Museum & private collections of
objects from Deir el-Medina
The land of Egypt with its architectural wonders and pleasant climate has been attracting travellers for thousands of years.
The ancient Egyptians themselves were the first tourists in their own country, visiting chapels and tombs of their gods and predecessors and leaving their names inscribed on many walls.
A thousand years later, Greek and Roman travellers also left their names written on the statues and temple and tomb walls.
Following the Arab conquest of Egypt, travel to the country became restricted for Europeans, resulting in the decrease of the quest for knowledge about Egypt and its ancient monuments south of Cairo.
From the beginning of the 18th century several adventurous travellers ventured farther up the Nile Valley. Richard Pococke was visiting Thebes in January 1738. In his "A description of the East : and some other countries", published in London between 1743-1745, Pococke provided a plan of the Ptolemaic temple at Deir el-Medina temple and described it, proving he did visit the valley:
After visiting Memnon statues....
"We went in between the hills to the north east, and came to
the temple in the 35th plate,which had been a convent: There are
nohieroglyphics on the outside; the cornices over the doors are fluted,
and adornedwith the winged globe; the capitals of the pillars are much
of the same sort as those of Assouan, in the plate of capitals.
After I had viewed all these things, I returned to the river."
Another early travel book by Charles Perry entitled "A view of the Levant, particularly
of Constantinople, Syria, Egypt, and Greece: In which their antiquities, government,
politics, maxims, manners, and customs (with many other circumstances and
contingencies) are attempted to be described and treated on", was published in
London in 1743. Perry visited Thebes (Karnak and Luxor temples and also the West
bank) and this is the passage (p. 350) that in my opinion describes his visit to
"Setting out again the next Morning early, we first bent our Course directly to the Mountain; and passing over the Skirts of one Mountain, that stands apart from, and before the great Mountain, we descended into a Vale, behind it, where we found another beautiful Temple, though small. This likewise contains several sumptuous Pillars, and is embellise'd with Hieroglyphics, and fine Figures in Basso Relievo. But as this exhibits nothing more than what we have already mentioned the Like, or at least the Equal of, so we will spend no more Time in speaking of it, than we did in viewing of it. From hence we passed over the other Skirt of the Mountain, and so came into the Plain again ; and after we had marched about 20 Minutes towards the River, we came to another Temple, which is inexpressibly grand and magnificent. This Temple is situate at about a Mile Distance from the Two Colossal Statues, to the North of them. Its grand Portal is to the Eastward. This Fabric (at least what remains of it) is not above 50 Paces broad, and about 200 long....."
The deciphering of hieroglyphic script by Champollion in 1822 opened the channels to number of individual travellers, scholars, artists, adventurers and scientific expeditions. Ever larger numbers of sightseers with growing interest in antiquities created demand for portable antiquities. Ancient cemeteries started to be dug up in the hope of finding buried treasures to supply this new market. The 19th century collectors acquired objects through purchases from the dealers and at local markets.
The village of Deir el-Medina, filled with blown sand, started giving up its secrets as early as 1840s, when the local people made a find of a cache of papyri - a rich mixture of documents, including all of scribe Dhutmose's letters to his son Butehamun, the correspondence of general Piankh sent from Nubia and also records of the great tomb robberies of the late 20th dynasty. These papyri and various other objects found were sold by the 19th century collector and dealer Drovetti to various European
collectors, and most of them eventually found their way into numerous museums (Romer,1984,203).
The second spectacular find, made by the locals in the second half of the 19th century, was the discovery of Sennedjem's tomb. Maspero oversaw the clearing of the tomb. The contents were distributed to museums as far apart as New York, Berlin and Cairo. Many objects coming to light during that time were completely unrecorded and thus taken out of context lost their provenance. Other objects were recorded by scholars like Wilkinson, Lepsius or Champollion, who were passing through Deir el-Medina at the time. Some of their drawings are the only record we have today of some objects which have now disappeared (McDowell,1999,24).
Since Schiaparelli's first proper archaeological excavation of the site in 1905, objects originating from the area started to be recorded systematically and excavation reports were being produced. Each campaign was followed by lists of finds resulting from the work. The most detailed reports were, and still are being published by the French Institute, following nearly 30 years of Bruyere's work.
Thousands of objects found in the area of Deir el-Medina are nowadays scattered all over the world. While most of them found their way into museum collections, many are in private hands. The richest Deir el-Medina collections are in the museums of Cairo, Paris, London, Turin, Florence, Berlin, Brooklyn, Prague and Brussels. Some of the artifacts are on display, some are kept in depositories, but some objects have not yet been studied by curators or scholars due to time or financial restrictions. Even at Deir el-Medina itself, there are around 20 magazines full of objects found at the site, still awaiting detailed scholarly study.
Museum & private collections
Nowadays all major and some small museums around the world have objects from Deir el-Medina present in their collections. Some objects are on permanent display, some are displayed during occasional exhibitions.
1. Roehrig, Catharine H.: Explorers and artists in the Valley of the Kings
Cairo : The American University in Cairo Press, 2001.
2. Pococke, Richard, 1704-1765 : A description of the East : and some other countries.
London : Printed for the author, 1743-1745.
3. Perry, Charles,1698-1780 : A view of the Levant, particularly of Constantinople, Syria, Egypt, and Greece : In which their antiquities, government, politics, maxims, manners, and customs (with many other circumstances and contingencies) are attempted to be described and treated on : in four parts
London : Printed for T. Woodward, between the Temple Gates in Fleet-Street, and C. Davis, near Middle-Row, in Holborn, printers to the Royal Society; and J. Shuckburgh, at the Sun, near the Temple Gate, in Fleet Street, 1743.
4. McDowell, A.G.: Village life in ancient Egypt : laundry lists and love songs
Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1999.
5. Romer, John: Ancient lives : the story of the Pharaoh's tombmakers
London : Phoenix, 1984.