An Amarna-Period Ostracon from the Valley of the Kings

By Reeves, Nicholas | Antiquity, September 2001 | Go to article overview

An Amarna-Period Ostracon from the Valley of the Kings


Reeves, Nicholas, Antiquity


The Amarna Royal Tombs Project (ARTP) initiated its programme of archaeological survey and excavation in the central part of Egypt's Valley of the Kings in November 1998, and has now completed three successive seasons of work under the joint field-direction of Nicholas Reeves and Geoffrey T. Martin. The emphasis to date has been on the documentation and investigation of the ancient settlements which once occupied much of the central Valley -- those neglected `workmen's huts' which previous excavators have occasionally noted, sometimes `cleared', and more rarely planned. A particular focus of ARTP's work has been that area of settlement located between tombs KV 56 (`The Gold Tomb') and KV 9 (Ramesses VI), which in the early years of the 20th century was partially explored both by Theodore Davis (who left little record: cf. Davis 1908: 31) and by Howard Carter (Carter & Mace 1923: 87; cf. Reeves 1990a: plate XIV; Reeves & Wilkinson 1996: 84). The greater part of this restricted site -- a good deal of its archaeology still intact, despite earlier sondages -- has now been excavated down to bedrock, with intriguing results.

Beneath the spoil of ancient workings and more modem excavations a stepped wadi formation has revealed itself, and several distinct phases of activity encountered. Of these, the two principal are:

1 An upper layer of settlement, consisting of a row of modest shelters at first sight of single-room depth but in part, at least, extending beneath the tourist path. These huts, which link up with a series of similar structures positioned around the entrance to the tomb of Ramesses VI (cf. Reeves 1990a: plate XIV), on excavation yielded pottery of Ramesses III-Ramesses VI date and a quantity of small-finds. The latter included inscribed and figured ostraca and jeux de nature -- natural flint nodules reminiscent of (and sometimes enhanced by the addition of paint more accurately to represent) lunar discs, a kneeling goddess, etc.

2 Indications of a lower and presumably earlier layer of settlement extending from the east, again running beneath the modern path and still to be investigated. To judge from the neighbouring portions of this settlement which Carter photographed (cf. Reeves 1990b: 51, 75) and plotted (cf. Reeves 1990a: plate XIV), these huts are distinguished from the Ramessid structures which lie above by the slightly smaller scale of the rooms and by the use of somewhat larger stones in their construction.

An interesting find which may prove to have a bearing both on the dating and on the significance of this lower level of huts was made at the end of ARTP's third season in 2000. This is a large, figured ostracon of limestone, dated not only by the obvious Amarna style of the charcoal sketch it carries -- showing an elaborately dressed official with shaven head, scrawny neck, narrow shoulders and pot belly, standing with his arms raised in adoration -- but by the discovery nearby, at a similar depth overlying these lower-level huts, of several fragments from a large, blue-painted storage jar of the late 18th Dynasty.

It has for some time now been recognized that the burials of Tutankhamun's predecessors -- Akhenaten and the members of his immediate family -- were transferred from el-Amarna to Thebes during or just after the young king's reign. Here, at Thebes, it seems that extensive portions of the burial equipments belonging to these individuals were reworked for Tutankhamun's own use, with what was left over being similarly adapted and divided again among the original owners for their re-interments nearby (Reeves 1997). …

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