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Report on the work of the University of Cambridge Theban Mission 1997

Nigel Strudwick

In November 1997, 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. Gaballa Aly Gaballa, 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, Director of Pharaonic Monuments and 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 the West Bank, and Chief Inspectors Mr Mohamed el-Bialey and Mr Ibrahim Mahmud Soleiman for their assistance. The inspector attached to the Mission during the season was Mr Ramadan Ahmed Aly, without whom the season would not have been so successful.

Financial support was generously provided by the British Academy, the Gerald Averay Wainwright Fund for Near Eastern Archaeology, and the Thomas Mulvey Egyptology Fund. We are very grateful to the Egypt Exploration Society for the use of the facilities of their Cairo office, and to their representative, Miss Rawya Ismail, for her help and support. The help in Luxor of Chicago House and the German Archaeological Institute is gratefully acknowledged.

1997 planThe Mission was in Egypt between 15 November 1997 and 27 January 1998. The staff of the mission consisted of Dr Nigel Strudwick (Field Director), Mrs Helen Strudwick (Archaeological Director), Miss Julie Dawson and Mrs Lisa Shekede (Conservators), Mr Günter Heindl (Architect) and Miss Alexandra Whittaker, Miss Rebecca Hardy, and Miss Rita Lucarelli (Archaeological Assistants).

The consequences of the awful events of 17 November at Deir el-Bahari had a profound practical effect on this expedition, as the remaining members of the team granted security clearance were unable or unwilling to come to Egypt.

The work of the mission this season consisted as usual of epigraphy/documentation, conservation, study of finds from previous seasons, and clearance. A sketch plan of the tomb is shown here. [Click on small pictures to see the full illustration.]

Epigraphy and documentation

Documentation of the paintings in the tomb has been on-going since 1992 and, as a result of the cleaning of the front room of the tomb (to be described below), it was possible to copy all of the paintings therein. It is thus with great satisfaction that I am able to report that all scenes in the tomb have now been copied, and the only task which awaits is to produce the final tracings and collate them. Many details which were previously unclear have emerged in the course of the cleaning, and I feel that waiting for the completion of the consolidation and cleaning has been more than justified. The paintings in the front room are indeed of very high quality of execution, and this only compounds the sadness of their present poor preservation. The ceiling texts in the tomb are quite extensive, and these have been collated this year, and will appear in the publication in standardised copies due to the physical difficulties of making facsimiles of ceilings. Many of the gaps in the texts have been reconstructed from parallels from the upper tomb of Sennefer (TT96a); it would appear that the latter Sennefer was inspired by texts in the tomb of his namesake (TT99).

The process of making plans of the walls of the tomb was continued to cover the passage and rear room, and this task was also successfully completed. This enables us to document the position of the surviving scenes, and also to illustrate the remains of plaster and evidence for construction methods. These plans will also be used as the basis for attempts at paper reconstructions of the possible original decorative programme of the tomb.

Study of the architecture

Günter Heindl was able to draw plans and sections of the interior parts of the tomb, including the shafts; a start was also made on planning the courtyard, but this is largely contingent on the completion of the clearance work. Clearance of the area around the tomb door revealed clear evidence of a recess around and beneath the doorway, presumably for a separate stone portico; the excavation of this is noted below, as is a possible doorjamb from here.

The production of the wall plans mentioned above permitted the study of the manner in which the walls were cut and prepared for decoration. One or two possible red masons' marks often found in Theban tombs were noted in the rear room of the tomb, but large-scale employment of guidelines by the cutters of the chapel does not seem to be attested. The paintings of the passage and the rear room show no evidence of deliberate damage, and the poor state of preservation of most of the walls must be attributed to natural causes, most probably the failure of the bond between the plaster layers and the rock surface. Various levels of building up or repairs of the rock surface are seen; sometimes it is a mass of plaster, but more commonly small pieces of limestone were placed in the plaster to give it added strength. The builders were sometimes confronted with a large rock fault which required additional filling. It was observed that one at least of these faults, in the corner of the rear room at the join of walls 13 and 14, was additionally filled with mud at a later date, and that this mud fill extended into Shaft A which was excavated at this point--perhaps pointing to some repair work carried out in the 25th dynasty?

Conservation (Julie Dawson and Lisa Shekede)

This season conservation work was undertaken from 30 December 1997 to 19 January 1998.

The wall-by-wall survey of the technique and condition of the painted plaster throughout the tomb was continued. Particular attention was paid to examination of the organic coatings which have been found over selective areas of the painting.

Conservation work was concentrated especially on the southern half of the front chamber (walls 1-3 and wall 7). The damage observed in this area is broadly similar to that recorded in other parts of the chamber, with extensive mechanical damage and loss, both accidental through wear and tear during later occupation, and also deliberate defacement of the painted plaster. There is soot embedded into the paint layer and a colour change of yellow ochre to red due to a large fire is evident at two points on the ceiling adjacent to walls 3 and 7. The surface of the plaster has, in places, been obscured by mud insect nests and the associated boring into the plaster has caused decohesion and loss. There is evidence of bat habitation.

As described in previous reports, loose dust and debris were removed from the surface with a soft brush and from cracks and lacunae with a bulb aspirator. The painted surface was gently cleaned with Wishab1 sponges.

Delaminating areas of the lower (coarse) layer of plaster and loose stones were stabilised with a mortar consisting of 1 part sieved gypsum powder and 3 parts coarse local sand (washed and sieved) with the addition of sufficient deionised water to make a loose dry mortar. Plextol B5002 was added to improve the cohesion and adhesion of the mortar and reduce the diffusion of water into the water-sensitive original plaster and paint layer. The mortar was applied without pre-wetting, so as to minimise further the amount of water introduced into the original materials. Where the mortar was applied adjacent to original material, a barrier application of Paraloid B723 (10% in acetone) was applied along the plaster edges (but not over the paint layer).

A finer mortar of 1 part gypsum powder and 1 part fine sand, with water and Plextol B 500 as above, was used to stabilise delaminating areas of the upper (fine) plaster layer and to repair surface lacunae in the degraded incised mortar of the relief decoration on wall 7.

An injection grout composed of 1 part Plextol B500 diluted with 3 parts deionised water, then combined 1:1 with sieved gypsum powder was used to stabilise flaking areas. These were pre-wetted by injection behind the flakes with a solution of 1 part deionised water and 1 part alcohol. After injection of the grout the flake was pressed back and the area cleared of surface residues of gypsum/acrylic dispersion with alcohol.

Areas of severe decohesion, particularly along plaster edges damaged by insect boring, were consolidated with 10% Paraloid B72 in acetone.

The same techniques and materials were used to stabilise previously identified vulnerable areas of plaster on wall 6 and, in the rear chamber, on walls 12, 13 and 14.

The seriously delaminated section of ceiling adjacent to wall 14 (which had been supported with Japanese tissue bridges in 1995) was also secured during this season. The bridges were gradually removed with acetone and replaced stage by stage with facings of Japanese tissue secured by Paraloid B72 (20% in acetone) along all the delaminated edges. De-ionised water/alcohol 1:1 was injected behind the delaminated section both to pre-wet and to relax the plaster, followed by injection grouting using a mix consisting of 1 part diluted Plextol B500 and 1 part sieved gypsum powder. The delaminating plaster areas were neatly and gradually pressed back during grouting, and all painted surfaces were constantly cleared of excess fixative by application of alcohol through the facings. A tension press was applied. After 24 hours the press was removed and the ceiling checked to ensure complete readhesion. The facings were removed with acetone.

In addition to the work on the paintings, five pieces of inscribed linen were relaxed by humidification (the method as described in the 1996 report) and packed for storage. Mechanical cleaning of the wooden face from a 25th dynasty coffin, begun in 1996, was continued. Minor cleaning (with lightly dampened cotton wool swabs and scalpel) and small repairs (using Paraloid B72 in acetone as the adhesive) were carried out of a variety of objects.

Archaeological work

Clearance work (Helen and Nigel Strudwick)

Archaeological work was concentrated on two parts of the tomb.Wall blocking

Interior: Completion of the cleaning of the wall paintings in the northern part of the front room of the tomb chapel at the end of the 1996 season permitted clearance of the remaining shaft, Shaft F. The mouth of this shaft was approximately 1 m square, and the shaft itself was 3.5 m deep; the room at the bottom (F room 1) is roughly 3 m x 2m, and substantial parts of the original brick blocking-up of the chamber were found (at right). As usual, excavation was carried out in a series of artificial layers enabling the position of objects to be ascertained with some accuracy; a wooden cover was provided for the shaft at the end of the excavation.

The most remarkable thing about the debris was the amount of linen recovered from the lowest levels of the shaft, from the doorway to the room, and at the front of room 1 itself; no less than 9 large bags of it were removed from this area. The amount of human remains from the tomb has not, in past seasons, been particularly great, but a larger than average density was located in Shaft F and its room, perhaps in the region of 15-20 individuals (the precise figure will be known when the remains are studied). Other material from this shaft is discussed below.

The other two depressions in the floor of the northern end of the front room noted since the 1993 seasons were this season provisionally identified as associated with looms and weaving. The larger of the two corresponds in size to a rather strange long narrow cut made in the ceiling at some date before the fire in the front room of the chapel noted above (Conservation), and this and the larger floor depression are probably to be identified as the fixing points for a large vertical loom. The purpose of the smaller pit is not so sure.

Exterior: In the previous season, two rectangular areas measuring 4 m x 10 m were excavated at the north and south sides of the courtyard. To enable a baulk to be kept in place to facilitate access to the tomb chapel, the first task was to extend these to beyond where it was thought that the courtyard might end and the slope of the hillside recommence; this was estimated at 16 m from the front of the tomb. Both areas were gridded with 2 m x 2 m squares, and the material was removed in a series of artificial layers; the top layer varied in depth due to the variable profile of the surface deposits, but the other layers were approximately 25 cm.

In both areas, in the north-east and south-east quadrants of the courtyard, it was noted that, where the rock forming the walls of the courtyard reaches the level of the courtyard floor, the courtyard walls were seemingly extended by areas of stone walling and/or brick.4 In the north-east quadrant, the stone walling was not mortared together but loose, and it is impossible to tell whether this construction was ancient or modern. At its eastern end was an area of mud brick, which seemed to be ancient. In the south-east quadrant, the area of stone walling here was fixed together with a brownish lime mortar much like that used in the stone of the tomb superstructure, and it would seem that this belonged to the 18th dynasty phase of the tomb. Slightly to the north of the corner is an area of rough mud brick on top of a layer of limestone chips. If these areas of mud brick are ancient, then it seems possible that they could be part of the front wall of the courtyard.5 Adjacent to these areas of brick the bedrock seems to begin to slope downwards in the direction of the tomb of Rekhmire, and we interpret this as the natural edge of the cliff at this point, and thus probably the eastern limit of the courtyard.

Cooking areaThe remaining central area of the courtyard was then cleared. Immediately adjacent to the front door of the tomb a cooking area from modern times was found. A number of large stones had been erected to protect the area from wind, and two funerary cones were built into the small stove itself. The eastern end of this area of debris was particularly deep, in excess of 1.5 m; otherwise, the debris filling the courtyard varied in depth from approximately 1.05 m to approximately 1.35 m. As in 1996, the debris revealed several floor deposition levels, consisting of areas up to 6 cm deep of straw and chaff, and between them the material was mainly powdered limestone and sand, with occasional areas of more silty material.

The floor of the courtyard seems to have been levelled in ancient times. The rock surface is visible at the northern side, but from the central area to the south there is a hard compacted mass of limestone chippings, some of which has been removed in the years when the two shafts on the southern side of the courtyard were robbed, and some of which was taken out in 1996. This mass of chippings contains no finds at all, which is consistent with it being of similar date to the tomb, and has become solid from years of rainfall. It would appear that the courtyard as cut was not level but sloped from north to south, and this layer, up to 20 cm thick in places, was added to produce an even surface.6 Into the central area of this material were cut two depressions, found filled with earth. These were presumably intended to contain plants with their symbolism of Osirian rebirth; if they were made for Senneferi, they would be among the earliest examples known in private tombs.7

Mond shaftsThe northern part of the courtyard was covered with a mud floor, from a modern animal enclosure. A depression in this floor was investigated, revealing a third shaft, termed Shaft I. Investigation of this shaft occupied a considerable part of the season, and we have to report that it is not yet finished. The shaft was cleared to a depth of no less than 11.5 m, and no sign of the bottom or chambers on any side has yet been found. Exhaustion of funds and personnel, combined with the presence of a quantity of large stones which require extra lifting tackle to remove, meant that we had to stop excavation for this season at this rather unsatisfactory juncture. We are thus not yet able to say whether this shaft is that noted by Mond in the courtyard in 1903, shown here;8 Mond's shaft seems to have measured 12.3 m to the top of the entrance to the chamber, and the width of the mouth was 2.67 m. The position of the shaft in the courtyard might equate with that noted by Baraize,9 but further excavation in Shaft I must be undertaken for these points to be clarified.

The fill material of Shaft I was most notable for its relative lack of finds other than pottery. There was however a clear division in the nature of the fill: the western side had apparently been filled principally with fairly large stones, whilst the fill in the eastern half of the shaft consisted of the usual dust, animal dung and small stones. Furthermore, in the north-eastern corner of the shaft, from a depth of about 2.50 m, the fill consisted of almost pure dust, as if it had been sieved. These contexts continued down the entire depth of the shaft so far cleared.

Front doorThe final area cleared was that in the entrance doorway of the tomb itself. As the courtyard debris was cleared, it became clear that the material below the threshold of the modern door was insubstantial, as a layer of cement had been laid across the original fill; thus it would have to be cleared out and the entrance rebuilt. Substantial and somewhat unexpected remains were found: the area beneath the modern threshold was found to have been partially blocked with large pieces of sandstone, limestone, and the remains of a section of brick wall (illustration). At this stage, the date of these is uncertain, although the mud brick does seem to have much in common with the brickwork blocking some of the 25th dynasty shafts in the tomb, and thus could be the traces of a blocking of the tomb when it was used for the burials of the Wedjahor family.

Subsequent building work: The modern iron door to the tomb had been fitted to be level with the top of the debris of the courtyard, and the clearance work described above meant that the support for the iron door to the tomb would have to be rebuilt. The option was considered of removing the present door and lowering to ground level, but as the door is sturdily fixed in place, we were concerned lest this damage the stonework of the ancient door, and it was thus decided to build a new brick set of steps to gain access to the door in its current position. The mouth of Shaft I in the courtyard could also not be left uncovered for safety reasons, and a brick plinth was built around it to take a very large lockable iron grid.

Material found (Nigel Strudwick)

NameShaft F: A total of 3,824 objects were recorded, the largest sub-category of which consisted of fragments of cartonnage coffins (below left and centre), one of which bore the name Djedhoriufankh (middle). Many fragments of wooden coffins were also found; most of these probably come from the box type known as the qrsw coffin. The body of a large jackal figure which originally reposed on top of one of these coffins was located, as were parts of two wooden hawks. Two fragments of wood bore the unusual name shown at right.10 This coffin material dates most probably after 750 BC, and one crudely painted fragment of a wooden foot case may even date to the 26th dynasty (below right). Fragments of shabtis formed the second most numerous category of finds. Several pieces of decorated linen bearing the name of king Shabaka were also retrieved from the debris, and also another fragment naming the fourth priest of Amun, Wedjahor, whose burial is known from our earlier excavations to have been made in this tomb.11 A fragment of the coffin of Horempe, the son of Wedjahor, was found which joined fragments found in 1995 in Shaft D room 1 and illustrated in that year's report.

Coffin head Coffin foot Other coffin foot

Hathor legThe most unusual object found almost certainly does not belong with these 25th dynasty deposits. It appears to be a leg of a piece of furniture (shown at right), with Hathor heads on two sides, and uraei at the top. It is made of a hard reddish-coloured wood, and the fact that it appears to be from an item of furniture suggests that it could be of 18th dynasty date, at which point such daily life items were still forming parts of burial assemblages. The quality of the work suggests that it could have been part of the burial of someone as important as Sennefer. A fragment of this object was also found in the 1993 season, but could not then be identified; it has now been joined on to the larger piece.

Thus a number of connections have been found between the material from this shaft and from those excavated in the past in the rear part of the tomb, but work so far has not indicated that these are extensive. For example, although shabtis of at least 18 types were found here, only three were in any significant numbers, and examples of these types have been found in other contexts only sporadically. Nonetheless, the linen with the name of Wedjahor must have come from the burial of that individual which we assumed in the 1994 report to have been in Shaft B room 1. However, the recovery of this linen in two locations indicates that we cannot say with certainty where in this tomb he was in fact buried. The same is also true for Horempe on the basis of the coffin fragment noted above. The large amount of mummy bandage noted in this shaft might indicate that mummies were stripped of their valuables in the front of the tomb where the light was better, and then the remains deposited within this shaft. A number of wasp's nests were noted near the bottom of the shaft, suggesting that it must have lain open for a period of time at some point in its (relatively recent?) history.

Courtyard: Excavated finds from the courtyard and Shaft I were broadly similar in nature, and were again dominated by pottery. No fewer than 1,318 kg of sherds were excavated, of which 404 kg originated in Shaft I. It was not possible to study them this season. The rest of the material was not particularly homogenous, and has the look of an excavator's or robber's dump; 2,080 objects were recorded from the courtyard fill and 1,553 from Shaft I. As in the 1996 report, this material can be grouped as follows:

Habitation material includes items ranging from reuse in late roman times (such as coptic ostraca and fragments of glass bracelets), through other bracelet fragments of islamic date and ottoman smoking pipes, to pieces of modern cloth and paper. The most significant were the 80+ Coptic ostraka, which will be studied by Dr Heike Behlmer of Göttingen University; some examples are clear and legible, but many are small and ideally require conservation and cleaning.

Funerary cones again composed the main part of the architectural and decorative elements, numbering more than 550 fragments; the majority of the stamped pieces bore one of the two common impressions illustrated in the 1996 report (see also below Study of the finds). Other objects in this category include fragments of a false door and a stela, which are also discussed further below (Study of the finds). Two large pieces of sandstone, measuring 1.38 m when joined together, were also found which bear the edge of a text column divider. These have all the appearance of having belonged to a doorjamb and it is very tempting to see them as being part of the original portico to this tomb.

A small number of elements of tomb assemblages were discovered: some shabtis, a small amount of mummy bandage, beads from bead nets, and a few coffin fragments. This material seems to be exclusively of the Third Intermediate Period, and thus it is still the case that no traces of 18th dynasty interments have come to light; so far this material throws no additional light on the history of the courtyard.

As stated in the 1996 report, the material from the courtyard still presents few links with that excavated inside the tomb. Its lack of homogeneity suggests that the courtyard may have been used as a dumping ground by robbers or excavators.

Study of finds from the present and previous seasons

A number of aspects of the study of the finds had to be postponed due to the non-availability of certain members of the mission as explained above. Some progress was nonetheless made alongside the other more pressing tasks.

Major progress was made on the documentation of stone blocks and coffin fragments found since 1993. A number of stone blocks had over the years been stored in the tomb, and this year facsimiles have been made of all those bearing significant decoration, together with those found in the excavations. This work was undertaken by Rita Lucarelli. Most of the pieces cannot be assigned to any known tomb, not least because names and titles are for the most part not preserved. Two groups of fragments, however, are a little more promising. From past reports readers may recall that the north and south walls (walls 2 and 5) of the front hall of the tomb each possess a recess which probably contained a free-standing stela or false door. Research undertaken during 1997 indicated that the very fragmentary traces of a scene over the recess in wall 2 showed the tomb owner before Anubis; study of parallels indicates that such scenes are likely to be over a false door. Thus the object originally in the recess of wall 5 was probably not a false door but a stela. A large number of fragments of granite have been found in the course of work in the courtyard, many of which clearly come from a false door (one was illustrated in the 1996 report). While we cannot be sure that this is the false door of TT99, it is extremely suggestive. Many fragments have also been found of a white limestone stela, with sunk relief hieroglyphs filled with blue paint; although no name or distinctive title has yet been found, it seems equally likely that this originally came from wall 5 of TT99.12

Openwork coffinEven more spectacular progress was made with fragments of cartonnage. In 1993 and 1994 several hundred fragments from an openwork cartonnage case were identified as coming from the 25th dynasty shafts in the rear of the tomb. John H. Taylor has indicated that this type of case is extremely rare, only two other examples (in Würzburg and the Louvre) being certainly identified. It was thus decided that reconstruction of this should be given a priority, and the task was assigned to Alexandra Whittaker. She was able over the course of four weeks to put together most of the surviving fragments, and make facsimile copies of them. A preliminary version of her drawing of the object is included here. The clearance work in Shaft F this season brought to light a number of fragments of more conventional cartonnage mummy-cases, and these fragments were grouped by Helen Strudwick as belonging probably to three separate objects.

Some further work was carried out on the typology and grouping of shabtis and faience vessel fragments, with similar results as in 1996. The material found in the shafts inside the tomb chapel is still wholly consistent with dates in the 25th-26th dynasties.

Discovery of better-preserved examples of the funerary cone of type Davies-Macadam Corpus 9313 enables me to be reasonably confident that they did indeed bear the name of Sennefer; compare the published and reconstructed versions shown here.

It will be noticed that this cone employs some rather unusual writings of common New Kingdom titles and names.

Cone 93
Cone 93 corrected

Conclusions and the future

The 1997 season of work in TT99 was very successful, despite many of the aims of the season being frustrated by the effect of the Deir el-Bahari attack. A considerable amount of specialist work could not be undertaken, but the amount and degree of success of the excavation, recording, and conservation undertaken went a long way to make up for these disappointments.

However, it cannot be denied that it had been planned to make 1997 the last major season in the tomb, and this is clearly not the case. The prospect of further excavation has to be faced as well as the completion of the specialist reports, but the ability to continue further work is totally dependent on funding, as the major grants given in 1997 carried the riders of being the last grants for the project. I sincerely hope that it may be possible to find that funding to enable the project to be completed.

© Nigel Strudwick
March 1998


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1 Wishab: a dry vulcanised latex sponge.

2 Plextol B500: a dispersion of ethylacrylate (60%) methyl methacrylate (40%) in water.

3 Paraloid B72: an acrylic copolymer (ethyl methacrylate:methylacrylate 70:30).

4 This practice is not unknown in Theban tombs, see F. Kampp, Die thebanische Nekropole (Theben XIII, 1996), 62-3.

5 Cf Kampp, Thebanische Nekropole, 63-4.

6 The use of limestone chippings to fill an irregular depression is noted in TT87 (H. Guksch, Die Gräber des Nacht-Min und des Men-cheper-Ra-seneb (AV 34, 1995), 23).

7 Kampp, Thebanische Nekropole, 77.

8 `Report on work done in the Gebel esh-Sheikh abd-el-Kurneh at Thebes January to March 1903', ASAE 5 (1904), 101-2; `Report of work in the necropolis of Thebes during the winter of 1903-1904', ASAE 6 (1905), 87, fig. 21.

9 See Kampp, Thebanische Nekropole, 369-70.

10 This could be read tA-(nt-?)sDm-TmA-hr-(ib?)t, although the sense is not clear. My thanks to Dr M.A. Leahy for this suggestion.

11 Cf N. Strudwick, `The fourth priest of Amun Wedjahor', Göttinger Miszellen 148 (1995), 91-4.

12 It is not unlike the broken stela recently published from tt87 (Guksch, Nacht-Min, 46-8).

13 N. de Garis Davies and M. F. Laming Macadam, A Corpus of Inscribed Egyptian Funerary Cones (Oxford 1957).

© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2018