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The Walking Dead at Saqqara

Nico Staring, researcher in Egyptian art, culture and history is taking part in the Leiden-Turin excavations in Saqqara, Egypt. The Leiden-Turin excavation project is a cooperation between the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden and the Museo Egizio in Turin (Italy), currently also supported by NWO.

The Walking Dead at Saqqara
Nico Staring examining an embalmers’ cache [Credit: Leiden University]
Nico Staring’s study on the long ‘life history’ of the Saqqara landscape is the focus of his postdoctoral research at Leiden University, which is part of the NWO-funded project ‘The Walking Dead at Saqqara: The Making of a Cultural Geography’, led by Lara Weiss. Participating in the Leiden-Turin archaeological fieldwork at Saqqara provides a unique opportunity to gather data necessary for his research.

From the New Kingdom to the Coptic period, and beyond

The site of Saqqara is interesting because it was utilized as a cemetery but also the veneration of gods for a period of more than 3000 years, between ca. 3000 BCE to the 4th century CE – but in fact until today. Studying the area provides the unique opportunity to understand how people in the past structured, used and experienced the desert landscape differently from the people that lived (long) before and after them.

At the same time, however, material traces from the past, such as tombs, influenced the actions of people in the future. The area that they are excavating in this season presents a very nice opportunity to study the activities of people over a long period of time: from the New Kingdom to the Coptic period, and beyond.

The Walking Dead at Saqqara
New Kingdom Saqqara [Credit: Leiden University]
In between two monumental tombs

The Leiden-Turin team is currently excavating an area that is possibly located in between two monumental tombs, bordered by the famous tomb of Maya in the south and an yet unknown neighbour in the north. One generation after Maya, in the so-called Ramesside period, tomb chapels of modest dimensions were constructed in the limited spaces available in between and around the larger tombs.

Two such chapels were already uncovered during last season in 2017, and the traces of a third were – and still are – just visible from the sand. It is very tempting to clear the sand and reveal the identity of the tomb owner. However, they also want to know what happened to the chapel long after the last visitor had placed an offering there.

New insights

The archaeological examination takes time, but this will eventually yield interesting new insights! They now know that the area above the chapel was used in the Coptic period in the first centuries A.D., and that much later, robbers searching for valuables dug holes all around in order to locate the tomb shaft. More than 3.000 years of human activity in an excavation pit of only 5 square metres!

The Leiden-Turin archaeological mission keeps a digging diary' which you can follow here.

Source: Leiden University [April 16, 2018]


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