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Report on the work of the University of Cambridge Theban Mission 1994

Nigel Strudwick

In September 1994, the Higher Committee for Antiquity granted permission for a mission from the University of Cambridge to continue Epigraphic, Clearance, and Conservation work in Theban Private Tomb 99, that of Sennefer or Senneferi.

I should like to thank Prof. Dr Abd el-Halim Nur ed-Din, Principal Secretary of the HCA, and all members of the Committee for agreeing to the request for permission to work in Thebes. In particular I am grateful to Dr Mohamed el-Saghir, Chief Inspector of Upper Egypt, and the staff in Abbassiya for enabling this permission to be carried out. In Luxor, I indebted to Mr Sabri Abdel Aziz, Director of the West Bank, and Mr Mohamed el-Bialy, Chief Inspector of the Central area. The inspector attached to the Mission during the season was Mr Said Jibril Mohamed; he enabled the daily running of the mission to proceed smoothly. I also wish to thank our reis Baghdadi Diab Ittahir for organising our workmen so efficiently.

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 1994 and 10 January 1995. The staff of the mission consisted of Dr Nigel Strudwick (Field Director), Mrs Helen Strudwick (Archaeological Director), Miss Julie Dawson (Conservator), Mr Anthony Middleton (Photographer), Miss Rachel Walker (Archaeological Assistant), and Miss Alexandra Whittaker (Archaeological Assistant). Our Ceramics Specialist, Dr Pamela Rose, was unfortunately unable to be present.

The work of the mission this season consisted as before of epigraphy, clearance, and conservation.

Epigraphy and documentation

The making of drawings of the paintings in the tomb continued the work in progress since 1992. The main effort of this season was copying the biographical text of Sennefer (12 on plan in fig. 1).

Fig. 1 Sketch plan of the tomb

This text was clearly not completed by the painters, and most of it is rather faint. A number of corrections and improvements were made to the hand copy published by Sethe in Urkunden IV, 528-31. All the scenes and texts in the rear room of the tomb have now been completed, as have most of the remaining fragments in the passage of the tomb. This documentation now requires inking and collation. A complete photographic record of these same areas was also made by Anthony Middleton.


Following the tests with methods for cleaning the paintings made in 1993 and noted in my report for that season, Julie Dawson returned to begin systematic cleaning of the paintings of the front room of the tomb. The following is her summary report:

Conservation work this season concentrated on the cleaning and consolidation of the painted plaster on wall 4 and immediately adjacent areas of ceiling in the transverse hall.

A detailed condition report with diagrams and photographs was made of the surviving fragments of plaster. Substantial areas of detachment were detected by tapping, but, except in two places along the broken lower edge, the plaster seems to be firm and in no immediate danger of falling. There are many scratches and abrasions, some of which are only in the paint layer, but others penetrate deeply into the plaster substrate. There is also evidence of earlier bat habitation of the tomb. In general the painted surface of the plaster is in better condition than that of wall 6 which was examined last year. It is cleaner and less damaged by smoke. Several areas of flaking paint were observed and in many places the surface was obscured by mud insect nests. In places these have fallen, taking with them the top of the paint layer, leaving bright but friable pigment exposed. Of the pigments; white, yellow and pink are in generally sound condition, the granular blue and green have tended to flake off and black is substantially lost. Several areas of red on the bodies of the figures are slightly friable.

After initial light brushing to remove dust and cobwebs, areas of flaking surface were laid by the application of Plextol B500 acrylic dispersion; 30% concentration behind flaking paint and 50% concentration behind flaking paint attached to the fine surface plaster. The flakes were then gently pressed back into place with a spatula. White spirit was applied to the surface before injection with the emulsion in order to prevent staining of the paint.

When the surface had been secured it was cleaned with a soft synthetic (Wishab) sponge. This removed dirt and smoke without damaging the painted surface. Although this treatment substantially improves the clarity of the images, it does not remove deep staining from the paint and plaster. Tests carried out in the 1993 season showed that this can only be achieved by the use of solvents and other wet chemicals which, however carefully applied, tend on this particular painting to create new stains and disrupt to some extent the pigments and especially the very thin white background. The primary aim of conservation in this tomb is, in addition to securing the long term preservation of the surviving fragments of plaster, to render them sufficiently visible for comprehensive recording. It is felt therefore that a minimal treatment by the gentle mechanical means described above is at present adequate in this case.

Insect nests were softened with a mixture of water and ethanol and removed mechanically. Friable paint was consolidated by the drop-wise application of 2.5% Paraloid B72 (acrylic resin) in a mixture of acetone and ethanol. The two loose areas of plaster at the lower edge of the painting were consolidated by injection of 50% Plextol B500 into the plaster. Further strengthening of the lower edge and the detached areas of plaster with a lime- based grout will be undertaken in another season.

In addition to the conservation of part of wall 4 and adjacent areas of ceiling, flaking paint was laid on wall 6, preliminary condition reports were made on all other walls in the transverse hall, two further fragments of the statue of Amenhotep were cleaned, and a large leaf and stalk funerary garland lifted, cleaned and packed. This object will need further cleaning and consolidation before it can be humidified and unravelled to show its proper shape.


Clearance work in the shafts located in the rear room of the tomb continued this season for three weeks. Progress on this work is steady but slow, as the shafts are quite deep and usually have one or two rooms at the bottom. They are cleared in a series of 20-25 cm layers, creating an artificial vertical stratigraphy so that the relative position of material found can be easily established.

The first task of the season was to complete the excavation of the burial chamber of Shaft A. Within one hour of commencing work a striking Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure was found (fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure

Also found in this chamber was a hawk which probably belongs with this figure, underneath the substantial remains of a funerary garland which would have originally have been placed over one of the burials in the chamber. It will be impossible to estimate the number of burials made in this chamber until the human remains have been analysed. Two further fragments of the statue of Amenhotep discovered in the 1993 season were also found in this chamber (discussed below).

Shaft B was next to be investigated. Although smaller at its mouth than the others, it proved to be much deeper at 4.75 m, with a chamber at the bottom. At the bottom of this shaft was found a substantial part of the original brick blocking of the chamber, which we have protected from any damage which might be caused by subsequent work. The fill of this chamber was a combination of that from the refilling of the shaft after the most recent robbery and that from the original fillings. I am able to report that some indication is available of the identity of the original occupant. Among the large quantity of mummy linen, several pieces with ink hieroglyphic inscriptions were recovered (fig. 3). [1]

Fig. 3 Inscribed linen from the burial of Wedjahor

The first of these gave the full titulary of king Shabaka of the 25th dynasty (c. 716-702 bc), and the beginning of the title "4th priest...". Another piece of bandage expands on this, with the name and titles "4th priest of Amun Wedjahor", followed by a date . This date appears to be missing the designation of the season, and is perhaps to be read "10th day of the month". The presence of a fragment of the same linen with a part of the titulary of Shabaka adhering to a male mummy found in this chamber makes it reasonably certain that we have found the body of Wedjahor himself. Coffin fragments bearing parts of the title "4th priest" were also found this year and last, as were faience vessel fragments bearing parts of cartouches of Shabaka, and thus the elements of the broken assemblage of finds are now clearly starting to fit into a pattern.

Wedjahor is otherwise known only from a statue in the Cairo Museum, [2] and he has been variously dated to the 8th[3] and 7th[4] centuries BC. One of the most important results of this season of work has been to shed more light on Wedjahor and to date him with some certainty to the end of the 8th century BC.

Shaft D was then excavated, and was found to be 3.5 m deep. At the bottom are two chambers, the western of which of which is still partly closed with the original stone blocking. Time did not permit that these chambers be excavated this season, although a large number of mud bricks on top of the debris in the southern room were removed and recorded as they probably come from another original blocking.

I have noted above a few of the more special finds. The overriding characteristic of the material from all the locations so far excavated in the tomb is the homogeneity of the material. Even without the fortunate dating evidence uncovered, the finds are clearly of the later Third Intermediate Period to Late Period; once the remaining shafts and chambers in this rear room of the tomb have been clearer, it should be possible to tell whether the tomb is, for example, a family tomb of the time of Wedjahor or was used more generally for burials of this period.

These other finds include a large number of shabtis of 40-50 different types, and a very high number of coffin fragments. Many of these fragments seem to belong to a type of openwork coffin seen in the period noted above, and we are hopeful that it may prove possible to reconstruct a large part of the one or more originals.

The only exceptions to this broad date of the material are a range of funerary cones (which are always found intrusively in Theban tombs), including some of Sennefer, and a number of statue fragments. As noted, two further fragments of the statue of Amenhotep, the outstanding find of the 1993 season, were recovered from shaft A room 1. Due to the kindness of the Director of the Qurna Inspectorate, it was possible to temporarily fit these two fragments to the statue, and photograph the resultant almost complete object (fig. 4).

Fig. 4 Statue of Amenhotep

Parts of the top of the head are still missing, and a proper restoration of the statue will be attempted once all excavations in TT99 have been completed and we are certain that there are no further fragments to be found. In addition fragments of two other statues were found, probably of the time of Amenhotep II to Thutmose IV. The first is part of the head of the female element of a limestone pair statue (fig. 5a), and the second the shoulder of a sandstone statue bearing a cartouche of Amenhotep II (fig. 5b).

Fig. 5a/b Statue fragments -

No traces have yet been found of any inscriptions to tell us whether these statues are of members of the family of Sennefer, although, on the parallel of Amenhotep, this cannot be ruled out. I now assume by default that the 18th dynasty shaft of the tomb must lie in the courtyard; this is supported by the report that Mond probably excavated such a shaft in 1903.[5]

The following table indicates the distribution of types of finds from the three main contexts (last season's figures are included for comparison):


                      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 room 1 1993   2,009   6.110  29.200   1.695
Shaft A room 1 1993   2,010   3.115   8.685   1.650  
             Total    4,019   9.225  37.885   3.345  
Shaft B               2,567  11.293  50.980   2.730  
Shaft B room 1        2,179  14.430  23.440   5.095  
Shaft D               1,220   5.310  38.530   1.645  

Considerably more human remains were found than in the 1993-4 season, including substantial parts of several mummies.

It has proved possible to carry out a limited amount of work on the finds, primarily the coffin and shabti material mentioned above. The majority of the shabti material from both excavation seasons has been re-examined with a few to joining together as many of the fragments as possible, and to consolidate the types from both years into a smaller number. Likewise, some progress has been made on the openwork coffin fragments, although space makes it somewhat difficult to reconstruct an object the size of a coffin. A photographic record has been made of the principal objects discovered so far. It had been planned to begin work on the ceramics this year, but in the event Dr Rose was unable to be present.

Conclusions and the future

Our priorities now lie in completing the archaeological and conservation parts of the project, since the remaining wall paintings cannot be fully documented until they have been cleaned and conserved. Another season should see the end of clearance of the shafts within the tomb, and may allow work to commence elsewhere, namely above the tomb to investigate whether a superstructure existed there, and also in the courtyard. Systematic study of the finds can then take place. Next year I hope to bring a specialist to begin study of the human remains.

© Nigel Strudwick 1995


[1] These pieces of linen require conservation in the form of humidification and consolidation before they can be properly mounted and documented. It is hoped this can happen next season. Return to text

[2] JE 37153. This is unpublished, but is noted in PM II2, 154, and mentioned in G. Vittmann, Priester und Beamte im Theben der Spätzeit (Wien 1978), 96. [Addition made in 1998: a photograph of this piece will now be found on this site]. Return to text

[3] ibid., 100. Return to text

[4] K.A. Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt 2 (Warminster 1986), 566, sect 488, following M.L. Bierbrier in his review of Vittmann in BiOr 36 (1979), 307. Return to text

[5] 'Report on work done in the Gebel esh-Sheikh abd-el Kurneh at Thebes January to March 1903', ASAE 5 (1904), 101Ð2. Return to text

© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2018