Fieldwork activities

Fieldwork activities

The Australian Centre for Egyptology conducts fieldwork at five important sites across Egypt. This page profiles the current work and team responsible for each site. For full details of each seasons work and grant details, visit the Ancient Cultures Research Centre.

The Cemetery of Dendara

Directors: Yann Tristant (ACE)

Participants: Jacinta Carruthers (Macquarie University), Chloé Girardi, Mary Hartley (ACE), Sylvie Marchand (IFAO), Andrea Pillon (University of Lyon), Lilian Postel (University of Lyon), Ronika Power (ACE), Yannick Prouin (EVEHA), Tim Ralph (Macquarie University) and Karin Sowada (ACE).

Located in Upper Egypt, 590 km south of Cairo and 75 km north of Luxor, the site of Dendara was the capital of the 6th nome of Upper Egypt, one of the most ancient and famous Egyptian cities. The necropolis of Dendara, located at the south of the famous Hathor temple area, covers an area of over a hundred hectares at the south of the temple complex. Partially excavated by Flinders Petrie in 1898 on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Fund, and by Clarence Fisher from 1913 to 1917 for the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, this large sepulchral area was neglected by archaeologists for about a century. With several thousands of tombs, Dendara is one of the largest pharaonic cemetery, partially excavated, and covering a wide chronological spectrum from the Early Dynastic Period until the Coptic period. Like most Egyptian archaeological sites, the area of ​​the necropolis is now threatened by the development of agricultural fields and modern villages. Since 2014 a new project associating the Institut français d’archéologie orientale (IFAO, Cairo), the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS, Belfort) and Macquarie University (MU, Sydney) aims to resume the archaeological investigation of the site. Dr Pierre Zigani (IFAO / CNRS) continued the architectural study of the temples; Dr Yann Tristant (ACE) is in charge of the resumption of the work on the necropolis and the geo-archaeological study of Dendara’s area. The new project initiated on the necropolis aims to review all types of documentation currently available, to clean key areas that will enable a better understanding of the tombs and associated grave goods, and to conduct new investigations on untouched areas with a particular interest for the Early Dynastic period.

Tehna: An Old Kingdom Cemetery in Middle Egypt

Egyptology - Tehna

Date commenced work at the site: January 2007

Team members:

  • Elizabeth Thompson (Site Director)
  • Effy Alexakis (Photographer)
  • Naguib Victor (Architect)

Summary of excavation work: The Old Kingdom cemetery at Tehna is approximately 250kms south of Cairo and 12kms north of the city of Minya. The cemetery is in the 16th nome of Upper Egypt called the Oryx nome and consists of 15 known tombs cut into the rock at the base of the eastern cliffs bordering the Nile. The cemetery is only known from a short article published in 1902 by George Fraser which dealt briefly with the major tombs and included hand sketches of some of the decorated walls. The site is of great importance for several reasons: the unusual architecture of the tombs, the detailed textual information inscribed in certain tombs including a rare legal document and clear dating evidence indicating that the tomb owners had been appointed to the province in the late Fourth and early Fifth dynasties. The majority of the tombs are in the form of rock cut mastabas possibly following the Memphite style of burials but rarely seen in the provinces. Inscriptions carved into the walls of the tomb of Nika-ankh I indicate that he was appointed to administer the estates of the temple of Hathor by King Userkaf and that an earlier relative had been previously sent to the province by King Menkaure. The walls of several tombs are carved in low relief and all contain engaged statues, some still showing traces of the original colour. Four seasons of work have already been undertaken to fully record the wall scenes and architecture of 8 tombs. The recording of the remaining tombs is on-going.

Thebes: Dra Abu el-Naga

Egyptology - Right side in situ

Date commenced work at the site: November 1991

Team members:

  • Boyo Ockinga (Director, Epigrapher)
  • Susanne Binder (Site Supervisor)
  • Judith Brophy (Research Assistant)
  • Alanah Buck (Physical Anthropologist)
  • Leonie Donovan (Photographer)
  • Karin Sowada (Ceramicist)
  • Malcolm Choat (Coptologist)
  • Robyn Luhrs (Conservator).
  • Helen Wilkins (Architect)

Summary of excavation work: From 1st December 2010 to 13th January 2011 the Macquarie University Theban Tombs Project continued its work at Dra Abu el-Naga. The team consisted of Boyo Ockinga, Susanne Binder, Malcolm Choat and Leonie Donovan as well as two student members, Sally Xexenis and Alice McClymont; Mr Ayman Mohamed Ibrahim was our accompanying SCA inspector. We were very fortunate to have completed a very productive and enjoyable season before the unfolding of the dramatic events of the Egyptian revolution that broke out on January 15th.

The season involved a variety of tasks in two of the tombs that the mission has been working on for several years, TT147 (Neferrenpet) and TT233 (Saroy and Amenhotep/Huy), as well as in TT149 (Amenmose), in which the mission began work for the first time.

We completed the photography for the final publication of the tomb of Neferrenpet (TT147) and began the conservation of what remains of the mud-brick walls of the forecourt. In the tomb of Saroy and Amenhotep/Huy (TT233) work was continued, and completed, on the collation of the drawings of the wall decoration and wall fragments that had been made in previous seasons. The drawings of the reliefs and inscriptions on the roughly 170 fragments of the sandstone sarcophagus of Saroy were also checked and the fragments were first reassembled on paper to see how many of the actual blocks can be joined. We were able to piece together the tracings of the inscribed and decorated fragments of the two sides, as well as the foot- and the head-ends of the box of the sarcophagus; in all more than eighty per cent could be joined. Then the actual sandstone fragments of the sides and ends were reassembled and photographed. Fortunately enough could be pieced together to make it possible to establish the shape and all the dimensions of the box. Not nearly as many pieces of the lid were preserved so that it was impossible to reconstruct it in the same way, but the total height of the foot-end could be established. Conservation work was also conducted on one of the mud-brick walls of the tomb's courtyard.
Investigations were also begun on the Ramesside Tomb of Amenmose (TT149) which abuts TT233 to the north. Our preliminary study involved making a photographic record of its architecture and the present state of its decoration, the production of hand copies of its surviving inscriptions along with a description of the decoration and its state of preservation, a survey of the courtyard and the production of a plan and profiles of the present surface levels, and finally a surface survey of the pottery sherds in the courtyard.

The study of the tomb's inscriptions has contributed significantly to our knowledge of its owner and his wife, providing information that goes beyond what can be found in the standard reference works on the Theban tombs. In particular, our investigations have revealed that in addition to his titles Hieroglyphics imagesSnswwdH.wn.ynbtA.wy Royal Scribe of the Table of the Lord of the Two lands andHieroglyphics imageim.y-rAnw.w n(.w) pr.wImn.wOverseer of Huntsmen of the Estate of Amun, Amenmose also has the titles Hieroglyphics Imageit nTrmri.ynTrFather of the God, Beloved of the God as well as HA.t n.ypr.wnsw r Dr=f Head of the King's Estate to its limit. In an inscription above the statue shrine in the chapel he is designatedsSnswmAamr(i.y)=f True Royal Scribe, his 'beloved  (i.e. 'chosen one'). The last two titles are of particular interest and point to the close association that Amenmose had with the king. The first title indicates that he was in charge of the royal household. The use of the verb mri in the second title is of interest; here it is used with its extended meaning of "to give preference to; choose, select". Thus Amenmose claims to have been especially chosen by the king; the adjective mAa "true" that follows sSnsw "royal scribe" should be understood to mean that he was actually in the service of the king himself and did not just hold the grade sSnsw. Thus Amenmose's relationship with the king bears some similarities to that of his neighbour Saroy, owner of TT233. Saroy served under Ramesses II and also held the titles sSwdH.wn.ynbtA.wy Royal Scribe of the Table of the Lord of the Two Lands and im.y-rAnw.wOverseer of Hunters; his other titles, as well as the biographical inscription in his tomb, indicate that he too was in the personal service of the king.

Abu Rawash: 1st Dynasty Elite Cemetery

Director: Yann Tristant

A joint project of the the Institut français d’archéologie orientale, Cairo and Macquarie University, Sydney

Participants: Georges Castel, Mohamed Gaber, Hassan Ibrahim El Amir, Alain Lecler, Abeid Mahmoud, Sylvie Marchand, Marie-Delphine Martellières, Ihab Mohamed Ibrahim, Olivier Onézime, Gael Pollin, Michel Wuttmann (all IFAO); Yann Ardagna (Marseille University); Michel Baud (Musée du Louvre); François Briois (EHESS, Toulouse); Alain Charron (Musée de l’Arles antique); Aurélie Cuénod (Lausanne University); Céline David (freelance archaeologist, Geneva); Morgan De Dapper (Ghent University); Julie Delmotte (freelance archaeologist, Paris); Basem Gehad Fathy (GEM, Cairo); Abd el-Rahman Medhat (GEM, Cairo); Caroline Partiot (Université Paris IV-Sorbonne); Yannick Prouin (freelance archaeologist, Paris); Ilona Regulski (NVIC, Cairo); Aurélie Schenk (freelance archaeologist, Geneva); Romain Séguier (Montpellier University); Jane Smythe (ARCE, Cairo); Olivier Rochecouste, Jacinta Carruther, Adam Fazzolari, April Kennedy (Macquarie University, Sydney)

Summary of excavation work: Situated on the west bank of the Nile, 8km north-east of Giza, Abu Rawash is the most northerly site of the Memphite Necropolis region. The Abu Rawash area contains monuments and remains that include a broad spectrum of different periods, from the Early Dynastic to the Coptic Period. On the eve of the First World War, work by Pierre Montet on the Abu Rawash plateau led to the discovery of a 1st Dynasty elite cemetery. The M Cemetery is situated upon a prominent plateau 1.5km north-east of Radjedef's monument and featured a group of mastaba tombs with mud brick superstructures containing niched façades. After almost a century of abandonment, this cemetery is today the object of a project initiating a new phase in the study of this site by the IFAO. This site is an IFAO project in collaboration with Macquarie University. Further information on this project.

The funerary wooden boats discovered in 2012 and 2013 at Abu Rawash by the Macquarie University-IFAO joint expedition date to the reign of King Den (c. 2950 BC). They are the oldest boats ever found in Egypt. Transported for conservation to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) at Giza, the boats will soon be exhibited. Their study will greatly expand our knowledge of shipbuilding techniques in the early times of Egypt and its development over the 400 years before the famous boat of Khufu (c. 2550 BC)

Wadi Araba: Archaeological Survey

Wadi Araba

Director: Yann Tristant, a project of the IFAO, Cairo

Participants: François Briois (Ehess), Georges Castel (IFAO), Victor Ghica (IFAO/ACE), Damien Laisney (IFAO). Béatrix Midant-Reynes (CNRS/IFAO), Olivier Onézime (IFAO)

Summary of excavation work: Wâdî 'Araba is a dry valley that extends approximately 160km from Za'farana, on the Red Sea Coast, to the Nile Valley, north of Beni Suef. Visited by geologists and scholars during the 19th Century (Brunton, Schweinfurth, Figari, Fourtau, Ball), the region however, was never systematically investigated and remains an almost totally unknown territory. Wâdî 'Araba is significantly one of the only communication routes that connect Middle Egypt to the Gulf of Suez. Nevertheless, it is sadly the case that there are a limited amount of documents attesting to the unique archaeological and historical potential. The aims of this new archaeological survey are to provide new studies with regard to the use of desert tracks between the Nile Valley and the Sinai, a region in the Eastern Desert that had been exploited since Prehistory for its stone, gold and copper resources. This site is an IFAO project in collaboration with Macquarie University. Further information on this project.

Meir (El-Qusiya): Re-recording and Study of the Site

Egyptology - Burial pit and west wall of Iaahhewet

Team members: 2012-2013

  • Naguib Kanawati (Director)
  • Linda Evans (Research Fellow)
  • Sameh Shafik (Chief Epigraphist)
  • Naguib Victor (Architect)
  • Miral Lashien (Epigrapher)
  • Samir Abdul-Tawab (Epigrapher)
  • Abeer Antar (Epigrapher)
  • Tareq Roweish (Epigrapher)
  • Gamal Abd el-Malik (Conservator)
  • Alexandra Woods (on leave)

Summary of excavation work: El-Qusiya, the Fourteenth province of Upper Egypt, has two cemeteries: Quseir el-Amarna on the East Bank, and Meir on the West Bank. The former has been recorded and published by the Australian Centre for Egyptology in 1989, and starting from 2008 the ACE has been recording the tombs of Meir. The site has been previously recorded by A. Blackman from the 1920s-1950s, and his records have proven to be invaluable to the expedition, particularly in certain areas where scenes and inscriptions have been lost or deteriorated. The site contains a large number of tombs both decorated and undecorated, and covers the period from the Sixth to the Twelfth Dynasties. Recording the tomb of Pepyankh-heryib (D2) after the re-clearance of the two fully decorated burial chambers of the tomb owner and his wife Iaahhewet has been completed and published (N. Kanawati, The Cemetery of Meir: I The Tomb of Pepyankh the Middle (Oxford, 2012). Recording the joint tomb of NyankhPepy-kem and his son Pepyankh-henykem (A1 and 2) has been completed, with Pepyankh-henykem's section published (N. Kanawati and L. Evans, The Cemetery of Meir: ii The Tomb of Pepyankh the black (Oxford, 2014) and that of NyankhPepy-kem in preparation. Work is now progressing in the Middle Kingdom section of the cemetery, beginning with the tombs of Senbi son of Ukhhotep (b 1) and Ukhhotep son of Ukhhotep (B 4).

With the purpose of surveying and mapping the site, the area immediately to the west of the tomb of NyankhPepy-kem is being cleared with tomb A4 of Hepykem now accessible. The tomb proved to be the largest in the cemetery and to possess a decorated burial chamber and will be published in the forthcoming volume on Meir.

Beni Hassan: Re-recording the Middle Kingdom Tombs

A view of the east wall in the chapel of Khnumhotep II.

Team members:

  • Naguib Kanawati (Director)
  • Linda Evans (Research Fellow)
  • Sameh Shafik (Chief Epigrapher)
  • Naguib Victor (Architect)
  • Miral Lashien (Epigrapher)
  • Samir Abdul-Tawab (Epigrapher)
  • Abeer Antar (Epigrapher)
  • Tareq Roweish (Epigrapher)
  • Ahmad Soliman (Photographer)
  • Alexandra Woods (on leave)

Summary of excavation work: The site of Beni Hassan was recorded and published by Newberry over a century ago and his record is the most complete one available to scholars in addition to some general works on the site with photographs published in more recent times (see for instance: A. G. Shedid, Die Felsgräber von Beni Hassan in Mittelägypten [Mainz am Rhein, 1994]; N. Kanawati and A. Woods, Beni Hassan: Art and Daily Life in an Egyptian Province [Cairo, 2010])

Although containing some small decorated Old Kingdom tombs, the site is of immense importance for the study of the Middle Kingdom, both the Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties, and contains the best preserved tombs of this period. The Australian Centre for Egyptology is planning a re-publication of all decorated tombs in the site, both in line drawings, coloured photographs and commentary.

The first tomb to receive the attention of the ACE is that of Khnumhotep II of the Twelfth Dynasty. The tomb shows a magnificent architectural plan which includes a spectacular portico, a pillared chapel and a small shrine with the owner's statue. The wall scenes have retained a great deal of their colours and most certainly deserve a full coloured publication. They include many activities in the life of the tomb owner, perhaps the most important of which is the well-known arrival of Asiatics with their families. The rerecording of the architectural features as well as all the scenes and inscriptions of the tomb has been completed, and following its checking will be published later in 2014.

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