNAL for June, 1915, a brief account was given of the preliminary work of the Eckley B. Coxe Jr. Expedition to Egypt. It was there stated that, through the courtesy of the Egyptian Government, the Museum had secured the concession to a part of the site of Memphis. As this had been either the capital or one of the chief cities of Egypt throughout its history, important archaeological results were to be expected from the site. The Expedition began work in March, 1915, and the results have fully justified this expectation. The whole site had already been granted to a representative of the Roumanian Government, but as the war prevented him from undertaking the work, the Egyptian Government gave to the Expedition the choice of any portion of the site. In selecting the area south of the modern road near the colossi of Rameses II, the Director of the Expedition was influenced by a discovery made there the previous year. Mr. C.C. Edgar, the Inspector of Antiquities for Lower Egypt, had cleared a small room near the center of the principal mound which had been exposed by natives digging in the ruins. This room had painted walls bearing the cartouches of Merenptah, and contained two slender limestone columns unique in having inscriptions inlaid in faience. The character of the decoration indicated that the room formed part of some royal structure. Our excavations have proved the building to be the royal residence of Merenptah, the Pharaoh who ruled from 1225 B.C. to 1215 B.C.

The very uneven ground before excavation began at Merenptah
Fig. 77. — Memphis. Looking south over the site of the palace of Merenptah, showing the appearance of the surface before excavations commenced.
Image Number: 34219

Like so many other sites in Egypt, the mound beneath which the palace lies buried has been much dug over by natives from the surrounding villages, who use the earth from the ancient disintegrating mud brick walls as fertilizer for their fields. Figure 77 gives a good idea of the general appearance of the mound as they had left it and before the Expedition began its work. The masses of masonry visible on every hand belong mainly to the Ptolemaic Period (B.C. 332-30). Above these had stood a large Roman city which has been almost entirely carried away. Fortunately this spoliation has not penetrated to earlier levels, and the ruins of the palace of Merenptah are preserved at a depth of from 16 to 18 feet below the level visible in the photograph. The building was constructed with massive walls of sun-dried brick, but all the columns and framings of doors were of limestone.

Thus far only a portion of the eastern wing of the palace has been uncovered (see Fig. 78 and the plan, Fig. 79). Apparently this was the principal wing of the building, with splendidly decorated suites of state apartments at either end of an open court. The court (19 on the plan), 80 feet wide and 175 feet long, was surrounded by a colonnade of thirty-four columns. Its whole area was paved with irregular blocks of limestone, the floor under the roofed colonnade being raised slightly above the open central portion. The columns were built up of drums resting on the usual large rounded bases and had capitals of the open papyrus type. Around each base was an incised inscription giving the two cartouches of the king with his attributes, no two bases having exactly the same inscription. On each shaft were four similar vertical inscriptions extending from the bottom of the capital to a band of reliefs midway of the shaft and thence down to the base. The reliefs, which varied with each column, usually depicted Merenptah performing rites before Ptah, the patron divinity of Memphis. The bottom of each shaft and capital was decorated with sepals in relief. The background of the shafts seems to have been colored a rich yellow, and the inscriptions were filled in with bright blue. The walls of the court were coated with mortar over which was a hard white stucco decorated with regular panels and patterns in red, yellow and blue. The entrance to this court seems to have been on the west side through a small doorway which was approached by a narrow corridor (24-25) with two turnings. This corridor in turn apparently led from an outer court (26), which has not yet been entirely cleared. It had an elaborate colored stucco pavement, and in the debris were several capitals of small papyrus columns which may have belonged to it.

Southeast view across court showing layout of state apartments, court, and throne room
Fig. 78. — The state apartments in the palace. Looking southeast across the court, vestibule and throne room.
Image Number: 34178

In the center of the south side was a great doorway 10 feet wide and about 23 feet high. The door framings were of limestone decorated with relief and faience inlay. On the lower part of each jamb was a panel showing a procession of Nile gods bearing vases of water from different lakes and canals as offerings to the king. The figures were in relief, but the inscriptions and the offerings were in faience. Two vertical inscriptions of similar content to those on the columns in the court occupied the remainder of the height of the jambs. These inscriptions were inlaid with faience. The lintel of the door consisted of a large panel crowned with a cornice. On the panel were gilded relief figures of the king in various attitudes before the gods, while the cornice had a row of inlaid cartouches of the king. This doorway, together with a smaller and simpler one near the east side of the court, led into a vestibule (18), which extended the full width of the court. Its roof was supported by twelve columns similar in design to those in the court, but of larger size. All the inscriptions were inlaid in faience, and the figures in the bands of relief on the shafts were overlaid with thick gold leaf. The floor was constructed of sun-dried bricks over which had been a painted stucco pavement similar to those found in the palace at Tel el Amarna.

Drawn diagram of the Palace of Merenptah so far excavated
Fig. 79. — Plan of the portion of the Palace of Merenptah thus far excavated.
Image Number: 31348

In the south wall of this vestibule were three doorways. That in line with the large doorway leading from the court was of the same size and similar design. This doorway led into the Throne Room (7). Figure 80 is a view taken from the court looking through the doors of the vestibule into the Throne Room, while Fig. 81 shows the Throne Room from the northwest corner. The two main entrances were closed with heavy wooden doors mounted in bronze and working on bronze sockets sunk in the stone sills. The outer door of the vestibule had a single leaf, while the door into the Throne Room had two leaves. The Throne Room was 41 feet wide and 60 feet long. Its roof was supported by six columns like those in the vestibule, parts of five of them being in situ. Of these the one at the southeast corner was the best preserved. The base was a single block of limestone with a horizontal band of inscription inlaid in pale greenish-blue faience. The lower part of the shaft had a row of sepals in relief springing from a broad band of gold. The alternate divisions of the sepals were colored blue and gold, the gold leaf being laid on over a deep red color. Between the tips of these sepals were large open lotus flowers inlaid in faience. The relief band on the shaft had the usual figures of the king in gold on a blue ground. From the capital to this panel and then down to the bottom were again the four vertical lines of inscription inlaid in faience. The fragments of capitals found in this hall showed that they were like those in the rest of the building, i. e., of the open papyrus type.

The dais, on which had stood the king’s throne, was at the southern end of the hall, facing the main entrance. It was a rectangular platform 13½ feet long and 16$frac12; feet wide built in between the two end columns and raised 20 inches above the floor. The column bases formed an integral part of the structure, the sculptured decoration of the platform being carried across their upper surface. From the front the dais was approached by a ramp. The entire surface of both ramp and dais was covered with colored reliefs (Fig. 82). On the dais were four large panels each containing a bound captive,—a negro, a Libyan and a Sardinian, the fourth not yet identified. Between these were smaller panels with a bow in each . The entire group of panels was enclosed within a border of rekhyt birds and neb symbols, signifying “all nations.” On the ramp were six additional panels of captives, representing in all the ten races which Merenptah claimed to have subdued during his reign. This ramp would have been used by the courtiers in approaching the throne, while for the king’s especial use there was a small flight of steps on each side of the dais. These steps likewise had colored relief panels of captives and bows.

View from the southern end of court looking south to the throne room
Fig. 80. — The state apartments. From the southern end of the court (19 on the plan) looking south through the large vestibule into the throne room. The dais is seen at the back.
Image Number: 34186

The walls of the Throne Room were stuccoed and painted in bright colors. Around the base of the wall was a dado of painted niches separated by spaces in which alternated the lotus and papyrus plants, the symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt. Little remains of the walls above this dado, but from fragments here and there still in situ we know that the entire wall was covered with decoration in color, with some of the details picked out in gold. The floor has been destroyed by water; it undoubtedly had a stuccoed covering with painted patterns similar to fragments preserved in nearby chambers.

In the narrow exterior passage (13) to the east were found fragments of a large window, which had probably fallen from the upper part of the wall of the Throne Room. There were remains also of a similar window on the west side. The windows consisted of a single large slab of limestone about 6 feet wide and 8 feet high. The lower part was pierced with long narrow vertical slots, while the upper part had an openwork pattern of rows of Merenptah’s cartouches alternating with kekher symbols.

View of throne room from the northwest showing layout
Fig. 81. — The throne room from the northwest. At the left is a part of the vestibule, and at the right the corridor leading to the apartments behind the throne room.
Image Number: 34181

In addition to the main entrance, six other doorways opened from the Throne Room. On the east was a small anteroom (17) from which a flight of steps (16) led to the roof. On the opposite side was a larger anteroom (14) opening both into the large vestibule (18) and to a court or passage to the west. The use of rooms 4, 11, and 12 is not clear. All had colored stucco walls and floors. The doors themselves had inlaid inscriptions running across the lintel and down the sides, and each was crowned with a beautiful cornice on which was the winged sun disc, the disc being heavily gilded and each feather of the outspread wings being inlaid with one or more pieces of faience. The Throne Room, as one would have seen it from the vestibule, must have presented a most splendid appearance. The faint light that came from the slotted windows high up in the walls subdued the brightness of the coloring and gilding and gave an effect of magnificence and of mystery. It was one of the most elaborately decorated and striking halls of which we have any record in Egyptian art.

The doors on either side of the dais opened into a corridor (6) which connected a group of apartments behind the Throne Room (Fig. 83). These apartments were evidently the private retiring rooms of the king on state occasions only, as they are not extensive enough to have been his living quarters. The principal apartment is the hall (5). This had a stuccoed floor, and the roof was supported by two slender inlaid columns. From one corner opened a stone paved latrine (1), with a stone screen covered with symmetrical rows of panels and of ankhs and uas sceptres. The adjoining room (2) had a stone floor and also a wide shelf at one end. On the opposite side of the hall was a stone paved bath (8-9). The entire walls here were lined with slabs of stone covered with regular rows of incised cartouches and the signs for life and happiness. The bath was divided by a low screen wall into two compartments. In the smaller outer one (8) was a rectangular covered catch-basin. Above this had been a shelf, on which presumably the clothing of the king was placed. The inner room was the actual bath room. Here the water was poured over the bather by slaves and it then flowed out through a channel into the catch-basin, whence it had to be bailed out as the basin had no outlet. At the western end of the passage (6) was a large sleeping apartment, on the floor of which were traces of colored stucco. At the inner end was a deep alcove raised above the floor of the room and approached by a ramp; both the ramp and the niche were paved with stone. In this alcove had stood the couch of the king.

Dais the throne of Merenptah sat on
Fig. 82. — The sculptured dais on which stood the throne of Merenptah.
Image Number: 34164

At the northern end of the large open court (19) was another great doorway which was of the same size and character as the one opening into the southern suite of rooms. On the lower part of the jambs was a panel with two Nile gods binding together stalks of lotus and papyrus, representing the union of Upper and Lower Egypt. The remainder of the decoration was like that of the southern door, the lintel being elaborately gilded and inlaid.

The removal of the debris around this door produced some interesting results. It had been noted that the six columns across this end of the court were of smaller diameter than the others. The floor of the colonnade in front of the door and the sill of the opening itself were filled with large blocks of stone. Several of these were parts of the great lintel and cornice blocks. Among them, however, were a number of fragments of a thick horizontal slab of stone with an inscription of Merenptah along one edge. From the position of these fragments it was evident that they had fallen from above the opening. When the pieces were fitted together the upper surface was found to be smooth except for two circular roughened places equally spaced, suggesting that columns had rested upon them. Among the fragments were found four small inscribed bases, two in the debris of the doorway, one in the colonnade, and a much broken one just within the vestibule. The slab had been of a width nearly equal to the thickness of the wall and extended entirely across the opening. There was here quite clearly an upper loggia or balcony in the thickness of the wall above the doorway, looking out over the court. A small staircase (22) west of the vestibule and opening from the court no doubt gave access to it. While thus far no similar balcony has been found in Egypt, there are many reliefs from tombs and temple walls which give a clue to the use of such a balcony. On these reliefs the king is shown appearing on an open balcony called the semshed above the ground floor. From this he showers gifts on his courtiers in the court below, or inspects the prisoners and spoils after a campaign.

View of the structure of the private apartments and bathroom behind the throne room
Fig. 83. — The private apartments behind the throne room. Under the mat covering is the royal bath room, and next to it the stone paved alcove in which stood Merenptah’s couch.
Image Number: 34193

The vestibule (20) was considerably smaller than that in front of the Throne Room. East of it was an anteroom which opened into it as well as into the court (19) and another court to the north. On the west was the staircase to the balcony. Only four small columns carried the roof of the vestibule, but these were as richly decorated as those in the Throne Room.

Part of a gateway of the south portal leading to the palace of Merenptah
Fig. 84. — One of the panels on the South Portal. Merenptah before Ptah of Memphis.
Museum Object Number: E13575
Image Number: 31344, 34027

Outside the eastern wall of the southern group of chambers a long narrow passage (13) was found to which no entrance from the interior of the building has yet been discovered. At its southern end a door connected apparently with a similar passage along the south façade of the palace. The wall outside this passage was more than 12 feet thick and was the outer wall of the main structure. To the east of this was a space 21 feet wide with a great wall 21 feet thick beyond it. While only a small portion of this wall has been followed, it probably was part of the boundary wall of the palace precinct and will doubtless prove to be a continuation of the great wall on the south in which was found the “South Portal.” This entrance was cleared during the first season’s work. It was a rectangular vestibule, the outer wall of which had been torn down and reconstructed at some later period. The sides of the door leading into the interior of the enclosure were still in situ to the height of the opening and the two limestone columns which supported the ceiling were also practically complete, but cracked and leaning badly. The columns and jambs were covered with painted and gilded reliefs. Figure 84 is one of the panels on the east side of the door. It shows Merenptah standing before the shrine of Ptah, who promises him many years of reign.

Rounded top votive stela showing Osiris holding crook and flail with wife
Fig. 85. — Votive stela from Memphis.

The palace apparently extends to the north and west for a considerable distance. Probably its northern wall bordered on the enclosure of the Temple of Ptah which lies beneath the fields on the north side of the modem road. Its western limits may be looked for somewhere in the neighborhood of the sphinx and the colossi, which evidently mark the position of a roadway.

Piece of a statuette of a seated, cross-leegged high priest, head missing
Fig. 86. — Statuette of one of the High Priests of Memphis.
Museum Object Number: E13648
Image Number: 34078

Immediately after the death of Merenptah the palace was used for other purposes and several of the doorways were blocked up with bricks. Not many years afterwards a great fire swept the entire building, destroying all the woodwork and badly splintering the columns and floor slabs. At this time several of the columns gave way and were buried beneath the debris from the fallen roof. The columns which remained standing projected from the debris and were soon carried away to be utilized in other structures. Over the heap of unrecognizable ruins five distinct towns were built during subsequent periods, the middle one of which was dated by an inscription to the reign of Ahmose II, the last Pharaoh before the Persian occupation in B.C. 525. Above this again are Ptolemaic and Roman strata.

The destruction of the building by fire precluded any hope of finding any of the elaborate furniture which it once contained. In fact from the palace itself only three objects other than bronze door sockets and hinges were found. In the niche in the chamber (5) behind the Throne Room was a large alabaster pitcher, crushed by the fall of the roof. A smaller pitcher of the same shape and material was found in the northern vestibule (20), while in the little room (17) leading from the Throne Room to the roof was a small faience ink pot bearing the name of a local administrative official. Near the “South Portal,” however, were a large number of votive stelæ and parts of statues. A typical stela is shown in Fig. 85. In the upper register the suppliant makes an offering of fruit to Osiris, while below his wife and children kneel in prayer. These steles and other fragments were below water level, which during high Nile now rises to a height of several feet above the floor level of the palace. All the statues had been broken and mutilated before finding their way into the debris. The excellent little seated figure of a High Priest of Memphis shown in Fig. 86 is an example. This was in several pieces, and parts were missing, the head having been a separate piece fastened to the body by a dowel. The long inscription on the lap is complete. Among a number of sculptors’ models was the beautiful head of a young man (Fig. 87). But by far the most important piece of sculpture found was the quartzite head supposed to be a portrait either of Akhnaton or of a member of his family (Fig. 88), This is slightly less then life size. The crown is missing and the ears and nose have been mutilated, but the delicate modelling of the mouth and cheeks, with the appearance of dignity and calm make it one of the finest pieces of Egyptian sculpture.

Relief of a man in profile with head shaved
Fig. 87. — A sculptor’s model. Head of a young noble. Memphis.
Museum Object Number: E13643
Image Number: 31333

In the stratum assigned to Ahmose II there was found the cache of gold and silver jewelry shown in Fig. 89. The little figure of the boy Ptah at the top is of solid gold. Below it is an Osirid figure of silver covered with gold. The next is a necklace of agate beads, the ram’s head pendant being an exquisite specimen of the gem cutter’s art. The smaller separate deities are all of gold and of remarkably delicate workmanship. The large necklace is composed of a series of gold shells with a large gold barrel on one side and a chalcedony barrel capped with granulated gold tips on the other, while the pendant is a figure of Sekhmet in solid gold. In the lower corners are two unique pieces. At the left is a ram wearing the sun disc lying beneath a palm tree. At the right is a scorpion complete in every minute detail. It has a human head crowned with horns and sun disc, and into the body is set a beryl. Both these gems are electrum.


As excavations at Memphis can be carried on to advantage only during the spring months, owing to the annual Nile flood, it was necessary for the Expedition to have an alternative site on which work could be done during this flood season. All the Delta and valley sites were, for the same reason as Memphis, impossible. Several sites in -Upper Egypt were considered, and Dendereh finally decided upon. This site had been reserved by the Government, but after consideration they kindly divided the area and granted the Museum the extensive necropolis behind the ruins of the city, retaining temporarily the Temple and city site. Work began here in the fall of 1915 and has been continued each successive winter.

Large stone head with nose missing
Fig. 88. — A royal head. Family of Akhnaton (B. C. 1375-1350). Memphis.
Image Number: 31431, 38325

The character of the work at Dendereh is very different from that at Memphis. Besides being a dry site, there is but one stratum lying below the modern surface. The debris is much lighter and in consequence work moves more rapidly. The disposal of the debris presents no difficulties, as it can be thrown back on a finished area as the work progresses. Figure 90 shows the appearance of the undisturbed surface near the Seventh Dynasty mastabas of Merra and Beb, which rise in the background. Work was begun at this point and carried toward the east and west, as this area promised material of the little known period between the Old and Middle Empires.

As the excavation proceeded it was found that the use of the Dendereh necropolis covered a long period. Beginning with the Second Dynasty (about B. C. 3000), there has been found a nearly complete sequence of periods down to Moslem times.

A great mass of material has been collected, and it will be possible to arrange this material in chronological order.

An assortment of gold necklaces and amulets
Fig. 89. — The gold jewelry found in a cache at the Memphis in the debris of the Ahmose II stratum.
Museum Object Numbers, From Top: E15798 / 29-70-21 / 29-85-860 / 29-70-22 / 29-70-20 / 29-70-19
Image Number: 34172

Such a site as Dendereh involves a much greater amount of registration than a town site like Memphis, and a few remarks on the field methods employed by the Expedition will be of interest. As already stated, the first work began near the mastabas shown in Fig. 90 and the workmen were placed in consecutive squares. It was found at once that the quantity of objects appearing demanded some more comprehensive system of numbering than the usual method of numbering in sequence of discovery. The entire area was then surveyed and laid out in regular numbered blocks, 180 by 200 metres, the even numbers to the west of a medial north and south line, and the odd numbers to the east. Each block was then subdivided into ninety squares, which were numbered in tens from 010 to 990 consecutively.

The entire area is being mapped on a large scale on a series of sheets, of which the example given is one of forty already completed. This shows six of the small squares. The periods are indicated in color. Where necessary, as in the case of the large mastabas, separate plans and detailed drawings are made. A card catalogue is kept of all discoveries made.

The even ground above the necropolis of Dendereh pre-excavation
Fig. 90. — The necropolis of Dendereh. Showing the appearance of the surface prior to excavation. In the background are two mastabas of the VII Dynasty (ca B. C. 2450)
Image Number: 33485, 33557

Figure 96 shows the interior of the office of the Expedition at Dendereh. As each grave is recorded in the field, the objects are left by its side. At the close of the day the man by whom the grave had been cleared brings the objects to the court of the Expedition house. Next morning they are taken into the recording room, near the office, and then checked off with the tomb cards, and all objects, such as pottery, etc., drawn to scale on the same size cards. These cards are arranged and filed with guide cards having the main block index number and the square number, so that in a moment any detail in the great mass of material is available for reference. Such objects as are to be preserved for the Museum are given an additional registry number, which is also entered on the cards. When this is finished the full description, with a drawing where necessary, of these registered objects is entered in large duplicating registers.


Portions of burial shafts and the overing of a group tomb of the era
Fig. 91. A. — typical offering niche of a group tomb of the Seventh to Tenth Dynasties (B. C. 2475-2160). At the right are portions of the burial shafts. Dendereh.
Image Number: 33487
An assortment of beaded jewelry in different colors and shapes
Fig. 92. — The Sesostris necklace, composed of selected amethysts and carnelians. The large beads have the names of Sesostris I (B. C. 1980-1935) inscribed upon them. Dendereh.
Museum Object Numbers, From Top: 29-66-813 / 29-65-455A / 29-65-455C / 29+65-455B
Image Number: 33533
Part of a stela showing man and woman together with an inscription
Fig. 93. — Stela of Beb and his wife Iamyt. Dendereh.
Museum Object Number: 29-66-627
Image Number: 39047
Bead netting and faience beads including a winged scarab covering a laid out
Fig. 94. — Elaborate bead covering on a mummy from Dendereh. Period ca. B. C. 300.
Museum Object Numbers: 29-66-756.1, 29-66-756.2
Drawn map of the necropolis of Dendereh
Fig. 95. — One of the sheets of the map of the necropolis of Dendereh.
The office at the Dendereh expedition showing desks and tables with many folders and papers
Fig. 96. — The office of the Expedition at Dendereh.
Image Number: 33552

Cite This Article

Fisher, Clarence Stanley. "The Eckley B. Coxe Jr. Egyptian Expedition." The Museum Journal VIII, no. 4 (December, 1917): 211-237. Accessed June 16, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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