Looking for Maya

Statue of Maya and Merit in the Museum of Antiquities in LeidenThe National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden, the Netherlands (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, RMO) was founded in 1818. At the time, hardly any antiquities were extant in the Netherlands. The museum's first director, Caspar Reuvens, therefore had to start looking for a collection. Within 10 years, he had realised this aim by buying a number of private collections of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities. Today, the museum holds about 80,000 objects (including 22,500 Egyptian) and ranges among the ten best Egyptian collections in the world.

Foremost among the Egyptian acquisitions were the auction Jean-Baptiste de Lescluze (Antwerp 1826) and the sales by Maria Cimba and Giovanni d'Anastasi (Leghorn, 1827 and 1828). Lescluze was a Flemish merchant whose collection was largely acquired from Fran├žois Barthow. Maria Cimba's husband had been physician to Henry Salt, consul-general of Britain in Alexandria. Anastasi acted as consul-general for Sweden and Norway. Together, these collections comprised about 7,000 objects, the produce of contemporary fieldwork at the richest sites of Egypt. Saqqara, and especially the New Kingdom necropolis of that site, was well represented among these treasures. The wall-reliefs from the tomb of General Horemheb, the offering-chapel of Paatenemheb with the depiction of a blind harpist, and the three tomb-statues of Maya and his wife Meryt all belong to these early acquisitions.

Lepsius' map of a part of SaqqaraAt the time of acquisition, nobody knew about the original provenance of these objects. In 1843, Richard Lepsius recorded the remains of a tomb of a Treasurer called Maya and marked its position on his map of Saqqara. It was not until 1958 that this find was connected with the three statues in Leiden, opening up the possibility of further exploration in the field. The RMO had been digging in Egypt since the fifties (excavations by Adolf Klasens at Abu Roash, 1957-9), and had also taken part in the Nubian Salvage campaign (Shokan and Abdallah Nirqi, 1962-1964). It was now looking for a new project and conceived the plan to start a search for the tomb of Maya, which had long disappeared under drift sand again. It stood to reason to join forces with Geoffrey Martin of the Egypt Exploration Society, whose work in the Saqqara animal necropolis was just drawing to an end. In 1975, the Anglo-Dutch expedition started work at Saqqara in the area indicated by Lepsius' map: south of the Unas causeway and west of the Monastery of Apa Jeremias. The main aim of the expedition was to compile additional information on the statues of Maya and Meryt and other New Kingdom treasures of the Leiden museum.