Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 July - 5 August 2009
Issue No. 958
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The rising sun in Egyptology

Forty years of Japanese excavations in Egypt are illustrated in a special exhibition at the Egyptian Museum, Nevine El-Aref reports

photos courtesy of Waseda University Click to view caption
Clockwise from left: the mask of Senu; his wooden sarcophagus; sistrem with the name of King Amasis; stelae of Pashedu and ornament with an Udjat eye and a scarab photos courtesy of Waseda University

For the forthcoming couple of months the Egyptian Museum is hosting an exhibition of five dozen ancient Egyptian artefacts unearthed at three archaeological sites by the mission from Waseda University over the past 40 years.

These unique objects have never before been exhibited. They derive from Abusir, the site of 11 pyramids south of Giza; Dahshour, the site of King Senefru's pyramids; and Malkata on Luxor's west bank, where the grandfather of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, Amenhotep III, dug a lake and built a palace for his beautiful and powerful wife, Queen Tiye.

Among the objects on show are fragments of Pharaoh Amenhotep III's faience bracelet; a stele showing Pharaoh Tuthmosis IV making an offering to Horus; a faience sistrum with the name of Pharaoh Amasis; a terracotta statue of a recumbent lion with the name of King Khufu; two faience rings bearing the names of Tutankhamun and his wife, Ankhesenamun; a gold Amarna ring with a carnelian wedjat eye; and the cartonnage mask of the Middle-Kingdom commander Senu. Foundation deposits; painted clay pots; ceramic ushabti boxes; wooden naked female statues; inscribed scarabs and jewellery are also exhibited.

Perhaps the most curious item on display is a limestone New Kingdom ostracon with enigmatic text markings similar to hieroglyphs and drawn in red and black, but not signifying any sentences. Parallels from the workmen's village at Deir Al-Medina suggest that these marks represented individual workmen, and the black and red dots were check marks. It is likely that this ostracon was used for recording the attendance of the workmen who built the royal tomb.

"This is a unique exhibition relating stories from the sand," Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said the objects in "this wonderful exhibition" came from excavation carried out by Egyptologist Sakuji Yoshimura, who has worked in Egypt for many years and has dedicated his life to searching for the secrets of ancient Egypt. Among his magnificent discoveries is the rest house built by Ramses II's son prince Khaemwaset, who had an interest in restoring the monuments of his ancestors and so built a rest house on the top of a cliff at Abusir so he could view the pyramids of Abusir and Giza in the north and the pyramids of Saqqara and Dahshour in the south.

"Visiting this exhibition is not just an adventure through ancient Egypt, but an exploration of archaeology as well," Hawass said.

Wafaa El-Seddik, director-general of the Egyptian Museum, sees the exhibition as a celebration of Japan's distinguished activity in Egypt and of all the people who have worked within the framework of the partnership between Waseda, the SCA and the Egyptian Museum to bring the opportunity to view these examples of the art and culture of ancient Egypt.

The exhibition planners have arranged it as an open book of ancient Egyptian history, displaying artefacts from the Paleolithic era right through the Late Roman Period.

"The pieces exhibited are a portion of the special exhibition now touring Japan to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Waseda University Egyptian expedition," Yoshimura said. Since its first opening in 2006 the exhibition in Japan has attracted 1,300,000 visitors, which reflects a growing Japanese interesting in the ancient Egyptian civilisation.

Over these four decades, Yoshimura said, the Japanese missions in Malkata, Dahshour and elsewhere had made a number of important discoveries despite being told in 1966 that they were having beginners' luck. Ten years later, Yoshimura introduced a method that applied modern technology to archaeology. This was the use of geophysical sensing instruments to resolve Earth's physical elements, and there are dozens of ways of doing it. "We used five of the methods and actually tried and tested them in Egypt," Yoshimura said. They found the electromagnetic wave method was particularly useful and its results helped the team achieve recognition. Yoshimura went on to explain: "The area we excavated at Abusir, for example, was found by an underground radar system using the electromagnetic wave method. Dahshour north was also another field where we implemented this new method, which revealed the first subterranean archaeological remains found by analysis of satellite images. This was implemented in collaboration with Tokai University."

Electromagnetic ground radar also found the pit of Khufu's second solar boat on the Giza Plateau. However, work in the Valley of the Kings was suspended before the underground radar system could fully prove its capability in the survey owing to restoration being carried out at the tomb of Amenhotep III.

"We hope to keep contributing to the progress of modern technology by continuing excavation and restoration," Yoshimura said.



MALKATA SOUTH: In the area of Malkata South the Japanese mission aimed to excavate the remains of a Predynastic culture, but during excavation work they uncovered an extensive stratum of Roman settlement. Three years later the mission discovered a staircase painted with the images of foreign captives at Kom Al-Samak, which is located 240 metres north of the temple of Isis.

Excavations revealed thousands of fragments of mural paintings that once decorated the walls of a building. On the basis of stamped mud bricks from the building, the team concluded that it has been built for Pharaoh Amenhotep III's Sed festival. During the re-examination of the building's architecture and the mural paintings at Amenhotep III's palace at Malkata, numerous fragments of painted walls and ceiling were uncovered. One of the most remarkable motifs was a succession of great vulture figures of the goddess Nekhber spreading her wings under which are depicted the various names and titles of the Pharaoh.

THE THEBEN NECROPOLIS: The Japanese team has discovered hundreds of mummies and human bones in the tombs at Sheikh Abdel-Qurna. Studies have revealed that these mummies seem to have been collected by tomb robbers from burials in the vicinity in order to strip them of their belongings.

During excavation at Draa Abul-Naga, the team uncovered several unregistered tombs including two lost tombs; A21 and A23, which were previously identified but whose location was afterwards forgotten. Excavations also yielded a variety of isolated objects including funerary cones and ushabti figurines.

During the clearance work at the tomb of Amenhotep III the team discovered an intact foundation deposit (votive items buried before construction) for the tomb, as well as royal funerary equipment and an ostraca.

Restoration works also carried out at the tomb by the Japanese team with a suitable fund from Japan Funds in Trust through UNESCO made a difference in the appearance of the tomb's wall paintings as well as its stability.

THE ABUSIR NECROPOLIS: At the monument of Prince Khaemqaset, the fourth son of Pharaoh Ramses II, the team found two fragmental blocks of a red granite false-door depicting a seated figure. A number of limestone blocks with elaborate reliefs were also unearthed. On the northwest side of the monument the team found a mud-brick structure with some of its blocks stamped with the cartouches of Amenhotep II and Tuthmosis IV. More than 10 stelae of Tuthmosis IV were also unearthed. Yoshimura suggests that although the nature of this building is still unclear, the presence of stelae and bricks related to these Pharaohs suggests that it had royal connections of some kind.

Excavations at the southeastern slope of the outcrop uncovered a rock-cut chamber and a layered stone structure and its substructure. Inside the chamber the team unearthed a number of statue fragments made of clay, terracotta and wood, as well as pottery vessels. Two of the terracotta statues bore the name of the Fourth-Dynasty King Khufu.

Excavations at the southeastern slope revealed a massive layered stone structure probably built about the time of the Third Dynasty and a shaft leading respectively to two chambers to the east and west. In the east chamber a number of votive objects dating from the early dynastic period and early Old Kingdom were found. The chamber seems to have been reused in the Middle Kingdom, since objects from that period were uncovered in the same chamber while another entrance and its forecourt appear to have been dug from the south at the same period.

THE DAHSHOUR NECROPOLIS: In collaboration with Tokai University, the Waseda team identified a new site in north Dahshour through computer analysis of satellite imaging data. In a New Kingdom necropolis at the low mound two kilometres north of King Senefru's red pyramid, a large, free-standing tomb-chapel comparable in size to the Horemhab's at Saqqara was discovered. Some stamped mud bricks suggest that the tomb-chapel was built for Ipay, a royal butler and scribe. Excavations of the subterranean chambers yielded a number of fine funerary objects including faience rings with the names of Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun, and two scarabs bearing the name of Ramses II. The most remarkable find was a granite sarcophagus in the innermost chamber. The inscriptions on the sarcophagus and jar dockets suggest that its owner was Mes, royal scribe and steward during the reign of Ramses II.

By Zahi Hawass

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