During the previous campaigns (2015 and 2016), the team focused on a protodynastic area already excavated in the past by C. Fischer, as well as on a new area, still intact. The latter revealed the high archaeological potential of the site, with a large amount of well-preserved tombs from the end of the First Intermediate Period/early Middle Kingdom and the Ptolemaic-Roman period.
In 2017, the exploration of the Dendara necropolis was continued.
The excavations were first undertaken in the « Abu Suten » area, partially explored in 2014, in order to confirm the previous diggers’ observations (Petrie, 1898 and Fisher, 1916) and to verify that all the structures had indeed been surveyed. Our observations have thus shown that while Fisher’s plans and observations were correct, the excavation techniques used at that time did not allow the identification of all the preserved structures. The work mainly concerned five large mastabas (M1055, M1056, M1057, M1214 and M1268) located in the southern part of the necropolis, considered as the oldest sector of the Pharaonic zone, as well as associated funeral structures. It is interesting to note that, despite successive excavations in the area, six new intact burials from the Old Kingdom were discovered during the mission (B1224, B1271, B1273, B1296, B1308 and B1309).
Mastaba M1055 (Fisher 6:181)
The area located south of the necropolis, about 375 m from the southeast corner of the enclosure wall of Hathor Temple, was named “Abu Suten” by Petrie, after Ni-ibw-nswt, the owner of the largest mastaba still preserved in this area. The construction, made of mud bricks, measures 21 m x 12.5 m and is oriented south-south-west/north-north-east. The eastern façade, the best preserved, is almost 1.5 m high. It has two niches. The largest, to the south, delivered a stele bearing the name of the deceased. The niche, now completely destroyed, is only visible on the ground. To the north, a simple niche still retains remnants of the white plaster that covered the walls of the mastaba.
The tomb has two vertical square wells about 2 m long, which were not completely emptied during the mission. Angled walls that intersect the structure at each corner of the north well indicate a reuse of the monument at an unknown date: they could correspond to the remains of the shoring structures used by previous diggers. They will be more detailedly studied during the next excavation campaign.
The pottery associated with the monument confirms a construction datation at the end of the 3rd/beginning of the 4th dynasty.
Mastaba M1057 (Fisher 6:081)
Mastaba M1057 is located east of the previous mastaba, following a slightly shifted orientation along a southwest to northeast axis. Its measures are quite similar : as long as the previous one (21 m), it is a bit less wide (10 m), while the walls are preserved in portions of 0.1 to 1.7 m high and 2.6 m thick.
The outer wall surface was covered with a mouna coating covered with a layer of white plaster.
The niches on the eastern wall are not preserved, but part of the plan of the southern niche and the location of a libation pool just in front of it can still be seen.
To the east, the mastaba is separated from the mastaba M1214 by a blind wall.
The northern well is square, measuring 1.9 to 2 m on each side. It is 7.5 m deep and gives access to a burial chamber located to the west, with a subrectangular plan (2 x 2.5 m). The well having been emptied by Petrie and then by Fisher, it only delivered ceramics out of context, dated only to the 4th dynasty.
The southern well was backfilled before the end of the mission and will be reopened in 2018 to be properly studied.
Mastaba M1056 (Fisher 6:171)
Mastaba M1056 is a much smaller tomb, oriented as M1057 (Fig. 4). It consists of a well to the south and a square area lined with mud bricks to the north. This latter looks like a simulated well. It is located above a small burial chamber (1.6 x 1m) accessible by a rock stairway dug east of the mastaba. According to Fisher, it could be an older tomb covered by mastaba M1056. The brick crown of the simulated well was reused to build a small grave, excavated in 2014, that contained the body of an adult woman, aged 30 to 40, placed in a basket in a hypercontracted position on the left side, head to the north. The upper part of the skeleton was missing. The presence of a (news)paper dated January 1916 suggests that the grave was searched by Fisher.
The pottery associated with mastabas M1056 and M1057 is also dated to the beginning of the 4th dynasty with mainly fragments of beer jars and bread pans, and a small quantity of shards of Meidum bowls.
Mastaba M1214 (Fisher 6:071)
East of M1057, the mastaba M1214 is also oriented southwest-northeast. It measures 10 m long and 6 m wide. The mud brick superstructure is built above a well, located in the southern part of the mastaba. The well is 2 x 2 m wide and 6 m deep. It leads to two burial chambers, one to the south and the other to the west. They were both excavated by Fisher in 1916 and only delivered residual pottery shards, all dating from the 4th dynasty.
Despite Fisher’s thorough excavation and precise survey of the building’s architecture, and although he also noted the presence of simple pits dug in the monument, five intact graves had not been seen. They were therfore excavated during our mission:
-B1224: intact burial of a child (9 months-1 year), crouched, buried in a basket, facing west, in the southwest corner of M1214; no associated material;
-B1271: intact burial of an adult woman (36-45 years old) buried under the northern wall of M1214 in a very poorly preserved wooden coffin, on the left side, in a bent position, head to the west, facing northeast; a bread pan (4th dynasty) was placed near the coffin (Fig. 6);
-B1273: Intact burial of an adult male (30-35 years old), buried in a compartment fitted with the bricks of the south and east walls of M1214. He was lying inside a very badly preserved wooden coffin, bent on his left side, head to the north, facing east; no associated material;
-B1308: Intact burial of an adult male (45-49 years old) in a wooden coffin, buried in a chamber at the bottom of a well dug in the northeast compartment of M1214. He was lying on his back, head to the west and facing northeast; three beer jars were found against the wall to the east of the coffin (Fig. 7). The tomb was still closed by a mud brick wall;
-B1309: Intact burial of a child (2-3 years old) buried in a basket under the northern interior wall of M1214. He was placed in a bent position on the right side, head to the north, facing east; no associated material;
-B1310, B1311, B1312 and B1318: graves excavated by Fisher in 1916; incomplete skeletons and fragments of wooden coffins still present in the pits.
Mastabas M1220 (Fisher 6:082) et M1219 (Fisher 6:083)
North of M1214, M1220 is a small mastaba (6 x 3.5 m) built above a vertical well with a burial chamber to the south. Only a few fragments of the brick superstructure have been preserved.
Mastaba M1219 was built between M1214 and M1220, with a 2.3 m long and 1.5 m wide mud brick superstructure. A small libation basin was found in a small chapel bounded by a low brick wall to the east. At the bottom of the well located in the centre of the mastaba, a child (6-8 years old) was buried in a wooden coffin inside a tiny burial chamber north of the well (B1296). Three beer jars and a Meidum bowl, all dating from the 4th dynasty, were placed in front of the brick wall closing off access to the burial chamber (Figs. 8 and 9).
Mastaba M1268 (Fisher 6:171)
Mastaba M1268 is bounded on the ground by a brick wall about 2 m wide, preserved in height on a single base. It forms a rectangle of 20 m long and 10 m wide facing south-west-northeast. Under the superstructure, a ramp gives access to underground rock chambers. No material was collected inside the tomb. The surface material, mainly shards of beer jars, is also dated to the 4th dynasty.
The bioanthropological study was lead by an archaeologist trained in field anthropology (Y. Prouin, Éveha) and a bioarchaeologist (Ronika Power, Macquarie University). Together, they undertook the entire skeletons study, comprising excavation, field observation, recording and laboratory study, with a particular focus on the recording of metric and non-metric cranial and post-cranial features, pathologies and traumas, and demographic analysis.
A total of 18 individuals were analyzed, including three young children (1-6 years), two older children (7-8 years), five young adults (26-35 years), six adults (30-45 years), one middle-aged adult (over 45 years) and one adult of undetermined age.
Seven of these individuals are female, nine are male, and the other two are of undetermined sex.
The observed pathologies concern degenerative joint diseases, extreme tooth wear, periodontal abscesses and advanced loss of teeth before death. Traumas include welded and non-welded fractures of the hands, feet, spine, face, head and chest belt.
Particular attention was also paid to activity markers such as enthesopathies (indicating chronic muscle involvement) and tooth wear (indicating tooth use in domestic activities), infectious disease indicators (periostitis and osteomyelitis) and stress indicators (cribra orbitalia, dental hypoplasia and porotic hyperostosis).