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date: 22 September 2017

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-Medina

Abstract and Keywords

Through a thorough examination of the archive kept in the Institut français d’archéologie orientale (the French Archaeological Institute in Cairo; hereafter IFAO), this chapter details the history of the archaeological excavations and other field activities conducted by the Institute at the site of Deir el-Medina since the early 20th century. The chapter focuses in particular on the work of Bernard Bruyère, the central figure of this endeavor. Although the opportunity is given to go through the major discoveries that were made on the site and their contributions to the knowledge of daily life in ancient Egypt, the focus is also put on the photographic archives of Bruyère and on the information that can be drawn from them. A review of the work made after Bruyère is finally detailed, along with a summary of the ongoing activities on the site.

Keywords: Ancient Egypt, Deir el-Medina, archive, archaeological excavations, archaeological photography, IFAO

Introduction

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 1. General view of the site of Deir el-Medina from the east. The enclosed village is surrounded by chapels (to the right) and by the western necropolis at the foot of the western hill (background).

Photo: C. Gobeil.

Nestling in the hollow of a desert valley 725 km to the south of Cairo, on the west bank of the Nile opposite modern Luxor, the ancient site of Deir el-Medina preserves the vestiges of a village, two large cemeteries, and a religious area (Figure 1).

These imprints were left by the community of workmen and craftsmen responsible for the construction and decoration of royal and princely tombs in both the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens during the New Kingdom (1550–1069 BC).

By offering a unique testimony to life in New Kingdom Egypt (including the workmen’s houses, documentary and literary texts, and drawings on limestone flakes called ostraca), Deir el-Medina allows archaeologists and Egyptologists to gather information not only about everyday life but also about administrative and economic matters, art, literature, social relations, and domestic, religious, and funerary architecture. This has made the workmen’s community the natural focal point of many studies related to social life in ancient Egypt, as attested by the rich online bibliography managed by specialists at the University of Leiden (www.wepwawet.nl/dmd/bibliography.htm).

Because the Institut français d’archéologie orientale (the French Archaeological Institute in Cairo; hereafter IFAO) has held the archaeological concession at Deir el-Medina since 1914, scholarship on much of the material excavated at the site relies on placing the Institute’s copious archives under meticulous scrutiny and requires what one might call an “archaeology of the archaeology.” These archives, which are held at the Department of Scientific Documentation of the IFAO, comprise four excavation notebooks written by Bruyère and distributed as follows: (1) from 1922 to 1925, (2) from 1926 to 1930, (3) from 1931 to 1938, and (4) from 1939 to 1951. They include a certain number of excursuses as well as reading notes on diverse subjects. These notebooks, whose author continued writing until 1965, remain for us the witnesses of an archeology across which a deep humanity shows through. Beside them, the IFAO also possesses thousands of pictures relating to Deir el-Medina. They consist of hundreds of photographic glass plates, thousands of photographs and photographic films, and hundreds of transparencies; more recently, the collection has been completed with hundreds of digital pictures. Finally, these archives contain personal notes of Bruyère regarding many topics such as the objects he found, the tombs that were newly discovered or the ones he restored, the general plan of the site, as well as several authors’ unpublished manuscripts.

In order to give scholars as well as the general public easier access to these archives, the IFAO has recently begun on the one hand the conservative inventory of its extensive collection of graphic archives, and on the other hand a important process of digitalization of its manuscript archives as well as its collection of photographic archives. As a result, Bruyère’s excavations notebooks are now available online (www.ifao.egnet.net/bases/archives/bruyère/), and so will be soon most of the pictures relatied to the decorated tombs of Deir el-Medina.

The discussion that follows arises from close examination of the archives of the French Archaeological Institute and, in particular, those of Bernard Bruyère (1879–1971), lead excavator at the site for some thirty years. Among the documents preserved in this collection are the astonishingly detailed carnets de fouilles (excavation notebooks) that Bruyère drafted every afternoon after having spent an extended morning at work in the field. The notebooks are remarkable for the care, accuracy, and attention to detail that they reveal, which contributed to Bruyère’s timely publications of his work.

Indeed, at the end of each field season, Bruyère published a detailed report in the Rapports préliminaires de fouilles de l’IFAO, part of the series Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale (often abbreviated as FIFAO). These reports were for their time—and still remain—models of precision; as such, they continue to provide a wealth of information for all those who still work on Deir el-Medina. Two other publication series—the Mémoires de l’IFAO (MIFAO) and the Documents de fouilles—provided venues for Bruyère and his colleagues to publish the tombs (painted scenes and hieroglyphic texts) and the inscribed objects discovered during the archaeological campaigns, mainly epigraphists in charge of the ostraca study, continue to produce volumes in these series today.

At the time of Bruyère’s work, objects found during the excavation were drawn, had their inscriptions copied, and were then classified and photographed in rooms adjacent to the bedrooms of the excavation house where researchers lived in. The artefacts were then sent to Cairo to be divided among the Cairo Museum, the IFAO (mostly ostraca and papyri are still preserved in the Institute; Černý 1978, 1986), and the Louvre Museum (Andreu 2002), whose Egyptian Department benefited from the many beautiful and significant finds yielded by the excavations. Other objects remained on site; they are now held at the nearby Carter Magazine. These unpublished objects, mostly deriving from Bruyère’s excavations, continue to be studied there.

Among others Deir el-Medina’s pioneers, it is worth mentioning the epigraphist Jaroslav Černý (1898–1970) who, until his death, focused his research on hieratic documents (ostraca and papyri) as well as hieroglyphic texts inscribed on monuments found in situ. Černý was the first scholar to confirm that the ancient village had been built to house the community of craftsmen who worked in both Valleys of the Kings and Queens. At the end of his career in Oxford, Černý decided that, at his death, all of his archives were to be given to the Griffith Institute at Oxford (www.griffith.ox.ac.uk/gri/4hicerpa.html; www.griffith.ox.ac.uk/gri/4hiceros.html), where they are still preserved.

Preludes to Bruyère

The IFAO’s work at Deir el-Medina can be traced back to the late 1880s, when the first director of the Institute, Gaston Maspero (1846–1916), undertook archaeological excavations at the site. Maspero, who served as director for a year following the Institute’s founding in 1880, was also director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, a powerful role he had assumed from its founder, Auguste Mariette, and a role that helped cement French influence in the cultural affairs of the Ottoman-backed Egyptian government (Reid 1996). In the 1880s, the goal of Maspero’s work at Deir el-Medina was primarily to stop plundering activities by “diplomats-aventurers” and various other smugglers. On February 2, 1886, he and his team were fortunate enough to discover the intact tomb of Sennedjem (Theban Tomb [TT] 1), an artist active in the early 19th Dynasty (Bruyère 1959; Hodel-Hoenes 2000). The discovery proved that several parts of the site had yet to be uncovered despite the pitiful state of destruction then prevailing.

The site having been left vacant after Maspero’s work, it was allocated in 1905 to a former student of his, the Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli (1856–1928), who was then working for the Museo Egizio in Turin, which, at that time, was looking to increase its Egyptian collection. Schiaparelli first began by excavating the northern part of the Western necropolis because the remains of some small pyramid-shaped chapels were rising from the sand. Just a few months after work began, Schiaparelli found the chapel of the tomb of Maya (TT 338), who was a painter during the last years of the 18th Dynasty. The vivid colors of the decoration led him to remove the walls of the chapel with care, in order to bring them to the museum in Turin, where they still can be seen. This was a common practice at the time, with the approval of the French-run antiquities service. The Italian team extended its work in the same area, and, in 1906, the intact tomb of the architect Kha and his wife Meryt (TT 8) was also discovered. The contents of this tomb, which were given entirely to the Museo Egizio, provide outstanding examples of 18th Dynasty life among the elite artisans because it contains rare pieces of furniture (chairs, beds, chests) as well as multiple sets of clothing for Kha, toilette articles for Kha and Meryt, and many other objects, including foodstuffs. Prior to leaving the site in 1909, Schiaparelli was also among the first Egyptologists to excavate the northern part of the village, thus revealing the existence of hitherto unseen houses (Schiaparelli 1927; Vassilika 2010). Nonetheless, one of the most precious gifts the Turin Museum has gained from the work of Schiaparelli is, without doubt, the large quantity of archives and especially its photographs (Vassilika 2010).

Soon after, Émile Baraize (1874–1952) worked at the site in the name of the IFAO from 1909 to 1912, cleaning and restoring the Ptolemaic-period temple as well as the structures located inside and immediately around its enclosure (Baraize 1914). In 1913, the site again changed hands, passing into the authority of Georg Möller (1876–1971) and his German team (Anthes 1943: 50–68). During a single season of work before the outbreak of war, Möller devoted his activity to clearing a small area in the northern part of the village, in the process uncovering a few new houses in addition to those found by Schiaparelli.

In 1914, the director of the IFAO, Georges Foucart (1865–1943), regained the archaeological concession for Deir el-Medina, which had been left vacant by Möller at the beginning of World War I. The Institute was prepared to commit long-term resources to the site it had last excavated in the 1880s, but, 30 years on, Deir el-Medina looked like “a battlefield” (Bruyère 1946: 11); it was indeed dotted with debris and pieces of broken artefacts, and scattered with hundreds of holes dug by tomb robbers. In the mid-1910s, just prior to Bruyère’s arrival, only 21 decorated tombs were known (TT 1–10, 210–220, and 250; Gardiner and Weigall 1913: 16–17, 34–39), and, of those, only two or three were accessible to visitors, access to the others being too dangerous. The western hill at the site was far from being secured due to an accidental collapse. As for accommodation for the French excavators, they had to make do with a simple mudbrick house left behind by Schiaparelli and his team (Bruyère 1946: 11–12).

To help prepare the site for further work, and to justify the time, energy, and money this would require, the IFAO requested the services of two so to say reliable people, neither of whom yet were trained archaeologists: Jacques Théodore Jules Lecomte Du Nouÿ (1885-1961, son of the painter Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte Du Nouÿ) and Henri Gauthier (the librarian of the French Archaeological Institute, 1877–1950, former scientific member and librarian of the IFAO). Between 1915 and 1917, both men uncovered many more decorated tombs, some with objects inside (Bruyère 1928a; Foucart 1917; Gauthier 1917, 1920). They also conducted an archaeological survey of a small section of the village, but the results regrettably were not documented. By the end of the war, the French Archaeological Institute had exhausted its funds, and activities at Deir el-Medina were only resumed in 1920 with the work of Charles Kuentz (1895–1978) and Louis Saint-Paul Girard (1877–1935). Kuentz and Girard both discovered some minor tombs and began to clear the top level of the Western hill (Bruyère 1946: 12–13).

Until then, the constant change of archaeologists in charge of the site had unfortunately prohibited any homogeneity in the excavations. However, this situation was soon about to change.

The Arrival of Bruyère at Deir el-Medina

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 2. A so-called lit-clos structure built in mud-bricks inside a house (NE VI) of the village of Deir el-Medina.

Photo: C. Gobeil.

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 3. Decorative element on the front panel of a so-called lit-clos picturing a young female dancing and playing flute. Painting on mouna coating; located in the first room of the house SE VIII.

Photo: C. Gobeil.

In 1921, Bernard Bruyère (1979–1950), a former student of the School of Fine Arts in Paris and Kuentz’s assistant, was appointed as scientific member at the IFAO and was then assigned to Deir el-Medina. Together with Kuentz, he completed the clearing begun the year before and went on with the clearing of the southern part of the Western necropolis. Among the discoveries made that year were a number of decorated tombs in the Western necropolis (TT 214, 290, 291, 298, and 299) as well as numerous artifacts and ostraca dated to the Ramesside period (1295–1069 BC) and found in the southern part of the village, thus removing any remaining doubt about the date of the main occupation of the site. In house SE (for “southeast”) I, they found a large piece (1.22 × 0.28 m) of a decorated wall scene that was still fixed to the front of a structure Bruyère erroneously called a “lit-clos” or enclosed bed, after a type of enclosed bed used in Brittany in France (Figures 2 and 3; Bruyère 1923, 1939: 50).

Bruyère would go on to find similar wall scenes on similar structures elsewhere in the village. In the Deir el-Medina houses, the lit-clos structure is a walled platform reached by three or four steps and decorated with images of the god Bes, sometimes accompanied by female dancers and/or musicians (Bruyère 1939: 54–64; Weiss 2009). The decoration of the walls has led some scholars to suggest that the platforms, which are located in the first room of houses, are closely connected to ideas about fertility, perhaps providing spaces for birth; the previous assumption is now to be dropped towards another one, more fitted and related to domestic rituals such as the protection of the household (Koltsida 2006: 172; Meskell 1998, 2000, 2002: 71–74, 111–121; Weiss 2009).

Thanks to improving financial conditions, from 1922, the IFAO was in a better position to undertake extensive excavations at Deir el-Medina on a much longer term and larger scale. At that time, it was decided that the most trustworthy man to supervise and lead the work would be Bruyère, who immediately made plans to excavate all the sectors of the site following a systematic program. In the end, his work continued until 1951.

To facilitate his ambitious project, Bruyère arranged for a light rails track to be laid on precise routes through the site, for use with Decauville cars. This meant that instead of excavated earth being moved perpetually from one place on the site to another, each zone could be cleared systematically, and the debris from previously excavated sectors could also be sifted and removed to the south part of the site. In order to stabilize the ground at the site and make pathways for the Decauville railtracks, Bruyère landscaped the Western hill, building horizontal terraces that are still visible today.

The success of the scientific program envisaged by the IFAO depended on the involvement of numerous scholars working on site for long periods, which the small size and discomfort of the existing accommodation did not allow. To overcome this, a dig house—worthy of that name—was fitted out in 1922 on the site of the former Italian house (little more than a shed), which was enlarged, transformed, and equipped with all the necessary features for the project’s work. Under Bruyère’s guidance, the dig house was so well constructed that it is still in use by the IFAO today for the annual field season at Deir el-Medina.

In anticipation of the large number of artifacts the annual excavations would unearth, Bruyère also created a number of storerooms and study rooms, mostly using undecorated tombs but also a few decorated ones. Today, the majority of the objects previously stored in this way at Deir el-Medina are now secured in the Carter Magazine elsewhere on the West Bank, but some objects do still remain in the on-site study rooms, awaiting scholarly attention.

Bruyère’s Annual Excavations

Summarizing in a few paragraphs the extensive work carried out by Bruyère and his team is a challenging exercise because almost every season was punctuated by major events, such as the discovery of the intact tomb of Sennefer in February 1928—which will be discussed in more detail later—or the finding of several intact tombs in the Eastern necropolis that contained many objects of daily life from the 18th Dynasty (Bruyère 1937b).

The clearance of the top level of the western hill, begun in 1920 and was completed in 1923–1924 (Bruyère 1925b),. That same year, Bruyère’s team also cleared the junction between the western and northern hills, bringing to light seven new tombs (TT 321, 322, 323, 325, 330; P 1185, 1186). Because the Antiquities Service did not wish to number several undecorated tombs that Bruyère discovered, he created a specific system : all the tombs numbered from 1,000 and preceded by the letter “P” (for the French word “puits” meaning “shaft”) are part of this system, which supplemented the traditionnal “TT” (Theban Tomb) numbers assigned by the Service.

In 1924–1925, thanks to the perspective acquired from the new archaeological data and the documentary sources that Jaroslav Černý had just begun to scrutinize, Bruyère became certain that the workers who lived and were buried at Deir el-Medina were the same as those workers responsible for the quarrying and decoration of the rock-cut tombs in the Valleys of the Kings and of the Queens (Bruyère 1926). During that season, the excavators discovered six new tombs (TT 335, 336, 337, 338, 339, and 340) while clearing the northern and middle parts of the western hill. The discoveries made that year allowed Bruyère without any doubt to date the beginning of the Deir el-Medina settlement to the first half of the 18th Dynasty, even though some Middle Kingdom tombs have also been found on the site (P 1261 and P 1200, found, respectively, in 1931–1932 and 1929; Bruyère 1934–1935: 4–6, fig. 1, pl. I, 1930b: 100–106, fig. 45, pl. I; Grajetzki 2000: 31–32).

In 1926, in parallel to his main sphere of activity at Deir el-Medina, Bruyère also found time to conduct work at the sanctuary of the goddess Meretseger, located halfway between Deir el-Medina and the Valley of the Queens (Bruyère 1927-1952, 1930a). The main part of his work there consisted of excavating, preserving, and studying the sector, especially the dedicatory rock-cut stelae dating to the Ramesside period. The publication resulting from his work includes a study of Meretseger associated with the sacred mountain of the West Bank, who was an important focus of worship for the workers living there. The snake’s head goddess was, in fact, supposed to protect the workmen from the dangers of snakebites. Together with that goddess, the publication also includes a study of the god Ptah, to which the sanctuary was also devoted, as well as the votive stelae related to that god.

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 4. Page 8b of Bruyère’s notebook for the year 1928 showing the content of the inviolate tomb of Sennefer discovered in 1928, hand-drawn by Bruyère.

Archives department of the French Institute of Archaeology in Cairo. Photo: © IFAO, B. Bruyère

During the same year and continuing into 1927 and 1928, the IFAO’s work was concentrated on the middle part of the western necropolis, where most of the 18th Dynasty tombs stand (Bruyère 1928b, 1929). Although the vast majority of these tombs had been plundered in the years preceding the arrival of Bruyère, he and his team were nevertheless able to discover several tombs of significant interest, especially that of Sennefer (P 1159), discovered intact on February 7, 1928 (Bruyère 1929: 40–73, pls. II–XIII). This outstanding discovery is well documented in one of Bruyère’s carnets de fouilles (www.ifao.egnet.net/bases/archives/bruyere/?sujet=Tombe%20inviolée%201159.%20Hormès.%20Sennefer). For the opening of the tomb, Bruyère waited for the arrival of several key individuals from the Institute and the Antiquities Service, whom he listed on page 8 of his carnet for 1928: the director of the Service, Pierre Lacau (1873–1963) and his wife; the director of the Institute, Pierre Jouguet (1869–1949); Henri Chevrier (1897–1974) and his wife; Étienne Drioton (1889–1961); Fernand Bisson de la Roque (1885–1958); Jaroslav Černý; Georges Nagel (1899–1956); Jacques-Jean Clère (1906–1989); and Charles Kuentz. (www.ifao.egnet.net/bases/archives/bruyere/?sujet=Tombe+inviolée+1159.+Hormès.+Sennefer&os=5). When they entered the tomb, the coffins of Sennefer and his wife were still in place along the west wall, and all the funerary equipment was in position as the friends and relatives of the deceased had left it; it includes seventeen bunches of flowers, many statuettes, pieces of furniture (a chair and stool), jewels, amphorae, alabaster vases, foodstuffs, and so on. In his carnet de fouilles, Bruyère made a drawing of the objects in the burial chamber as they were found, perhaps one of the most striking pages of the documentation (Figure 4).

The entire lower slope of the northern hill was cleared in 1929 (Bruyère 1930b). There, Bruyère found several tombs and a number of votive chapels dating to the Ramesside period and used by associations or brotherhoods of the workmen (e.g., TT 357 and P 1195); there were several tombs and burials of the Greco-Roman period as well (P 1196) (Bruyère 1930b: 3–31). The votive chapels of Deir el-Medina, which Bruyère proceeded to study, remain the subject of particular attention in terms of scholarship as well as restoration work. The chapels require careful conservation because their decoration is made of a simple coat of painted plaster covering mudbrick walls, thus making them unique testimonies for the conduct of pious practices within a community framework. To this end, the IFAO is currently working on a conservation program for these fragile structures (www.ifao.egnet.net/archeologie/deir-el-medina/).

In 1930, when the clearance of the northern hill was complete, Bruyère relocated most of his ongoing work to the south part of the site, where the ancient rubbish dumps of the New Kingdom village had accumulated in the shape of small hills. Indeed, during the 18th and early 19th Dynasties, rubbish and objects no longer needed by the population of Deir el-Medina were thrown into what was then empty space to the south of the site, where the parking lot for tourists now stands. During pharaonic times, the main access to the village was from the north, the south being closed off by the hill known as the Qurnet Murai. The excavation of the rubbish dumps proved to be crucial because they have yielded a rich harvest of documents, mainly in the form ostraca and ceramic sherds with inscriptions and drawings, some of which are still awaiting publication (for the already published documents, Černý 1970; Gasse 1986, 2005; Grandet 2000, 2003, 2006, 2010; Koenig 1979–1980; Sauneron 1959; Valbelle 1977; Vandier D’abbadie 1936, 1937, 1946). Covered over by rubbish mounds resulting from some excavations made soon before his arrival, Bruyère also rediscovered the family tombs of Inherkha (TT 359) and his relatives Qeh (TT 360) and Huy (TT 361), which he had been hoping to locate ever since he began work in the southern sector (Bruyère 1946: 18). The tombs had been indeed recorded by the Prussian expedition led by Richard Lepsius in 1845 but presumed lost in the intervening years (Cherpion and Corteggiani 2010: 2–3).

In 1931–1932, the final clearance of the last few votive chapels completed the work on the northern hill (Bruyère 1931–1933, 1934–1935), bringing the total number of chapels to more than 30. Bruyère also investigated other structures located to the north of the village. These turned out to be houses built outside of the surrounding wall of the village at a time—under the reign of Ramesses IV (1153–1147 BC)—when the number of workers exceeded the number of houses erected inside the enclosure (Valbelle 1985: 35).

The north and south sectors of the village having been completely cleared; 1933–1934 saw the opening of two new excavation zones, to the east and west of the village at the foot of both hills that surround it (Bruyère 1937a, 1937b). The goal of such work was primarily to prepare for the future excavation of the village itself (Bruyère 1946: 19). In order to do so, Bruyère had to move the road that passed through the village, redirecting it to the east, alongside the foothills of Qurnet Murai while avoiding any further destruction of ancient structures. The result of this new clearance was the discovery of more than 15 intact tombs along with numerous painted ceramic sherds and inscribed ostraca. Surprisingly, the debris levels here had never been disturbed, with the result that layer upon layer ostraca emerged in an intact stratigraphy stretching from the end of the 20th Dynasty (top layers) to the 18th Dynasty (bottom layers). Under the bottom layers, Bruyère also found some of the oldest tombs at Deir el-Medina, dating to the 18th Dynasty and belonging primarily to women. At the same time, excavations in the foothills and at the bottom level of the western necropolis uncovered many tombs of the 18th Dynasty as well as of the Ramesside period.

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 5. Some temporary stone huts used by the workmen at the top of the western mountain between the village and the Valley of the Kings.

Photo: C. Gobeil.

The year 1935 marked a turning point, for it was the time for the complete and final clearance of the village itself, that, until then, had only been partially investigated (Bruyère 1939). However, the danger related to the increasing number of lootings that were prevailing in Luxor during that time (Bruyère 1939: 239) led Bruyère to carry out this extensive work in a single season using a higher than usual number of indigenous workers. The difficulty of supervising the work seems to have contributed to the theft of several valuable artifacts. That same year, Bruyère also managed to excavate a spot located near the top of the western hill, where a group of huts mostly made of rough-cut stones stood (Figure 5).

The workmen used these huts—similar to those found in the Valley of the Kings itself—to avoid going down to the village each day. Once they had reached this temporary camp, they could remain for up to 10 working days before going back to their village house to spend a few days off with their families.

From 1935 to 1938, the intensive excavation and clearance work came to a standstill in order to allow for activities such as the cleaning and sorting of those objects that had accumulated during the previous 20 years of work; the team also performed small surveys in the western and northern necropolises and verified some of their previous conclusions about the site (Bruyère 1952b).

In 1939–1940, because almost every area south of the Ptolemaic temple had been cleared, the French team focused their efforts on the temple itself and its northern and eastern sectors (Bruyère 1952b; Du Bourguet 2002). The previous work led by Baraize in 1912 was not as thorough as it could have been; in fact, Baraize had not excavated lower than the surface layers dating to the Ptolemaic period. Thus, almost nothing was known of what lay below that level (Baraize 1914; Bruyère 1925a, 1952b: 12–59). The results of both seasons showed that the remains beneath the Ptolemaic temple date to the 18th and 19th Dynasties. Like the later stone-built temple, all the New Kingdom covered structures beneath were votive cult chapels primarily devoted to Hathor and Maat, the two most important goddesses of the West Bank. The cleaning of the sector to the north of the temple also revealed a group of six votive chapels leaning against the western hill, one of which dates to the reign of Seti I and was dedicated to Hathor; one of these chapels, dating back to the reign of Seti I and dedicated to Hathor, is now considered to have been the model for the subsequent chapel arrangements. Against the hill of Qurnet Murai, Bruyère also found a Ramesses II cult chapel dedicated to the triad of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu worshipped across the river at Thebes (modern Luxor). This chapel had a “ceremonial palace” (khenou) adjacent to it, along with many houses and tombs of the Ramesside period (Valbelle 1985: 326–328) that were later reused as houses in Ptolemaic, Roman, and Byzantine times.

Work at the site ceased during World War II, but between 1945 and 1948, Bruyère and his team returned to Deir el-Medina to complete the clearance of areas located to the north and east of the Ptolemaic temple (Bruyère 1952c). They also used these years to finish their study of the structures and objects found in that sector.

The final excavations conducted by Bruyère at Deir el-Medina took place from 1949 to 1951, in the one part of the site he had not yet explored: the so-called Great Pit (Bruyère 1953). Because the IFAO was unable to provide further financial support, Bruyère not only funded the excavation out of his own resources, but also managed to complete the especially grueling work, which entailed digging a giant hole without any mechanical means in order to move 6,000 m3 of earth and debris. Some of his exhausted workforce deserted under the circumstances. Local information had suggested that the 50 m deep pit was an intact Late Period tomb (Bruyère 1946: 23), but it turned out to be an ancient well rapidly transformed into a dump, then filled up with the rubble and rubbish the village residents had tossed there during the Ramesside period (Driaux 2011: 129–141). Bruyère’s bad luck, however, was Egyptology’s good fortune: the pit was indeed filled with the most extraordinary epigraphic harvest ever found in Egypt. More than 5,000 ostraca were discovered, and their subsequent translation has revealed that they were the documentary and literary archives of the community of workmen who lived at Deir el-Medina during the Ramesside period.

Bruyère returned to Deir el-Medina one last time at the beginning of 1952, but, soon after their arrival, the team members were asked by the Egyptian authorities to stop their work and leave Egypt due to the political events that were shaking the country in the lead-up to General Nasser’s revolution. Bruyère mentioned the cessation of work on page 8 of his carnet de fouilles for 1951–1952 (www.ifao.egnet.net/bases/archives/bruyere/?sujet=Textes+et+figures+de+la+chapelle+Amenardis+à+Medinet+Habou&os=1). After this, Bruyère never returned to Egypt. He retired to his hometown of Chatou, in France, where he lived until his death in 1971.

Bruyère’s Photographic Archives

Along with his daily writing in his notebooks, in which he inserted a large number of drawings, Bruyère also made great use of photographs in order to keep track of his work and to document his findings. To do so, he used photographic glass plates as well as photographic films. Although his notebook drawings were essentially made to precisely illustrate objects or part of a plan, one has the feeling that his pictures were taken mostly to give impressions of the ongoing work, as if they were almost slices of life.

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 6. Egyptian workmen cleaning out the rubbles from the Northern necropolis at Deir el-Medina, around 1924.

Archives department of the French Institute of Archaeology in Cairo. Photo: © IFAO, Archives B. Bruyère

Even if this kind of photograph is not purely “scientific,” the pictures can be precious sources to indicate the methods used by Bruyère to excavate and clean the site. In one picture (Figure 6), one can see two Decauville cars pushed on rail tracks by workmen, while some others are standing in line cleaning a rubbish mound.

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 7. The village of Deir el-Medina being cleaned by Egyptian workmen in 1935.

Archives department of the French Institute of Archaeology in Cairo. Photo: © IFAO, Archives B. Bruyère

This picture illustrates the difficult conditions under which the men were working, but it also explains how Bruyère was able to clean the site so quickly: a strong work organization combined with manpower was the key solution. Another photograph taken from the hill of Gurnet Muraï (Figure 7) shows the village being cleaned by a large team of workmen producing a cloud of dust. Again, Decauville cars were used to save time. In a way, these pictures complete and exemplify the daily work accounts in Bruyère’s notebooks.

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 8. A picture of part of the content of the inviolate tomb of Sennefer found in 1928.

Archives department of the French Institute of Archaeology in Cairo. Photo: © IFAO

In addition to work accounts, pictures can also be used to appreciate the great precision of the drawings made by Bruyère. For example, the similarity between the drawing of the discovery of the inviolate tomb of Sennefer (see Figure 4) with the photograph of the discovery taken at the same moment (Figure 8) is striking. For modern scholars, the study of Bruyère’s photographs cannot be separated from the study of his notebooks.

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 9. A staged display of potteries found in the tombs of Deir el-Medina, shot inside a room of the excavation house.

Archives department of the French Institute of Archaeology in Cairo. Photo: © IFAO

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 10. A staged display of clothes found in the tombs of Deir el-Medina, shot inside a room of the excavation house.

Archives department of the French Institute of Archaeology in Cairo. Photo: © IFAO

Bruyère also photographed a large number of the objects drawn in his notebooks, but, instead of photographing them one by one, he made pictures of group of objects in order to illustrate their differences and resemblances (Figures 9 and 10).

As previously mentioned, he did so by using the rooms adjacent to the bedrooms of the excavation house as photo studios. For most of the inviolate tombs found with their equipment, Bruyère rearranged the objects on the terrace of the excavation house to create an esthetically staged picture showing every single object. This kind of picture, still in use today, is useful for a quick but complete overview of the contents of a tomb.

The Post-Bruyère Era

Having been the theater for some 30 annual archaeological missions and interrupted only by World War II, Deir el-Medina became a place devoted to the study of the material and monuments that remained on site (see the bibliography on the online web page of Deir el-Medina [www.ifao.egnet.net/archeologie/deir-el-medina/]).

In 1970, Georges Castel, an architect working for the IFAO, was the first person since Bruyère to venture further archaeological work under the French concession (Castel 1980). The main goal of his project was to update and complete the archaeological survey of the site, especially at its boundaries. Helped by many other specialists from different research disciplines, Castel worked on two sectors on the extreme outskirts of the area. The first was situated to the north of the hill of Qurnet Murai, the other at the foot of its southwestern slope, close to the modern houses of Qurnet Murai. In the northern sector, Castel’s team found an animal burial, a “kom” with small pits containing flints, and pottery vessels probably related to a predynastic settlement (Naqada I, 3900–3600 BC), as well as a Late Period rock-cut tomb (P 1455). The excavations in the south sector also revealed the existence of some other Late Period rock-cut tombs (P 701, 702, and 703), quarried out after the village of Deir el-Medina had been abandoned.

In 1974 and 1975, Charles Bonnet and Dominique Valbelle undertook new excavations at Deir el-Medina on behalf of the IFAO (Bonnet and Valbelle 1975, 1976). The 1974 mission had two goals: (1) trying to make connections, in so far as possible, between the philological data and the archaeological remains; and (2) trying to obtain a clearer view of the development phases of the settlement throughout the course of its history (Bonnet and Valbelle 1975: 329–330). Through careful analysis, Bonnet and Valbelle were able to add detail to and expand upon some of Bruyère’s results and collect further data. Despite decades of work at the site, Deir el-Medina had not yet yielded everything to archaeological investigations: the most exceptional results Bonnet and Valbelle obtained concerned the stratigraphy of the village. They demonstrated that the first stage of the settlement dated to the reign of Thutmose I (1504–1492 BC) and that it had undergone at least 12 phases of development since then (Bonnet and Valbelle 1975: 440, 442). They also showed that the plan of the village had changed over time, with the walls of the houses frequently reshaped alongside other transformations, such as in-fills, new openings, and leveling work (Bonnet and Valbelle 1975: 443). The 1975 season was a continuation of the previous work (Bonnet and Valbelle 1976). The main purpose then was to gain a better definition of the houses built prior to the Ramesside period, located by the team in the center of the village. Bonnet and Valbelle also tried to identify the occupation phases of the village before its first enlargement and during its subsequent expansion to the west and south. Although the data did not allow a full reconstruction of the topography of the village during its first or later phases of development, it did bring to light new insights about the settlement; for example, the fact that there was no axial street in the northern half of the village, at least during the 18th Dynasty (Bonnet and Valbelle 1976: 320). These two seasons of work, far from putting an end to field activities at Deir el-Medina, opened up new perspectives and gave rise to research that the IFAO is still pursuing at the site and through its archives.

In 2004, 2005, and 2006, a joint venture involving the IFAO and the Louvre Museum took place in Deir el-Medina, under the supervision of Guillemette Andreu, now former director of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre (Andreu-Lanoë 2010: 172, n. 2; Mathieu 2004: 640–642; Pantalacci 2005: 450; Pantalacci and Denoix 2006: 378). The main goal of this mission was to resume and complete the work begun by Bruyère in the sector of the Great Pit, which he had been forced to abandon in 1952. Following Bruyère’s own wish (Bruyère 1952a: 8), the excavators planned to sift and sort all the debris and rubble he had excavated there. The spoil heap left by Bruyère to the south of the Great Pit was surveyed and excavated over the course of four weeks, revealing hundreds of objects and inscribed ostraca dating to the Ramesside period (Mathieu 2004: 640–641). Before the team left, they built an enclosure wall around the opening of the Great Pit to allow secure access for visitors.

Since the beginning of the 2000s, the IFAO has carried out important conservation work over the entire site (see the online annual activity reports of the IFAO www.ifao.egnet.net/ifao/recherche/rapports-activites/]).

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 11. A partly ruined wall of a house in the village of Deir el-Medina, prior to our restoration work.

Photo: C. Gobeil

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 12. A partly ruined wall of a house in the village of Deir el-Medina, prior to our restoration work.

Photo: C. Gobeil

Within the scope of a long-term conservation, preservation, and site management program, the mission of Deir el-Medina is now focused on the enhancement of the archaeological features of the site. At the beginning of the program, the most important and urgent action was to save some of the fragilest structures of Deir el-Medina in particular those of the village, which were highly endangered. The 1994 flood that struck the Luxor area had weakened the mud-brick walls of the village houses, which needed to be protected and restored (Figures 11 and 12).

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Figure 13. The same wall as in Figure 11, now restored.

Photo: C. Gobeil

The IFAO Excavations at Deir el-MedinaClick to view larger

Figure 14. The same wall as in Figure 12, now restored with its two openings that used to hold stelae decorated on both faces.

Photo: C. Gobeil

Today, the walls previously rebuilt by the archaeologist are part of the village image as are its antique walls, and as such they require the same attention. Both modern and ancient walls are pieces of history and are restored and preserved in the same way (Figures 13 and 14).

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Figure 15. The brotherhood chapel of the so-called Feast of Opet restored in 2013. The pronaos contains two small banquettes running along the walls and is separated from the naos by two small decorated walls.

Photo: C. Gobeil

Among all the operations made in the scope of the conservation program, one of the most ambitious has been the restoration and study of the so-called Chapel of the Feast of Opet, a votive chapel built outside the village along the north side of its precinct wall, to the east of the main entrance; it was cleared by Bruyère in 1934 (Bruyère 1939: 36–39; Valbelle 1985: 319, 326–327, n. 6; Midant-Reynes 2012: 78-80). What little is known about this chapel makes it difficult to date it precisely or determine the god to which it was devoted. Some clues seem to indicate that it was built during the Ramesside period (perhaps after the reign of Ramesses VII [1137–1129 BC]; Bruyère 1939: 38) and that it was dedicated not to Opet (a proteective hippopotamus goddess) as previously thought, but rather to a male god, either Ptah, Amun-Kamuted or Min, since there are traces of the lower half of figure of a mummiform or wrapped god painted on the north half of the east wall (Bruyère 1939: 38–39; Valbelle 1985: 319, 326). It is precisely because of these paintings, which are the only ones still remaining in this part of the site, that this chapel is one of the most valuable features of Deir el-Medina. To secure the whole structure, a sturdy wooden roof recently replaced the former one built by Bruyère in 1934, which was on the verge of collapse (Midant-Reynes 2012: 78–80) (Figure 15).

Today, as Bruyère used to do, the current mission of Deir el-Medina returns to the IFAO all the pictures, drawings, and plans made during each campaign to be kept as archives. The review of past archival materials shows the importance of archaeologists being as meticulous as possible to record the context in which objects were found or how excavations were done because this information can be as precious as the archaeological results themselves. Such archival evidences may, one day, also be of primordial importance because it will record monuments that would not be as well preserved as they are today. Along with the effort to perpetuate ancient Egyptian monuments comes, logically, the work of interpreting and maintaining archaeological sites, a matter in which the IFAO does not spare itself in Deir el-Medina.

Suggested Readings

For a more sociological understanding of the community of workmen who used to live in Deir el-Medina, see Černý (2001), and Valbelle (1985), whereas Häggman (2003) gives a detailed examination of the administration that used to manage the site and its inhabitants.

References

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