|The workmen from Deir el-Medina worked throughout the year, in the hot summer as well as winter. The
working week consisted of 8 working days, with days of rest on the 9th and 10th day. The Egyptian month
consisted of three periods of 10 days each. Frequently the workers seem to have taken longer weekends
of three-days. Apart from these free days, the workforce often had time off to celebrate the festivals
of the principal gods. These would usually stretch over several consecutive days.
The working day consisted of two shifts of about four hours each, with a break at midday for lunch
|The workmen were mainly employed in the Valley of the Kings preparing the pharaoh's
tomb or in the Valley of the Queens, preparing the tombs of the king's wives although
they would also work in other parts of the Theban necropolis preparing the tombs of those
high officials to whom the pharaoh lent his workforce as a mark of his favour. In between
their working days, the men spent their nights in the Valley of the Kings or in its close
proximity in simple huts.
|Towards the west the view of the Valley of the Kings and the surrounding desert is magnificent...
|The path between the settlement of Deir el-Medina and the Valley of the Kings is
the same ancient path the artisans used on their way to work 3,500 years ago.
|The play of shadows on the Theban cliffs in the late afternoon.
|Remains of these huts have
been excavated and investigated
at the bottom of the Valley of
|Each hut had two rooms,
an inner, possibly sleeping,
chamber and an
antechamber with stone
seats along its wall.
|The seats were made of blocks of
limestone. They were U-shaped as
if imitating the wooden seats of
the furniture in the village houses.
|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), inhabited the
largest, most centrally placed hut in the settlement. Unlike the other huts, it had three
rooms. Each room was paved with slabs of limestone.
|There were two main groups of huts at the top of the
cliffs - the east and the west huts - divided by the path
into four clusters. The huts were originally excavated by
Bernard Bruyère in 1935.
|" It is impossible to imagine a contrast
more striking than that presented by
the two scenes that we had before our
eyes: on one side solitude, aridity,
desolation and death; on the other
temples, palaces and beautiful river,
vegetation, cultivated fields, herds,
people, and all the movement of living
The remarkable view as described by
M. Costaz, a member of the
Commission des arts et des sciences,
who arrived in Egypt with Napoleon's
army in July of 1798.
|Without any doubt, the ancient
artisans used to sit at the top of the
cliffs near their huts and admire the
views. On clear days it is possible to
see as far as 40 kilometers to the Red
Sea Hills in the east.
|It could have been used
office, where he compiled
the records of the work
at the royal tomb and
wrote his letters to the
officers of the
|In the most southern cluster of the huts we found
this sign or inscription, the detail of which is shown
below. Similar marks are found on some 18th
dynasty ostraka. Perhaps this is a name of a
workman or an ownership mark.
|It is not only the textual evidence that so richly
documents the past of the site. The area around the
huts and, as a matter of fact, the entire ground at
the top of the cliffs in the Theban hills, is scattered
with thirty-million-year-old fossilised clamshells.
Some small, some as big as a fist. They are reminders
of the times when the area lay beneath the sea
|“From our modern perspective, it is upsetting to see how the village was first excavated and then left to
be destroyed. Passers-by have used the huts as dumps and rest rooms,” said Jaana Toivari-Viitala.
“Fortunately, while we still have some surface cleaning to do, documentation and conservation are off to a
good start. Comparing the names found in the village and in Deir-el-Medina provides useful information.
Judging from the construction methods, settlement in the village can be divided into two separate periods:
the initial settlement and a later one.”
The team worked at the site during three further field seasons, each consisting of three months. The
research group, called "Workmen's huts in the Theban mountains", returned to the site in October 2009.
|The area opposite the Ptah's shrine
where traces of small stone huts of
Ramesside date have been found.
|Another mark or sign was found on
the path between Deir el-Medina
and the huts.
|It has been noted that the construction style of the huts is consistent with the style of
the main settlement at Deir el-Medina. The evidence of skilled stone cutting and the
same technique of setting structures low in the ground with shared walls to regulate the
temperature is present throughout both sites (Meskell,2000,266).
|Up to 2009 there was no evidence of
fireplaces, food preparation or bulk
storage of water anywhere in and
around the huts, implying that they
were not occupied permanently. This
is consistent with the textual
evidence we have about the supplies
of food and tools - they were
provided from the main settlement
|The exact purpose of the stone huts is not known. As well the obvious time saving aspect of
overnight stays, saving half an hour or so of travel back down to the village and the same in the
morning while constructing and decorating a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, the workmen could have
set up small workshops here in which they made shabtis and stone stelae. The past excavations
revealed that the rooms contained artisan's tools and pottery (Meskell,2000,266).
|The stone huts were not only used by the tomb workers alone, they were also used by door-keepers,
guardians and possibly medjay (police).
There is ample evidence that there were two door-keepers of the tomb. Each door-keeper was
assigned to one of the two sides of the crew. An early 19th dynasty hieratic ostrakon (O. Černý 17,
2-6) tells us that "there was not any door-keeper here except Psarpot, for Sanehem slept --- and
the door-keeper Sunero came [only] at noon". Therefore at some points there must have been three
door-keepers. It has been suggested that the western huts were occupied by door-keepers.
The guardians of the tomb were not members of the crew of workmen, but were closely connected with
them. They guarded the materials and tools used in the work in the tomb and they issued them to the
workmen when required. This was done in the presence of the foremen and the scribe, who took note of
the event. They also might exchange a blunt tool for a new, sharp one (Černý,1973,160).
A guard, or a police post, may have been present in the northern cluster, used by the medjay attached to
the community. This police force was required for the security of the tombs in the royal necropolis in the
Valley of the Kings and Queens, and to ensure both the safety and good conduct of the people working
there. In the Old and Middle Kingdoms the medjay were Nubian nomads, but during the 19th and 20th
dynasties, they were nearly completely Egyptianized. They formed part of the Medjay of the Thebes-
West who were under the command of the "mayor of Thebes-West". Ostraka and papyri concerned with
the workmen of the tomb repeatedly give number of eight policemen of the tomb (Černý,1973,261-263).
|During the 2nd and 3rd dig seasons
in 2009/2010 the Finnish team
under the leadership of late Jaana
Toivari-Viitala found important new
evidence in the form of a number
of fireplaces - both inside the
rooms, as well as outside! The
evidence was found in both the
North and the Eastern clusters.
|The rich and varied textual documentation (ostraka and papyri) from the Deir el-Medina community helps
us understand the semantic problem of translating the words for huts and houses. It has become standard
to translate the word '.t as "hut", a place outside the village walls, whereas the pr was the "house", the
official residence within these walls. (Demarée,2006,57)
Andrea McDowell remarked that "...when a workman entered the service of the necropolis he was
assigned a group of buildings as his official property; this group, sometimes called the swt or "places",
consisted of a house in the village (pr), a hut near the Valley of the Kings ('.t), a tomb (m'h't) and a
hnw. She also concluded that "... to possess a house in the village with its corresponding out-buildings was
part and parcel of being a member of the gang. This official property belonged to the state, and it could
not be alienated or shared".
Jac Janssen and Pieter Pestman concluded that "it seems that at Deir el-Medina a building erected by
the owner himself remains his personal property (O. Petrie 61), and is usually heritable, while the pr
belongs to the crew (O. Petrie 61, 6-7), (Janssen/Pestman,1968,160).
|Dispute over a hut
From Deir el-Medina
Mid 20th dynasty, Ramesses III
Fragmentary limestone ostrakon with a hieratic inscription recording the resolution of a dispute over a hut
inherited by the workman Wennofer. The writer of the text, Wennofer, claims ownership of his father's
hut, which at the time was being lived in by another workman, who also claimed rights to it. They both
went to see the chief workman Khonsu and his deputy to settle their dispute. It was decided that
Wennofer had the right to the hut but that he should compensate the other party for any improvements
made while he lived there. There follows a list of items made in payment.
The inscription is not written in ink. It is unusual in being cut into the limestone and filled with blue frit, a
technique used for formal hieroglyphic inscriptions. Andrea McDowell suggests that perhaps Wennofer set
this ostrakon into a wall of the disputed hut like a stele to make his claim to the building widely known.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Inv. no. ANAsh.H.O.655
Gift of Sir Alan Gardiner
|There are many rock graffiti to be found on rock
surfaces around the immediate area of the stone huts.
The majority of the textual graffiti dates back to the
19th and 20th dynasties, when the number of workmen
at Deir el-Medina increased. It is likely that most of
them were literate to certain extent and perhaps their
movement around the necropolis was more relaxed.
The inscriptions are spread over large areas of rock
surface but are sometimes found in small clusters
We found several textual graffiti along the lower
reaches of the rock spur on the east face of el-Qurn by
the most southern stone structure, that could have
functioned as a watch for the guards.
|The archaeological evidence indicates that
the huts were abandoned not later than by
the early 21st dynasty, around the years
17-18 of Ramesses XI, when the community
of workmen had left Deir el-Medina and
moved to the safety of Medinet Habu's
walls. The decline suggests that the stone
huts and the cliffs surrounding them were
only rarely visited during those troubled
|Recently I discovered an intriguing image on the Brooklyn Museum flickr site. The image is a part of the
Brooklyn Museum's lantern slide collection (a lantern slide is a transparent image on glass that could be
projected, in magnified form, onto a surface using a "magic lantern," or sciopticon). During the 2nd half
of the 19th century this technology expanded the uses of photography, allowing photographic images to
be viewed by a large audience. This view of the site of the Temples at Deir-el-Bahari taken from the
top of al-Qurn caught the stone huts in the middle of the image. Unfortunately this slide is undated,
but there are around 100 years in between the black & white slide on the left and the colourful digital
photograph on the right. The older image is property of the Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn Museum Archives
(S10|08 Deir-El-Bahari, image 9931).
|"Identity marks and their relation to
writing in New Kingdom Egypt" is a
PhD research programme, planned for May
2011 - August 2015, at University of
Leiden under leadership of Dr. Ben
Haring. The objectives of the research
are to explain the shapes and nature of
the marks themselves, and their affinity
with writing and to assess precisely how
the marks were used in the workmen’s
community – in addition to writing.