Yann Tristant (Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)
Location and historical summary
Located on the western bank of the Nile, on the edge of the desert, Dendera is a small town approximately 65km north of Luxor. Previously known as Nikentori or Tentyra, it was the capital of the sixth nome of Upper Egypt, the “crocodile” nome. Although the city’s necropolis and the ancient texts provide evidence for continuous occupation from the Protodynastic Period onwards, the site is best known for its Greco-Roman temple, dedicated to the goddess Hathor. The temple’s ceiling was decorated with a zodiac which is unique in Egypt. It appears that Pepi I began construction of the earliest part of this architectural complex which was later rebuilt and restored several times, up to the reign of the last of the Ptolemaic rulers. The current temple was built by the Roman emperors, as was the mammisi known as the Temple of the birth of Isis, near the main eastern gate. A Coptic church probably constructed in the 5th century is located close to the mammisi. The modern Arab town is built on the ancient site of Ta-nyt-netert, which means “She of the Divine Pillar”. Dendera therefore comprises a vast ensemble, the outer wall of which encloses monuments constructed during various periods.
The necropolis is spread across a large arid strip of land south of the temple, approximately 2km long from east to west and 500-700m wide from north to south, a total of about 100 hectares.
Since the rediscovery of the site by Bonaparte’s expedition in 1798, the majority of the research work has focused on the temple and its surrounding wall. The large cemetery was left abandoned for many years. Partly excavated by Flinders Petrie in 1898 on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Fund (Petrie 1900), and then by Clarence Fisher from 1913 to 1917, for the University of Pennsylvania Museum, this large burial ground was subsequently ‘forgotten’ by archaeological research for almost a century. However, it is an impressive ensemble, with over 2000 tombs currently identified at Dendera, spanning a large chronology. The dates range from the Protodynastic Period (early 3rd millennium BC) to the Ptolemaic Period (1st century AD). Nevertheless, the complex is still quite poorly understood and the results of the earlier excavations are largely unpublished, except for a number of preliminary reports. The area is currently under threat from the development of agriculture and urbanisation, which are encroaching on parts of the site that are still intact. For all of these reasons, the renewal of research in this zone was deemed essential.
Alongside the projects of P. Zignani (CNRS/IFAO) which examines religious architecture and that of G. Marouard (The Oriental Institute, Chicago) on urban development, the new research programme on the necropolis was launched in 2014 by Y. Tristant (Macquarie University, Sydney) in partnership with the IFAO. The aim is to re-examine all of the available documentation, to clean up some of the key areas in order to gain a better understanding of the burial architecture and artefacts found during earlier excavations, but also to excavate new areas to fill in gaps in our knowledge (Tristant 2014-2015).
Fischer H.G. 1968, Dendara in the Third Millenium B.C. down to the Theban Domination of Egypt, Glückstadt.
Petrie F. 1900, Dendereh, ExcMem 17, Londres.
Slater A. 1974, The Archaeology of Dendereh in the First Intermediate Period, University of Pennsylvania, thèse de doctorat.
Tristant Y. 2014-2015, Recherches sur la nécropole de Dendara, dans Zignani P., Dendara : architecture de l’espace sacré et environnement. Rapport d’activité de l’Ifao. BIFAO 114, p. 120-133.
How Eveha International Participates
Institut français d’archéologie orientale (IFAO), Cairo
Macquarie University, Sydney