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Survey of Memphis 2009 Season

Egypt Exploration Society Survey of Memphis 2009


The EES Survey of Memphis team worked from 3 September to 30 September 2009, following Dr Nicholson’s field season at the Anoubieion dog catacombs at Saqqara (see the forthcoming seminar). Staff members were David Jeffreys and Tina Paphitis (UCL Institute of Archaeology) and Ying Qin (Dept of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge).

There were two aims to our work during this short season:

1. to explore the phenomenon of massive sand deposition below the cultural levels of the mounds at Mit Rahina;

2. to extend and improve the survey network already established on the Abusir/North Saqqara plateau.


1. Sediment coring.

We planned to test the possibility that the Wadi Tafla, a wide (400 m) long (3000 m) dry valley south of Saqqara town, might have provided a channel and supply of desert sand intruding far into the Nile Valley, perhaps as far as Mit Rahina itself. Our earlier work has shown that such intrusion is a feature of the buried topography further north (e.g. below the clifftop where the main part of the North Saqqara early dynastic necropolis is situated), but does not extend more than 0.5 km into the valley there. By contrast, our cores among the Memphis mounds, 2.5 km east of the wadi mouth, have shown pre-occupation coarse sands at various locations.

The question is of interest since we have at present no coherent explanation for the initial colonising of the Mit Rahina location. On a broader scale there is the question of pyramid distribution: in the late Old Kingdom, when we believe these sand-bedding events begin, the locations of pyramids finally start to stabilise at South Saqqara, almost certainly reflecting a more settled township. It is surely no coincidence that the best-known city toponym, Mennefer, derives from the name of Pepi I’s pyramid.

Sediment coring in the Wadi Tafla

Ten sediment cores were recorded in the Wadi Tafla, between the funerary complexes of Merenre and Djedkare on the north side and Pepi II and Shepseskaf on the south, and between the wadi mouth and the southwestern part of the Memphis ruin field (Kom Rabia). Deep, impenetrable sands were found at the west end, and were still present on the east side of Saqqara town. Between Saqqara and the western edge of the ruin field, either side of the ancient waterway of the Bahr Libeini, alluvial clays and silts only were found, supporting the idea that the Libeini was a major channel in antiquity. Pale brown coarse silty sands were again found on the west side of the mounds, although cores close to sand deposits from earlier cores were sometimes quite different in character (e.g. charred cereals and blackened sand), suggesting intense local activity at the time the sands began to be occupied. Nothing as yet contradicts the idea that aeolian sands could have been transported to the site of dynastic Memphis (partly by human agency?) but close comparison of the respective sands is still necessary.


2. Saqqara survey.

The survey provision already set up to help colleagues working at Saqqara has been described elsewhere (e.g. in EA and JEA). We have completed measurement of all the 1988 Cairo University T (triangulation) points and most R (levels) points and GPS coordinates were obtained by Ian Mathieson. We have established ground markers at 1 km and 0.5 km intervals over the site, all conforming to the 1978 1:5000 maps produced photogrammetrically by the Institut Geographique National (France) for the Egyptian Ministry of Housing and Development, the map series now used by most archaeologists working in the Cairo area. This year we established in addition a baseline conforming to World Geodetic Survey 1984 (WGS84), since that is often the default datum on most available hand-held and fixed GPS instruments.

David and Tina measuring the baseline


Ground markers set up this year are as follows:

Easting (km) Northing (km) Elevation (mASL)

36R UU

327000      3305000 …….
327000      3305500       41.26
327000      3306000       41.60
327000      3306500       41.31
327000      3307000       36.36

The UTM easting 327000 km on the WGS84 datum is close to if not identical with the Survey of Egypt national grid easting 635000 km, which is significant since this was the baseline used for much of the survey work done by or for the Antiquities Service in the early 1900s.

We hope that colleagues will find both networks useful for their own projects in the future.

Tina and Ying

Other work.

Concurrently with the fieldwork described, Peter French worked for two weeks in September on pottery from previous EES excavations, directed by Paul Nicholson, at Memphis (Kom Helul). The last remaining pottery sherds of the Ptolemaic and early Roman periods were catalogued and 77new drawings completed. The best of the remaining sherds of the Old and New Kingdoms and the Late dynastic period were also catalogued, and a further 15 drawings done. Some previous entries were also expanded and corrected.

David Jeffreys

27 September 2009


Members have been kept particularly well-informed of the Survey this season. Following David's inspirational talk on 'Recent events at Memphis and Saqqara: the ghettoisation of Egyptian archaeology?' at the Society's annual conference, a special Twitter account for the survey was set to which updates were posted during the by Tina Paphitis. The updates can still be read here. And shortly after the conclusion of the recent season David joined Judith Bunbury to give a fascinating seminar in front of a very full Committee Room at Doughty Mews. We see this as a very effective means of keeping members and others informed of the latest results of our fieldwork and research and in this vein we are delighted that the Society's Vice-Chair Paul Nicholson has agreed to provide a seminar on his recent work at the Sacred Animal Necropolis at Saqqara in January 2010. for further information and to book tickets please see here.


Further photographs from the 2009 season are available here.


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