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Report on the work of the University of Cambridge Theban Mission 1995

Nigel Strudwick

In November 1995, the Permanent Committee of the Supreme Council for Antiquities 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 SCA, 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 am indebted to Dr Mohamed Nasr, Director of Karnak, Mr Sabri Abdel Aziz, Director of the West Bank, and Mr Mohamed el-Bialy, Chief Inspector of the Central area, for their assistance. The inspector attached to the Mission during the season was Mr Ashraf Okasha; 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, the Gerald Avery Wainwright Fund for Near Eastern Archaeology, and the Thomas Mulvey Egyptology Fund. The support of Mrs S. Sparrow is also gratefully acknowledged.

The Mission was in Egypt between 3 December 1995 and 7 January 1996. The staff of the mission consisted of Dr Nigel Strudwick (Field Director), Mrs Helen Strudwick (Archaeological Director), Dr Pamela Rose (Ceramics Specialist), Miss Julie Dawson and Miss Helen Howard (Conservators), and Miss Rachel Walker and Miss Lynn Meskell (Archaeological Assistants).

The work of the mission this season consisted as before of epigraphy, conservation, and clearance. A sketch plan of the tomb will be found here.

Epigraphy and documentation

The making of drawings of the paintings in the tomb continued the work in progress since 1992. The main documentary effort of this season was the collation of drawings made in the past two seasons, and now almost all of the scenes and texts in the rear room of the tomb have been copied and collated.

A brief examination was made of the stonework above the door of the tomb. As with many other tombs in this part of the cemetery, it forms an extension of the rock facade of the chapel, and is undoubtedly ancient. The stones of which it is made are roughly shaped and variably sized pieces of the rock from which the tomb is cut, interspersed with less irregularly-shaped blocks of a slightly harder limestone. They appear to be approximately laid in courses, and between most stones are remains of a brownish mud-based mortar. Areas of a lighter-coloured plaster survive from what must have been a covering for the whole facade, presumably so that it blended in better with the rock facade. At both the north and south sides there were short extensions eastward, following the line of the courtyard (that at the south is now mainly destroyed). Approximately 2.5 m above the doorway, located on the central axis of the tomb, is a small niche, perhaps for a small stela or statue. Level with the top of this there is a small ledge, and above that appears to be a rougher fill. This could be the beginning of a superstructure of some sort; the remains of areas of mud brick are visible, particularly above and to the left of the niche. Clearly this area needs further investigation, as the existence of superstructures of different types above tombs of the 18th dynasty is now well recognised.[1]



The following is written by Helen Howard and Julie Dawson:

During the period 11-19th December, parameters for a condition survey (Table 1) and priorities for treatment of the wall paintings were established. Given the extent and condition of the paintings, together with the limited time-scale for assessment and treatment, it was felt that a reasonable target was to survey and document the condition of all accessible zones of painting during the 1995-1996 conservation phases, with particular emphasis on zones where the painting is detached from the rock-cut support, highlighting those where this detachment compromises the safety of the painting.

In December 1995 the surveying and documentation of the condition of walls 4 & 5 (and the majority of wall 6) was completed. Emergency conservation treatment was carried out to severely detached zones of painting as they were highlighted during the survey. Fixing of the plaster substrate to the rock-cut support was undertaken by injecting Plextol B500:water (75:25)[2] at the zone of detachment using a hypodermic needle and syringe. Just before the injection of the consolidant, the paint surface itself was pre-wetted with white spirit to prevent evaporation at the surface thus avoiding unwanted staining of the paint surface. The zone of detached painting was gently held in position with an intervention layer of Japanese tissue until the adhesive took effect.

In addition to the surveying and emergency treatment of the paintings, the campaign of cleaning to remove the disfiguring soot from wall 4--which was started in 1994--was continued. Here following the fixing of any powdering and flaking paint (as described in the 1994 report), the surface dirt was gently removed with a Wishab (dry vulcanised latex) sponge.

In addition, areas of the wall and ceiling in the shrine room which will no longer be accessible following the excavation of Shaft C were also surveyed. Again zones of detached and vulnerable plaster were re-adhered to the rock-cut substrate and areas which may be vulnerable during the excavation itself were provided with a loose covering of Japanese tissue. These coverings may easily be removed at the end of the excavation period by softening the adhesive, Paraloid B72 which adheres the tissue to the surrounding rock, with acetone.

Small zones of the ceiling decoration of the shrine room near shaft 1 were found to be in an extremely vulnerable state. Since it was not possible to gain sufficiently stable access to safely treat these areas in this phase, they were provided with bridges of Japanese tissue (adhered to the plaster substrate in nearby losses with Paraloid B72)[3] to support them, and thus ensure their safety until further emergency treatment can be carried out in a subsequent treatment phase.

Table 1: Parameters of condition survey
Exfoliation of the paint layer, flaking at paint:plaster interface
Blind cleavage of paint layer at paint:plaster interface
Loss of cohesion of paint layer
Loss of cohesion of plaster support
Detachment of plaster, blind cleavage at plaster:rock interface but condition stable
Detachment of plaster at plaster:rock or plaster:plaster interface
These zones which are in need of treatment were prioritised 1-3
(1: in urgent need of treatment, 3: monitor)

In addition to the work on the wall paintings, several objects were examined and packed for storage.

The pieces of inscribed linen excavated at the end of the 1994 season (those bearing the titulary of Shabaka and the titles of Wedjahor) were found to be in reasonably sound condition, retaining considerable flexibility in the fibres. All have suffered from varying degrees of physical and insect damage however and were very badly crumpled. As they could not be studied or stored safely in this state, each piece was placed in a humidity chamber and the humidity raised in stages in order gradually to relax the fibres. Once the fragments were reasonably flat they were rolled between sheets of acid-free tissue over wide rollers made from stiff polyester sheet and placed inside polythene sleeves for protection.

Ceramics and ostraca, which were in a strong and stable condition but covered with patches of insoluble salts and a layer of dried mud, were cleaned with Wishab sponges and cotton wool swabs very lightly dampened with filtered water.

Tests were made using small bridges of Japanese tissue and various adhesives, to find a suitable method for the repair and reconstruction of sections of a cartonnage open-work coffin. Further work is needed before a final choice of method and adhesive is made.


Clearance work (Helen Strudwick)

On 19 December clearance of Shaft D Room 1 began in earnest, a beginning having been made at the very end of the previous season. The fill of this room consisted of a layer of medium-sized stones and mud bricks lying on the top of the fill, beneath which was a layer of loose dirt approximately 25cm deep at the door end of the room and increasing in depth to a maximum of 45cm at the other end of the room. Below this we found a distinct layer of larger boulders of limestone, including one very clearly shaped into a blocking stone, similar to those visible in the entrance to Shaft D Room 2 noted last year. This could have originated in the blocking of either room, as there are traces of crude mortar in the doorway, in one place with a stone still attached. Immediately below this, at a depth of approximately 1.45m from the ceiling, were large quantities of linen, close by the doorway, and substantial sections of wooden coffins, in the centre of the room, together with significant quantities of animal dung and chaff. Below was the floor of this chamber, with very fragmentary remains of a funerary garland strewn on the floor, particularly in the area of a small pit in the centre of the room and which was approximately 50cm in depth and in which were found further wooden coffin fragments. The room itself is approximately 3.15m x 1.50m.

Attention was then turned to clearing Shaft D Room 2; however, progress on this stopped almost immediately when it became clear that there was a second entrance to this room, in all likelihood leading from Shaft C which was as yet uncleared. A decision was therefore made to clear Shaft C first. The fill of this shaft was the usual mixture of modern and ancient material, the former most noticeable in the upper layers, including a great density of chaff which seemed to have been deposited in the (local) southwestern corner of the shaft down to a depth of approximately 80cm. Below this were found remains of a bead net and many amulet fragments, while in the (local) northwestern corner was found a hieratic ostracon (see further below). Shaft C was notable for the quantity of human remains which was recovered from this shaft, more than from the others of this tomb. The shaft extended to a depth of approximately 3.60m and two chambers were found leading from this shaft: one was numbered Shaft C Room 1 and the other was Shaft D Room 2 (also referred to as Shaft C Room 2). At the very bottom of the shaft was found an almost complete basket, similar to those used by workmen until recently.

The entrance to Shaft D Room 2 was found blocked with loose mud bricks on top of a layer of stones, below which were the remains of what had presumably been the original mud brick and mortar door sealing. This room was found to contain very little fill, but in the middle of the room, and running from (local) east to west, was a mud brick wall, one brick wide for most of its extent but two bricks wide at the ends. It is well plastered on the side facing the doorway and remains of this plastering seem to continue up the wall as if it continued up to the ceiling of the room. The maximum dimensions of this room are 2.15m x 2.85m and the mud brick wall lies approximately 90cm from the doorway. After completion of the clearance of this room, it was clear that the ``doorway'' leading from Shaft D was not the original entrance. It is possible therefore that the stone blockage there was an ancient repair to an accidental breakthrough to that shaft. The excellent finish apparent from the Shaft D side suggests that the stonework was finished from that side and that Shaft D was empty at the time that the breakthrough occurred, and thus Shaft D is probably the newer shaft of the two.

The clearance of Shaft C Room 1, approximately 2.90m x 2.45m, was the last work remaining from this complex of shafts, and this room was found to contain little other than a large quantity of stones and larger boulders, although further fragments of bead net were recovered from this chamber, and the remains of insubstantial offering furniture were found lying on the floor of the room, in the southeastern corner. A sketch plan of the layout of the shafts and rooms was prepared.

The final archaeological work of the season involved making a start on the investigation of the courtyard. Careful clearance of two 2m squares, to the right of the doorway of the tomb, was begun on the last day of digging. At a depth of approximately 15cm below the surface was found a floor of compacted mud together with a circular structure full of ash. The presence of numerous breadplatters suggested that it was the remains of a relatively modern bread-oven, similar to those in use today and presumably belonging to the family who had lived in the tomb most recently. If Mond did excavate here and found the ``large pit of the tomb of Sen-nefera'',[4] it is unlikely that it was in this area of the courtyard. No estimate could be made of how deep the layer of debris below this would be, and further investigation of this area and the rest of the courtyard remains work for the next season.

The Pottery (Pamela Rose)

During this season I have been able to make a preliminary examination of all the ceramics found in shafts A, B, D, and E at the rear of the tomb. [Dr Rose left before the clearance work was completed.] Some 340 kilos of potsherds have been recovered, but no complete vessels; it is, however, clear that a number of vessels (over 20) can be partially or substantially reconstructed from their constituent sherds. These sherds are widely dispersed amongst the various shafts and chambers, and it has therefore proved necessary to examine all excavated contexts to extract sherds from various vessels before any more detailed recording can begin. Since it is to be expected that further sherds from these pots will come to light as excavation proceeds, reconstruction and drawing will only take place once the work in the shafts in the shrine has been completed. The examination of the sherds has enabled me to establish a fabric typology of 25 types, covering all periods.

Four broad periods of use of the shafts have been identified, and the material from each quantified by weighing. The most common category, pottery classified as `recent' (probably from the last 200 years or thereabouts), was found in almost all excavated contents, with the exception of the lowest levels of the rooms at the bottom of the shafts. Within the shafts themselves, `recent' pottery constituted 50% or more of the assemblage. Many of the types of recent pottery have already been documented as a result of work on TT253, 254, and 294,[5] but a number of large diagnostic fragments have been saved for more detailed documentation.

The next most common period of use belongs to the Late Roman period. This is characterised particularly by sherds of brown ware ribbed amphorae, well known in Upper Egypt, and 65 toes of these vessels have come to light so far. Other types of vessel include ceramics made in the area of Aswan, both amphorae and small fineware bowls, and also vessels conventionally described as cooking pots. This assemblage can be dated approximately from the 5th to 8th centuries AD.

Ceramics belonging to the Third Intermediate Period and Late Period are less common, and are rarely substantially reconstructible. There are however sherds from 3 Phoenician-type amphorae, which are to be dated approximately to the 6-5th centuries BC. Marl clay vessels of types usually associated with the 25-26th dynasties are present, but rare. Third Intermediate Period silt ware vessels are particularly common in shaft D.

New Kingdom material is rare, forming more than 10% of the total assemblage only in the lowest levels of the rooms. Early 18th dynasty pottery can be recognised in a handful of sherds of small red-slipped bowls with black rim bands. Late 18th and 19th dynasty vessels can be identified from a few sherds of blue-painted ware. A number of sherds from cream slipped marl amphorae, some heavily coated with resinous material, are probably of 18th dynasty date, but until they are reconstructed it is not clear whether they could be later in date, belonging to the Third Intermediate Period.

Many sherds of the dynastic and Late Roman periods were reused as scrapers for digging, and it is noticeable that often many sherds of the same vessel seem to have been used for this purpose. This suggests that the pots were intact until smashed for use as digging tools. Scrapers made from sherds of `recent' pottery are very rare.

Next season should see the completion of the examination of material excavated this year, and thereafter the reconstruction of vessels, their drawing and recording of diagnostic sherds, should allow more precise dating on the use of the shafts.

Material found and conclusions to be drawn (Nigel Strudwick)

As in previous seasons, a large number of mostly fragmentary finds were unearthed. In contrast, however, there were no pieces this year considered worthy of entry into the register book at this stage. Table 2 summarises the scale of the finds from the tomb so far. I note below some of the more meaningful groups of material.

Table 2: Summary of finds from rear room of TT99
      Linen Pottery Wood
Year Location Small finds (kg ) (kg ) (kg )
1993 Shaft E 6244 15.847 56.48 4.53
  Shaft A 1158 5.89 48.33 1.365
  Shaft A room 1 2015 6.11 29.2 1.695
1994 Shaft A room 1 2017 3.115 8.685 1.65
  Total 4032 9.225 37.885 3.345
  Shaft B 2563 11.293 50.98 2.73
  Shaft B room 1 2170 14.43 23.44 5.095
  Shaft D 1230 5.31 38.53 1.645
1995 Shaft D room 1 3891 10.26 30.38 4.725
  Shaft D room 2 929 5.82 17.65 2.83
  Shaft C 4573 18.165 23.8 7.635
  Shaft C room 1 1246 1.84 13.6 8.095
Totals   28036 98.08 341.075 41.995

The lower layers of shaft D room 1 revealed a large number of pieces of broken wooden coffins, probably susceptible in part to reconstruction. They appear to include both anthropoid and larger box coffin types. Parts of the anthropoid coffin of Wedjahor were found here;[6] several other fragments gave the name of a previously unknown priest of Amun named Horempe. The same person, his name written in the variant form Horenpe, is also named on a badly crumpled strip of linen from the pit in Shaft D room 1 bearing a date of year 12.

Wedjahor was probably buried in year 10 of Shabaka (c. 705 BC), but we have no way of knowing at present whether Horempe was his contemporary or not, although the material from both burials appears not to be too different in date. Other fragments of coffin overlays and cartonnage mummy-cases have been found, although most are too small to reveal much useful information. No further fragments have been discovered of the openwork mummy-cases which were so common in the previous two seasons.

Further large numbers of shabtis have been found. No types have been noted additional to the 50 or so types uncovered previously. A few types found in previous seasons were not found this year, but most types have appeared in almost all locations in the tomb. The most ubiquitous type is that of Neshathor.[7] No fewer than 807 fragments of this type have now been found, together with 60 of the corresponding reis type, and their distribution is summarised in table 3. Clearly these fragments ought to form an almost complete set of shabtis; the relatively even distribution of these objects, coupled with the lack of any other material belonging to this person, makes the location of that burial still uncertain.

Table 3: Distribution of shabtis of Neshathor
Location Fragments of worker type Fragments of reis type
Shaft A
Shaft A, room 1
Shaft B
Shaft B, room 1
Shaft C
Shaft C, room 1
Shaft D
Shaft D, room 1
Shaft D, room 2
Shaft E

A number of ostraca and inscribed sherds have been found. The ostraca are mainly Coptic, and complement the Coptic/Late Roman ceramic material noted above by Pamela Rose. One is illustrated here. One ostracon of probable 18th dynasty date was recovered, which seems to bear a list of names--workmen associated with the tomb is one possibility.[8]

More human remains were found during the 1995 season than in previous ones. In particular, there was a large amount of disarticulated bone, and parts of three or four mummies. An initial impression is that the human remains are commensurate with a small number of burials, such as of one or two families, and not indicative of mass graves.

Now that the clearance of the shafts at the rear of the tomb has been completed, I can offer some preliminary conclusions on the history and use of the tomb. 

  • It is unlikely that any interments contemporary with Senneferi were made in the rear of the tomb, as some fragments of 18th dynasty burial assemblages would be expected to survive. The only material of that date is funerary cones, which must by their nature be intrusive, and ceramics. The latter could either be intrusive or be the remains of vessels deposited in the tomb containing food and drink for Senneferi and his family.
  • If Senneferi and/or his family was buried in TT99 (note the statue of Amenhotep[9] mentioned in previous reports), they may have excavated a shaft in the courtyard which we hope to locate in future work.[10]
  • The material from burial assemblages found is almost exclusively of the late Third Intermediate Period to Late Period. A number of names of individuals of those periods have been found, most prominently Wedjahor and Horempe. It seems that TT99 was adopted as a tomb by one or more families at that time, although which parts were occupied by which persons is still unclear as the material is so widely distributed.
  • The next major period of use of this part of the tomb was in the Late Roman/Coptic period, attested by mainly ceramic data and some ostraca. It is possible that work in the Courtyard may reveal more of the employment of the tomb at that period.
  • TT99 was occupied by a family (locally reputed to have been Coptic weavers) from an indeterminate date until they were bought out in 1907.[11]

Conclusions and the future

The 1995 season produced several important results, in particular the completion of the documentation and excavation of the third room in the tomb, the making of a condition survey of the wall paintings and emergency consolidation of endangered areas, and the first results of study of the ceramics. The completion of the clearance of the shafts marks a turning point in this project, since the archaeological work can in future be concentrated outside the chapel.

Work can now commence in earnest on the finds from these shafts, and it is hoped to be able to work a longer season next year. The aims of this would be to allow approximately one month for studying the material recovered thus far, as well as continuing with the conservation of the wall paintings. A further month would then be devoted to continuation of the clearance in the courtyard, and perhaps starting on the archaeological investigation of the superstructure.

© Nigel Strudwick 1996


  1. Such as TT131 (E. Dziobek, 'Eine Grabpyramide des frühen NR in Theben', MDAIK 45 (1989), 109-32). See also K.-J. Seyfried, 'Entwicklung in der Grabarchitektur des neuen Reiches als eine weitere Quelle für theologische Konzeptionen der Ramessidenzeit', in J. Assmann, G. Burkard, and V. Davies (eds), Problems and Priorities in Egyptian Archaeology (London 1987), 219-53.
  2. Plextol B500 is a dispersion of ethylacrylate (60%) methyl methacrylate (40%) in water.
  3. Paraloid B72 is an acrylic copolymer (ethyl methacrylate:methylacrylate 70:30) used in this instance in a 10% solution in acetone.
  4. 'Report on work done in the Gebel esh-Sheikh abd-el Kurneh at Thebes January to March 1903', ASAE 5 (1904), 101-2.
  5. The previous tombs studied by this mission; the publication is now in press.
  6. N. Strudwick, 'The fourth priest of Amun Wedjahor', GM 148 (1995), 91-4.
  7. Noted in the 1993 report; photograph in N. Strudwick, 'Ten years digging in Thebes', Egyptian Archaeology 5 (1994), 35.
  8. I should like to thank Jac J. Janssen for examining and making a preliminary transcription of this find. One is reminded of the similar material from the tomb of Senmut (TT71: W. C. Hayes, Ostraka and Name Stones from the tomb of Sen-mut (no. 71) at Thebes (New York 1942), pl. xvii-xix).
  9. See 1993 and 1994 reports; photographs in Strudwick, Egyptian Archaeology 5 (1994), 35 and J. Leclant and G. Clerc, 'Fouilles et travaux en Egypte et au Soudan, 1993-1994', Orientalia 64 (1995), fig. 45. No further fragments of this statue were found this season.
  10. See earlier comment in the Clearance section; we refer to the shaft noted by Mond in ASAE 5 (1904), 101-2. There does not appear to be any obvious additional material in the Mond archives in the University of Liverpool (information courtesy Miss P. Winker).
  11. A.E.P. Weigall, 'A report on the tombs of Shekh abd' el Gùrneh and el Assasîf', ASAE 9 (1908), 136.

© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2018