|The Great Pit
|North of the Ptolemaic temple, just before the opening of the valley, lies the second largest feature of
Deir el-Medina (the first largest being the Ptolemaic temple) : an enormous pit measuring over 50 metres
deep and 30 metres wide. It is generally thought that the ancient inhabitants of Deir el-Medina
attempted to dig a well here in search of a convenient supply of water. The search was not successful,
the water-table of the Nile being much lower than it was possible to dig and so water had to continue
being transported by donkeys from the agricultural land several hundred meters away.
|During archaeological excavations Bruyère dated the current form of the pit to Ptolemaic times but
two documents of the 20th dynasty record successive attempts to dig to the water level from a
locations north of the village. Since there are not other very deep holes in this area, those
Ramesside attempts must have been made at the same location.
|When the attempts to find water were
finally abandoned the vast hole was
used as a rubbish pit and was filled
with debris which included hundreds of
ostraka. The pit was the richest
source of both hieratic and figured
ostraka found in the area of the
|A rock-cut staircase spiralling
down the walls of the pit gives
access to the bottom.
|View of the pit looking from east
towards west. The chapels north
of the enclosure wall of the
Ptolemaic temple are below the
cliffs on the left.
|View of the pit looking from
south towards north standing
just outside the chapels situated
north of the enclosure wall of
the Ptolemaic temple.
|Although the river now flows at a considerable distance from the settlement, it has altered its course
several times since antiquity. Napoleon's cartographers at the end of the 18th century, mapped the main
course as being much closer to the western hills than it is at present.
|In ancient times water points were established
at places around the settlement, and big
pottery containers were provided to hold water.
From those points water would be distributed to
individual houses within the village.
|In modern times the water points
still fulfill their function as seen in
these pictures taken in February
2007. The left image comes from
Deir el-Medina itself, the image
below comes from the road leading
from Deir el-Medina on the
crossroads towards Medinet Habu
and the Valley of the Queens.
|An excerpt from Jaroslav Černý's lecture held in Cairo on April 4th 1932 (the manuscript of which is held
at the Archive of the Ancient Near East and Africa Department, National Museum - Náprstek Museum,
Prague, Czech Republic):
"Water represents a great expenditure during the excavations. Deir el-Medina lies completely in the
desert - the nearest tree is about a quarter of an hour. The ancient Egyptians had tried to dig a well in
the vicinity of the temple of Deir el-Medina, but even at a depth of 60 meters they reached no water.
Therefore all water for washing, cooking and drinking has to be transported from the well located down in
the plain close to Medinet Habu. The well belongs to our chief workman Hassan Khalif. He gives us water
for free, but we must pay the man who pumps it from the well, and the donkeys, who transport it up to
our house every day from morning till evening. The expenses for water reach, if I am not mistaken, 30
crowns a day. The lion's share of this sum ends up in the pocket of our reis anyway, as the donkeys belong
to him and he pays the man who pumps, and he certainly does not give him all that he charges us for him."
|Professor of Egyptology Dr. Jaana Toivari-Viitala from University of Helsinki posted a note on the
EEF in June 2009 that Guillemette Andreau gave a presentation during the congress in Rhodes in 2008
where she announced, that the IFAO & Louvre were working on texts from the Great Pit.
|There are 18 pages with references to the Great Pit within the Archives de Bernard
Bruyère that have been digitised by the IFAO and now are accessible at