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The Theban Necropolis: Contents


The West Bank of the Nile in the Luxor area is known as the Theban necropolis. There are great numbers of archaeological sites, especially funerary sites and monuments, including the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, private tombs, mortuary temples for the New Kingdom pharaohs. The site of the palace of Amenophis III at Malqata is situated to the south of the mortuary temple of Ramesses III (Medinet Habu). This site is a unique from other sites on the West Bank of Thebes in that it is not a funerary monument, but the site of the actual royal city.

The Archaeological Mission of Waseda University started its first archaeological excavation at the Malqata-south site in January 1972. In January 1974 we discovered a mud brick building with a colored staircase in the "Kom al-Samak" which was built by Amenophis III. The Malqata-south area should be located inside the territory of his palace.

This important discovery of this 18th dynasty building at Malqata-south made us turn to pharaonic studies. Since then we have worked in different sites over the Theban west region, e. g. the Valley of the Kings, Dra' Abu al-Naga', al-Khokha, Shaikh 'Abd al-Qurna, the palace of Malqata.

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At Malqata-south, the site of our excavation, there is a temple devoted to the goddess Isis which was built in the Roman period. The temple and its vicinity are called "Deir al-Shalwit" by the local people.

Our first hope in Egypt was put to the ground in December 1971. Field surveys were carried out for eight seasons until January 1979 and laboratory investigations continued for a further three seasons at al-Qurna village.

At the start of the field survey, grids of 25 m by 25 m squares were settled over this area. During nine years of digging, several sites were excavated intensively along with test excavations at the grid corners.

Excavated remains were divided, according to their periods, into four groups, i. e. Palaeolithic, Predynastic, the 18th Dynasty and the Roman-Byzantine. Palaeolithic sites are located on the desert edge near the Roman settlement and far into the desert. Some artifacts from the Predynastic period were found under strata in the Roman settlement area, but no remains of any structures have been detected so far. Splendid relics of the 18th Dynasty were unearthed at a small mound called the "Kom al-Samak". Remains of the Roman-Byzantine period were uncovered throughout the area, which should be studies as an assemblage composed of a temple, a settlement and associated cemeteries.

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The Prehistoric Survey

The Archaeological Mission of Waseda University has given attention to palaeolithic studies since the beginning of its archaeological survey in 1972 at the Malqata-south site.

According to our further research during the digging of test pits in the Roman settlement, the sandy gravel layer was recovered beneath the thick Nile silt, 2.3 m below the surface.

A number of lithic implements of the Late Palaeolithic features were unearthed in this sandy gravel layer. In the same field work season, we made a general survey of the lower terraces of the Libyan desert in the Northwestern part of the Malqata-south area. At ten different points (Loc. A to Loc. J) we found many flint implements. These sites are distinctively labeled Loc. A, Loc. B, Loc. C, and so on up to Loc. J. Many samples were collected randomly, rather than systematically, samples in sufficient for analysis by statistical methods.

They consist of points, handaxes, bifaces, unifaces, scrapers, blade flakes, Levalloisian flakes, drills, cores, and Levalloisian cores belonging to the Middle Palaeolithic period.

For our final report on lithic implements from the Malqata-south area, it proved necessary to make a subsidiary examination of lithic implements and a small-scale excavation at the selected points. This work was carried out during 1983-1984 season. The main purpose of this research was an examination of the original stratigraphcal position of the artifacts, and a topographical work of the sites.

Middle Palaeolithic assemblages have been discovered at Loc. A, Loc. B-1, B-2, Loc. C, Loc. E, Loc. F and Loc.G. Their artifacts are in general tend to be large to medium in size.

Khargan-related assemblages were collected at Loc. A, Loc. D, and Loc. E (B group). These are characterized by their strong emphasis on Levallois technology for core preparation and tool typology. They are from medium to minute in size.

Late Palaeolithic assemblages were discovered at two sites, Loc. B-3 and Loc. I. They are exceedingly small in size. Typologically, they show strong emphasis on the Levallois technique. Almost all the tools were made on Levallois flakes.

Near the southwestern corner of S-7, 85 cm below the surface, we found an oval palette made of schist. A part of it had been chipped slightly. Its major axis is 12.5 cm, the minor axis is estimated to have been 11.0 cm and the thickest part is 1.5 cm. This is an incised line along the rim to compose a belt 0.8-1.0 cm wide, and there are incised continuous X-patterns in the belt. Near the palette and on the same level, a hair-pin made of ivory was discovered. It is 7.0 cm in length, circular in its section, with a diameter of 0.8 cm at the end, and tapers gradually to a point. The palette and hair-pin are considered to belong to the predynastic or protodynastic period judging from their features, and are proof of the existence of pre- or protodynastic cemeteries or settlements in the near locality.

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The Dynastic Building and Mural Paintings at the "Kom al-Samak"

The "Kom al-Samak" was a small mound located in the desert about 240 m north of the Isis Temple at Deir al-Shalwit. This mound was oval in shape, about 80 m long. The mound consisted of two parts, divided by a trench made by thieves.

The excavation of the mound, from 1974 to 1979, uncovered the remains of a building constructed with mud bricks, having a northeast to southwest axis. The building was proven to have been reconstructed in several stages and within a short term. In the first stage the building was composed of a central platform with staircases on the southeast and the northwest sides, and a superstructure on top. In the latter stage, the platform was enlarged and a staircase added on the northeast side and a slope on the southwest side. This staircase had paintings depicted on each step. Some of the bricks found in the building bear a cartouche with the throne name of Amenophis III in the 18th Dynasty, based on which the building was dated to that king's reign.

The painted staircase has 20 steps, each 3.5 m in width, 55 cm in depth and 5 to 7 cm in height. The steps were plastered and pictures were drawn on them. The motif of a pair of bows tied in the middle and a figure of a captive alternatively decorated the steps. The captives are of three different races: from their features, they are assumed to be Nubians, Syrians, and another Asian tribe. All of them are wearing white ropes and have their hands tied behind and standing on tiptoes. Judging from the drawing of such captives, this building seems to have been used for a ceremony relating to Amenophis III (according to the study made thereafter, the staircase seems to have had 30 steps in its original state).

Fragments of mural paintings were the most conspicuous finds among items excavated at the "Kom al-Samak". The painted plasters seem originally to belong to the wall paintings drawn on the internal or external walls of the building. One of the reasons they have remained even today is that though the original building were demolished, the building material from older constructions were reused in later periods. Some of the mural paintings were found as fillings in the south slope. Other pieces seem to have been left behind when the later building was destroyed. Those found on the central platform seem to be such pieces. Thousands of fragments were excavated from the "Kom al-Samak". These vary in size, ranging from 30 x 50 cm to very tiny bit. The patterns on these fragments may be classified into two major types. One is a geometric pattern presumably painted on the ceiling and the edges of the wall inside the buildings. The other consists of different patterns such as human figures, animals, plants, vessels and votive offerings, which were painted within the space surrounded by the geometric patterns. Colors such as black, blue, red, green, yellow and white were used (the pigments used are mineral-based similar to those used in other Egyptian paintings). The style of drawing is also considered to be similar to that employed in the paintings found in private tombs of those days.

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The Roman-Byzantine Period in Malqata-south

A number of remains from the Roman-Byzantine period were observed in the vicinity of the Isis Temple. They are supposed to have been chiefly dwellings and burial areas. A concentration of buildings was uncovered north-east of the temple which we called the "Roman settlement". Graves up to eighty in number were recovered through the area west of the settlement, but especially concentrated on and around the "Kom al Samak". The area seemed to be used as a cemetery by the people living in the settlement. The Isis Temple, the settlement and the cemetery should be considered as the various site elements.

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The Isis Temple Precinct

The precinct of the Isis Temple is surrounded by a large enclosure wall made of mud bricks, the foundation of which still remains today. The area within the wall is rectangular in shape and its size is 74 x 51 m. The pylon and the propylon constructed with sandstone blocks, still remain standing.

This temple was first studied by K. R. Lepsius in the mid 19th century, although no detailed report has been made. The French mission directed by Ch. Zivie recently researched inscriptions on the pylon and the propylon. According to these inscriptions, construction of the existing temple was dated to the period around the beginning of the first century A. D.

During the seasons from 1971 to 1979, clearing of the enclosure wall and excavation of a well were carried out in the precinct. However, a major part of the precinct has been left untouched.

A well site is located in the northwestern precinct of the Isis Temple and was a shallow depression overgrown with weeds before the excavation. The excavation of the well was carried out in the seasons from 1976 to 1979.

The well itself was constructed by digging a pit of about 11 m in diameter and laying a baked brick wall on the inside of the pit. On the southeast side of the well, there is a staircase made of sandstone blocks, thus permitting anyone to get down along the inner wall into the well. In the fillings of the well, thirty-two strata were detected up to the point 4 m below the ground where further excavation was impossible due to the water spring. The earthenware, abundantly excavated from the well, is broken in most cases. It seems that such deposits formed because broken pottery and ashes were thrown into the well as waste once the well fall out of use.

Remains consisting mainly of earthenware were excavated from the well in considerable numbers. Table ware, amphorae and painted pots and jars were especially remarkable. Among them, there were some fragments with a mark of cross, indicating the Christian faith in Egypt known as "Copt". The cross and other features of the earthenware enable us to date the major part of the objects in the well to the Byzantine period, although an upper part of a stela, which was a rare example from the Graeco-Roman period, was included as well. The well itself could be loosely dated to the Roman period. Though some of the burial plots were supposed to belong to the Byzantine period and a scattering of pottery fragments similar to those from the well have been detected on the northwest side of the temple area, settlements contemporary with the objects inside the well have not yet been precisely located so far.

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The Roman settlement

When our field survey was commenced at the Malqata-south, pieces of earthenware were found scattered over the whole area northeast of the Isis Temple. The excavation of the area was started from the desert edge near the cultivated land in 1971 and continued until 1973.

As a result of the excavation, some 2, 000 square meters in area, houses built with mud bricks were uncovered. Three or four houses, each consisting of several square rooms of 3 to 3.5 m in length, were constructed, partly overlapping an older buildings. It became clear from the complexity of the brickwork that each house had been rebuilt several times. Some of the rooms were furnished with a pit and / or a furnace in one corner.

The objects excavated from the area include lamps made of terra-cotta, a statue of a woman in bronze, candlesticks, bronze cymbals (presumably for religious services), a statuette of a bull god made of limestone, coins and ostraca in addition to various kinds of earthenware. Among the coins, those belonging to the period of the Roman emperors, Trajan and Hadrian were found. The houses are thus considered to have been in use around the 2nd century A. D.

To the west side of the houses, some twenty skeletons of oxen were found buried. Their head were covered with a large piece of earthenware. These oxen are supposedly holy oxen for religious service. It could be considered from those findings that the houses may have been the dwellings of people deeply involved with the Isis Temple.

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The Cemetery

Together with the excavation of the Roman settlement, test trenches were dug in several places within the area during the seasons from 1971 to 1979. As a result, many people's burial site were discovered in the area west of the Roman settlement. Especially, a number of clay coffins were found centered on and around the "Kom al-Samak". On the basis of the coffins and rare funerary goods, the burials were supposed to be from the Roman to the Byzantine periods, thus contemporary with the Isis Temple and the Roman settlement in part. The area in the vicinity of the "Kom al-Samak" seems to have been used as a cemetery by the local population of those days.

The coffins recovered were in human-shaped. On the surface of the coffin, the face, breasts, feet, etc. are painted or appliqued with clay. Some of the coffins are also ornamented with a lotus design. The mummies inside the coffins are not in very good condition and mostly skeletonized because of unsatisfactory mummification. Most of the bodies were buried in a stretched position. Beads, bronze accessories and pottery were found as funerary goods.

In the vicinity of the Roman settlement, up to twenty oxen were also found buried. In addition to the statuette of a Bull god discovered in the Roman settlement, this fact indicates that ox worship occurred in those days.

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Site of Malqata-south Excavation site of Malqata-south

Site of Malqata-south Excavation site of Malqata-south

Painted stairs of Painted stairs of "Kom al-Samak"

Painted sherds found at Malqata-south Painted sherds found at Malqata-south

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(First drafted: 20 February 1996)
(Last revised: 25 January 2000)