|The Egypt Exploration Society
|The Preliminary report of the work performed during the Fourth season in 2011-2012, Jaana
Toivari-Viitala, Elina Paulin-Grothe, Tanja Alsheimer, Virpi Perunka and Annika
Eklund, was published shortly before the seminar was held, and is available at
|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
|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.