Finnish team at the workmen's huts in 2011
The fourth field season of the research group called "Workmen's huts in the Theban mountains", which is a part of the ongoing project "Man and his environment", was launched on the 10th October 2011 and was again funded by the Academy of Finland.
The working area of the most recent season was more extensive than the area of previous seasons. The primary goal was to excavate and document the Western cluster of huts and also the mountain cliff chapel ruins and its surrounding area.
In addition, measuring and documentation work of the Northern and Eastern clusters was carried out. The season was very successful and all the intended objectives were achieved.
The area of excavation is now accurately measured, so that there is enough data to produce an overall map of the site and of the individual huts and the chapel. Preliminary maps show significant differences compared with the map published by Bernard Bruyère in his excavation report of 1939. Most of the pottery finds consisted of fragments, although several examples of complete vessels were found. Two bowls were discovered within one of the mastaba benches in the Western cluster. Most of the pottery fragments can be dated to the New Kingdom, precisely to the 19th and 20th dynasties, but quite a lot of Coptic pottery was also revealed.
The identification of the individual rooms in the Western cluster became something of a challenge because the reality did not match with Bruyère’s map from 1939. After the crumbling stones were carried away from the standing walls and room units were clearly distinguishable, the number of existing rooms in the cluster could be counted. The sum total was 51.
The heights of the walls varied a great deal through the center of the cluster from East to West, causing a marked decrease between the huts. The rooms constructed in the hollow were thus located at a much lower level than the
rooms that were located on the outskirts of the cluster. Almost all the walls were restored during the French excavations in 1939. In some places none of the original ancient Egyptian walls remained, in other places only
the lowest layer of stones was original. Fragments of plaster, used to produce a smooth wall surface, were found in many rooms. Sometimes the remains of a thinner, 1-3 millimeters thick layer of white plaster could be distinguished on top of the thicker grayish brown layer of plaster. Many of the walls thus had a smooth surface that was at least partially whitewashed.
The identification and analysis of the chapel ruins is problematic. No evidence that would clarify to whom or to which gods the chapel was dedicated to was found. Even the design of the structure itself raises questions. It is possible that it consisted of a central altar space bordered on each side by a room. That would be a typical "tripartite sanctuary" for the holy triad. At the moment it is not possible to say with certainty that the flanked units really were "rooms". There are steps carved in the rock cliff
flanking the chapel's southern wall. Some of the steps carry engraved graffiti which dates from the Pharaonic period and is unpublished.
The number of findings for this season rose to 229. Most of the objects found are ostraka with hieratic texts or graphic designs. Fragments of stelae with images and many fragments with hieroglyphic text were also found.
As the ground is very rough and is sloping in various directions, the flat floors were constructed using loose soil
parts of the floor surface. A smooth surface was then created by compaction and / or coating it with mortar.
Architectural elements found in the rooms consisted of mastaba benches, seats / stools made of limestone, fixed
thresholds and loose thresholds carved in stone with a hole for a door bolt (door has thus been designed like the swinging doors). A limestone headrest was also found.
Remains of fireplaces were detected in three of the rooms. Two more fireplaces were found near the cluster's outer
walls. Coptic pottery shards were found in the remains of ashes of one fireplace.
The Pharaonic graffiti that covers the cliff surface has been
published. Steps carved into the mountain rock are also visible in front of the sanctuary itself.
Remains of plaster were found on these steps and also on the sanctuary walls and on its floor.
The most spectacular discovery was made under a pile of stones, that was described as a "thick wall" that separated two rooms in the Eastern cluster during the French excavations. When the stones were removed it turned out that the ”thick wall” was actually a small room or space between the two rooms. In one corner of the room was revealed what at first glance looked like
a pile of fabric material. Maybe linen for mummification? No! When the bundle was studied it was found that it consisted of twisted rags which were used as lamp wicks. Never in all her "Egyptological life" has Jaana Toivari-Viitala seen anything like it - not in any museum or in any publication.
Some modern objects were also unearthed. Pieces of pipes, perhaps used by Bruyère himself came out of the sand as well as old and stylish cigarette boxes. Once the field work was completed all the objects were taken down to the Valley of the Kings, and later were transported to the SCA magazine adjacent to the Carter House. The next season starting in Autumn 2012 will focus on performing conservation of the ruins in the best possible way.
Photography © 2011 Heidi Kontkanen
The project team: Jaana Toivari-Viitala, Elina Paulin-Grothe, Tanja Alsheimer, Virpi Perunka, Annika Eklund, Pavel Onderka, John Winfer, Abd El-Hamid Osman Taia Daramalli (Abdu), Yrjö Viitala, student trainee Kaarina Hemminki, insp. Mohamed Hatim from SCA + 41 local workers
The Finnish version of the “Reflections on the Workmen's Huts in the Theban Mountains field project's third season” was written by Jaana Toivari-Viitala and published in The Finnish Egyptological Society’s member newsletter KIRJURI, 1/2012.
The article was kindly translated by Heidi Kontkanen from Helsinki.
On Saturday, 8th September 2012, the Egypt Exploration Society organised a London Seminar called The Workmen's Huts in the Theban Mountains, documenting the royal tomb-builders' huts above the Valley of the Kings. Dr Jaana Toivari-Viitala, the head of the Egyptology programme at the University of Helsinki, was the speaker for the day. She described the work of the past four seasons, during which her team uncovered the remains of the huts situated above the Valley of the Kings, in the
'Station de Repos'. The Finnish team has excavated three of the four clusters. So far they have found over 700 objects (excluding pottery and faience). All the objects are now stored in the depositories at the Carter House on the West bank of the Nile at Luxor.
The working conditions were difficult and a photo of a thermometer proved the team endured temperatures as high as 63 degrees Celsius! But the cooler breeze up on the cliffs makes this place more bearable than the conditions in the valleys below and so it could be refreshing for the crew to sit and relax after a day's work in the cooler evening air.
During the course of the four seasons of surveying the Finnish team established that the existing layout of the remains of the huts did not always match the map by Bernard Bruyère published in 1939. The numbering of the huts that Bruyère used also had to be adjusted due to inaccuracies. Bruyère's notebooks that he kept during the excavation in April 1935 have been published by the French Institute and are now accessible on-line :
Archives de Bernard Bruyère (1879-1971)
MS_2004_0156_024 ; 7 April 1935 - 8 April 1935
MS_2004_0156_025 ; 9 April 1935 - 14 April 1935
MS_2004_0156_026 ; 9 April 1935 - 14 April 1935
The Finnish team used Bruyère's numbering with modifications and published a new map of the existing layout in their Preliminary report of the work performed during the Fourth season in 2011-2012 (the link to which can be found at the end of this page). The French team published their 1935 season finds excavated at the village of Deir el-Medina as well as the finds from the surrounding area of the huts together without distinguishing the site so it is now impossible to know which objects did come from the area the Finnish team is concerned with.
We were shown slides of some intriguing finds: an intact New Kingdom bowl, a fragment of a votive stela dedicated to the goddess Meretseger and several ostraka, mainly pictorial. One large ostrakon was found in many pieces and is now being put together like a big puzzle. A bundle of linen rugs was found together with 27 lamp wicks - it being the only complete kit for wick making ever found. The wicks were of different thickness and length and the linens were of different types. Rosalind Janssen,
who was present in the audience, will examine the find in the future. As well as being a Deir el-Medina specialist, she is also a textiles expert this being her primary research (resulting in publication: Hall, Rosalind: Egyptian textiles).
Several slides documented the state of the rooms before the clearance and their state once the work was finished. Floor plaster was discovered in some huts: it was laid down in three layers - two layers of limestone plaster mixed with earth, the top layer being thin and white pure plaster. A slide of a stone door post with indentation for a peg from a wooden door and a photo of another taller and upright door post were among the architectural finds that documented the way the huts used to be enclosed.
These were discovered in several places. We were also shown a picture of the original plaster that survived intact on a hut's wall.
Most huts consisted of 2 rooms, but the hut of Kenherkhepshef, who held the office of scribe beginning at least in year 40 of Ramesses II and continuing down to year 1 of Siptah (around years 1239-1193 BC), was the largest, most centrally placed hut in the settlement and consisted of 3 rooms. We were shown slides of Kenherkhepshef's room paved with slabs of limestone and his seat made of blocks of limestone. It was U-shaped as if imitating the wooden seats of the furniture in the village houses.
The team found almost 20 fireplaces, some inside the huts, some outside. Two fireplaces contained New Kingdom pottery and ashes, which helped to date the use to the New Kingdom. It was suggested that the function of the fires outside the huts could have been to keep wolves away.
While the team was working at the site, a snake some 1.5 metres long used to pass by the team and head up onto the cliffs of Al-Qurn to bask in the sun. The photo of the large snake was quite a sobering sight for those, who visited the huts in the past, and like us, walked around and sat down on the ground unconcerned to have something to eat or just to reflect on the past.
The analysis of the ruins of the shrine that lie to the South of the huts at the foot of the rising mountain was problematic. Clearance of the area uncovered steps carved in the rock cliff flanking the shrine's southern wall. They reach above the shrine. The entire structure consisted of only a few original New Kingdom layers of stone. The modern walls erected by the French team were dismantled by the Finns. The layout itself raises questions. It is possible that it consisted of a central altar space
bordered on each side by a room. That would be a typical "tripartite sanctuary" for the holy triad. But there is no evidence to clarify to whom or to which gods the shrine was dedicated. It is interesting to note that it is the only building on the site which faces the temple of Karnak on the East bank. At the moment it is not even possible to say with certainty that the flanked units really were "rooms", the team call them "dummy rooms".
The end of the seminar was devoted to a stimulating discussion about the possible functions of the site. Was the place a gentlemen's club? Gaming pieces and a gaming board were found at the site. Rosalind Janssen mentioned a text that refers to "a place of hard drinking" that so far has not been identified. Was the place a pub? Further suggestions for the use of the site included it being a sort of checkpoint or administrative centre for the workers or a sick bay or even a place where tomb robbers hid to divide their spoils. The Finnish team has a further season - the last one - to resolve these questions and to come up with the answer to the project's objective: what was the purpose of the huts during the Ramesside Period.
I would like to express my thanks to Andrea from Sweden and Malcolm Dennes from Somerset, UK, who both attended the seminar with me, for their valuable additions to the contents of this page.
1. KIRJURI, 2/2011-The Finnish Egyptological Society’s member newsletter
2. http://www.helsinki.fi/news/archive/1-2009/28-13-42-13.html (accessed in 2012)
3. http://www.egyptologinenseura.fi/English/engframe.htm (accessed in 2012)
4. http://www.egyptologinenseura.fi/fieldwork/Preliminary%20report_WHTM%20Project_fourth%20field%20season%202011-2012.pdf (accessed in 2012)
5. 20Finland_Season2010_for%20ASAE.pdf (accessed in 2012)
6. http://www.egyptologinenseura.fi/fieldwork/engl/index.html (accessed in 2012)
7. http://www.ees.ac.uk/news/index/195.html (accessed in 2012)
8. http://www.ifao.egnet.net/bases/archives/bruyere (last accessed September 26th 2012)