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Report on the work of the University of Cambridge Theban Mission 1993

Nigel Strudwick

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In November 1993, the Permanent Committee for Archaeology of the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation granted permission for a mission from the University of Cambridge to continue Epigraphic and Clearance work in Theban Private Tomb 99, that of Sennefer or Senneferi.

I should like to thank Prof. Dr Abd el-Halim Nur ed-Din, Chairman of the EAO, and all members of the Permanent Committee for agreeing to the request for permission to work in Thebes. In particular I am grateful to Dr Aly Hassan and the staff in Abbassiya for enabling this permission to be carried out. In Luxor, thanks are due to Dr Mohamed el-Saghir and Dr Mohamed Nasr. The inspector attached to the Mission during the season was Mr Ahmed Rabia Ahmed; he enabled the daily running of the mission to proceed smoothly.

Financial support was generously provided by the British Academy and the Gerald Avery Wainwright Fund for Near Eastern Archaeology.

The Mission was in Egypt between 6 December 1993 and 6 January 1994. Members of the Mission were Dr Nigel Strudwick (Field Director), Mrs Helen Strudwick (Archaeological Director), Miss Julie Dawson (Conservator), Miss Rachel Walker (Archaeological Assistant), and Miss Alexandra Whittaker (Archaeological Assistant).

The work of the mission this season in the areas of epigraphy, clearance, and conservation.


In the 1992 season, the majority of the decoration in the shrine of the tomb was copied. Work in 1993 concentrated on continuing this, emphasising the recording of areas which would be difficult of access after clearance work had taken place.

The two pillars of the shrine were recorded. The remaining decoration on these pillars consists principally of texts in highly detailed polychrome hieroglyphs. It is clear from close study of these pillars that there were several different artists at work in the tomb; these differences vary from subtle to quite obvious. Subtle variations mainly involve differences in colouration of the hieroglyphs, with some slight variations in drafting; the latter could in many cases simply be due to changes between right to left and left to right orientation of the signs. The north face of Pillar B is, however, decorated with much larger and unsubtle signs (compare the two photographs here).

Most of the remaining decoration to be copied is in need of cleaning before it can be documented (see Conservation below).


Approximately two-thirds of the season was taken up with clearance, in three principal areas:

 Transverse Hall

A layer of debris varying between 10 and 20 cm in depth, and consisting almost exclusively of modern material, lay in the transverse hall; it was cleared in two days to complete the clearance of the floor areas that had been begun in 1992. It revealed the bases of mud-brick and stone structures to the north and south of the entrance, some of which were modern and most probably ovens, to judge by the amount of associated burning, particularly in relation to one of the structures in the north wing of the hall. These ovens were doubtless largely responsible for the layer of soot obscuring the paintings in the room. Many other relatively recent items were found from the habitation of the tomb. However, a number of fragments of shabtis appeared in the clearance, many of which can be linked with types from the shafts in the shrine.

Three further `shafts' were identified in the north wing of the hall, termed Shafts F, G, and H (see adjacent sketch). The northernmost of these (F) is square in shape and presumably a true shaft; the other two are closer to the entrance of the tomb. That to the west (G) appears to be a long, narrow pit, while the eastern one (H) is not as long and the mud bricks around it are coated with a mud-plaster layer that seems to line this pit. These two pits were perhaps cut into the floor to receive burials. Their size suggests that G could be that of an adult and H that of a child. Clearance of these will make access to the adjacent paintings difficult, and thus will be postponed until after this decoration has been cleaned and documented.

 Shrine, Shaft E

The existence of five shafts in the shrine of TT99 was noted in the report on the 1992 season. That in front of the offering niche (Shaft E) was chosen as the first to be cleared, followed by that in the south-west corner (shaft A). The clearance involved creating an artificial stratigraphy in layers of approximately 25-30 cm depth, enabling close control to be kept on the location and quantification of material found.

The position of shaft E made it a possible location for an eighteenth dynasty shaft. However, no evidence of eighteenth dynasty usage was found; 3.3 m deep, all the material from it, apart from funerary cones and one notable exception, dates to the Third Intermediate and (more probably) the Late Period. There are no chambers at the bottom and the rough nature of the bottom of the shaft is very suggestive of its having been left unfinished.

Material from this shaft consisted of shabtis, amulet fragments, and many small fragments of coffins and mummy cases, as well as pottery and human remains. The shabtis fall into a relatively consistent group of about 20 main types, several of which recur in Shaft A, thus attesting mixing of the material when the shafts were robbed. The most frequent shabti type was made of fired Nile silt and painted green, bearing the text `The Osiris Nes-Hathor, true of voice'; most were fragmentary, but complete examples of both worker and overseer types are shown below.

The presence of funerary cones in this and Shaft A attests contamination of the material with that from outside. Most cones were extremely unclear, but the distinctive rectangular cone of Sennefer shown here could be identified in a few cases.[1] .

An unexpected and astonishing find in this shaft was the headless seated statue of the `deputy of the overseer of seal-bearers, Amenhotep'. The statue, found near the bottom of Shaft E, is made of sandstone and painted, with most of the paint still preserved. It is satisfying to relate that a large part of the head, joining perfectly, was recovered from Shaft A, along with a small fragment from the chair, so that the full beauty of the piece can be appreciated. It is possible that an unsuccessful attempt was made by robbers to break up the statue, after which it was thrown away into the shafts which were being refilled with debris after the robbery.

Amenhotep wears a shoulder-length black wig, has a short beard, is dressed in a long white robe, and holds a lotus flower to his breast. On the lap and legs of the statue is a column of hieroglyphs giving an offering formula and his name and title shown at right.

Translation: "An offering which the king gives to Osiris, foremost of the Westerners, lord of eternity, ruler of the everlasting, that he may give every good and pure thing for the ka of the deputy of the overseer of seal-bearers, Amenhotep"

 Amenhotep is without doubt the owner of lost tomb C.3 in Sheikh abd el-Qurna (Porter and Moss, Topographical Bibliography I2, 457); texts in tomb C.3 make it reasonably certain that he was the son-in-law of Sennefer.[2] The discovery of this statue makes it possible that other members of the family in addition to the owner were commemorated in TT99. The statue has been cleaned by Julie Dawson, revealing a layer of varnish over the red-brown skin colour. It should be noted that other statue fragments, in sandstone and limestone, attest to the presence of further statues in the tomb; one, bearing a series of high honorific titles, could be part of a statue of Sennefer.

 Shrine, Shaft A

Shaft A is also vertical, with a depth of 2.70 m. At the bottom, on the south side, a room opens off, designated room 1 and measuring 3.40 m long and 2.60 m wide, approximately three-quarters of which was cleared this season.

Material from this shaft is generally very similar to that from Shaft E; many of the same shabti types appeared (indicating cross-contamination of the original fill material in the course of robbery), with the addition of some new ones. The fill from this shaft indicates that this too was used only during the Third Intermediate and Late Periods. From just inside the room came two attractive painted wooden hawk figurines, probably from the base of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris statues, and a large mud jar-sealing stamped with the hieroglyphs for `The sealer of every possession' (htm ht nbt). In addition a number of fragments of openwork mummy cases have appeared, which it may be possible to reassemble in part after further work.

The following table indicates the distribution of types of finds from the three main contexts:

              Small   Linen   Pottery   Wood
              finds    (kg)    (kg)     (kg)   
Shaft E        6,211  15.847  56.480   4.530  
Shaft A        1,144   5.890  48.330   1.365  
Shaft A, rm 1  2,009   6.110  29.200   1.695  

The quantity of human remains found was not large: substantial parts of two mummies were found, and a number of loose bones. These will be studied in a future season, but it is unlikely that they indicate the presence of a large number of bodies.

Our impression of the shafts in the tomb from the work undertaken so far is that it is unlikely that any of them are contemporary with the tomb chapel, and that the 18th dynasty burial shaft has to be sought elsewhere. The most likely location is thus in the courtyard, which will be examined when work inside the chapel is complete.


The mission was very fortunate this year to have the services of an experienced conservator from the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge, who worked on the cleaning of the wall paintings and on the objects found. The following is a summary of the work undertaken:

Statue of Amenhotep: the statue was generally in sound condition with the surviving pigment and varnish adhering strongly to the stone. The surface was covered in scattered efflorescences of insoluble salts and a thick layer of superficial dirt. The statue was brushed to remove loose dirt, then cleaned using very small quantities of filtered water (on varnished areas) and alcohol (on unvarnished painted areas) applied from cotton wool swabs. Some of the areas of insoluble salts were thinned mechanically with a scalpel. The statue was protected by covering with acid-free tissue paper and unbleached cotton fabric and was stored in a wooden crate. The head was packed separately in acid-free tissue and Plastazoate (polyethylene foam) and stored in the same crate.

Wall paintings: a detailed condition report and preliminary cleaning and consolidation experiments were made on the area of painted wall plaster immediately to the left of the tomb entrance of the outer chamber (wall 6 on fig. 1a).

The surviving plaster was found to be generally in sound condition, with good internal cohesion and strong adhesion to the wall, although in some areas lacunae behind the plaster can be detected and there are several deep cracks running through the pigment and ground layers and into the plaster to an unknown depth. There are many abrasions and deep scratches. The paint layer is mostly intact. The white ground, and red and yellow pigments are coherent, the blue and green pigments tend to be pulverent. The pigments adhere strongly to the white ground, except for the red which is flaking in many places. There is no evidence of soluble or insoluble salt efflorescences on the painting. The surface is extremely dusty and is stained by smoke.

From the experiments made, a scheme for the conservation of the paintings was devised. In essence this would involve gentle surface cleaning using very soft synthetic sponges. Deeply stained areas may in some cases be further cleaned by the application of a solvent and hydroxypropyl cellulose poultice over Japanese tissue. Flaking pigment would be consolidated and relaid using either an acrylic resin (Paraloid B72) or an acrylic emulsion (further experiments required to make a final choice between two possible materials) depending on the condition of the pigment and the extent of detachment in any particular area. A mortar would be prepared to reattach the few loose areas of plaster to the wall of the tomb.


Although short, this season must count as perhaps the most satisfying and successful in our nine years in Qurna. The original burial place of Sennefer has yet to be discovered, but with the finding of the statue of Amenhotep we have some evidence that other members of his family may have been commemorated with him here.

Work in the next season of the project will continue with the clearing of the shafts, and the conservation of the wall paintings so that the epigraphic documentation can be completed. A longer-term aim might be to attempt to locate the lost tomb of Amenhotep in Qurna.

© Nigel Strudwick 1994

[1]N. de G. Davies and M. F. Laming Macadam, A Corpus of Inscribed Funerary Cones I (Oxford 1957), no. 154.[return to text]

[2] The texts from this tomb are in K. Piehl, Inscriptions hiéroglyphiques I (Stockholm-Leipzig 1886), CXLII (X) and CXLIII (Z), with a sketch plan in id., Inscriptions hiéroglyphiques II (Stockholm-Leipzig 1888), 111.[return to text]

© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2018