Digging Diary 3, 30 March-5 April 2019: Recording in 3D

The third week of our excavations were relatively eventless, as we are still digging through the debris of the 1980s to reach the level of the new tomb discovered in 2018. Without removing the sands first, it would not be safe to work there – the sands would fall down on our staff. While Nico and Paolo are further excavating the area together with the Egyptian workmen, the others gained extra time to reorganize the existing storage spaces. The Polimi team (the 3D Survey Group) continued to survey the greater concession area. The fantastic results are described in this week’s digging diary.

The 3DSurveyGroup of the ABC Department, Politecnico di Milano joined for the second year the Leiden-Turin excavation. The research group, headed by Professor Francesco Fassi and Professor Cristiana Achille, is active in the field of 3D survey, modelling and valorisation of Cultural Heritage. The main activities are: architectural and archaeological survey, monitoring, high resolution and detailed 3D models management, teaching and training.

This season, the team consists of Alessandro Mandelli and Luca Perfetti, with the external collaboration of Professor Corinna Rossi. They are in charge of recording in 3D the entire excavation process, ranging from the whole area of the concession, to the contexts and the small finds that come up during the digging activities.

Within the dualism technology-human sciences, the role of the 3DSurveyGroup is to put metrology at service of the experts in the team, of the public, as well as of future memory. The group’s mission is to join forces with all the team members to maximize data recording before the progress of the excavation destroys the archaeological contexts. The aim is twofold: to increase the subsequent study potential when the mission ends, and to record and disseminate information on the actual context of the finds, that is usually lost.

Alessandro and Luca surveying the excavation area. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Alessandro and Luca surveying the excavation area. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

The 3D models of the excavated area are useful tools to help the work of the archaeologists during and after the excavations. In fact, thanks to these products, they can track the history and the progress of the work and they are able to “travel” back in time, revisiting forever lost contexts from the very first to the last day of the season.

Using such a tool, the archaeologists, back in their offices in Leiden and Turin, can surf the raw, unbiased data from the excavation days, searching for missing information they lost track of, or seeking the answer to unforeseen questions.

When the digging team find something interesting, such as reliefs, pottery and burials the survey team immediately records the situation by acquiring photos and measuring the coordinates of the findings. Later, they improve the first survey, according to the requests, and deliver to each expert what they need.

The Politecnico team provided high-resolution orthophotos that were used to outline some inscriptions engraved in the stone. If the orthophoto is not clear enough, using a normal laptop archaeologists are able to simulate lights moving around the object and illuminate it in various ways, to better understand the signs and drawings. This represents a successful example of collaboration between technical and humanistic sides, in which the former identifies the most efficient tool to answer the questions posed by the latter.

3D model of Find No. 92 with artificial light. Elaboration: Luca Perfetti and Alessandro Mandelli.

3D model of Find No. 92 with artificial light. Elaboration: Luca Perfetti and Alessandro Mandelli.

All the digital models are collected together in a sort of three-dimensional database, each one in their relative position. This is possible thanks to the topographic network around the excavation area that was checked by the survey team during the very first days of the mission.

During the second week, due to the expansion of the excavation area, they placed and precisely measured a new topographic point in front of Maya’s tomb, and the workers removed the old one.

New topographic point SAK19P1. Photo: Alessandro Mandelli.

New topographic point SAK19P1. Photo: Alessandro Mandelli.

Old topographic point M005

Old topographic point M005. Photo: Alessandro Mandelli.

This year, the team is going to face many challenges: 1) generate the DSM (Digital Surface Model) of the whole concession; 2) complete the 3D models of the main tombs; 3) survey Meryneith’s underground chambers.

After a long walk in the concession using fish-eye lenses to create more than 1.500 photos, the digital model of the concession is nearly concluded. This kind of representation, with the contour lines, helps to understand the topology of the area and the landscape around the main tombs.

Digital Surface Model of the Leiden-Turin concession at Saqqara. Elaboration: Luca Perfetti.

Digital Surface Model of the Leiden-Turin concession at Saqqara. Elaboration: Luca Perfetti.

Last year, the team performed a complete survey of the tombs of Maya and Tia and then delivered accurate digital models of the tombs and their reliefs, kindly sponsored by the Friends of Saqqara Foundation. This year the aim is to collect all the data to reproduce also the tombs of Horemheb, Pay, Ptahemwia and Meryneith. Right in these days, the surveys are quite finished and the elaboration is going on.

3D model of Maya’s tomb, kindly sponsored by the Friends of Saqqara Foundation in 2018. Elaboration: Alessandro Mandelli.

3D model of Maya’s tomb, kindly sponsored by the Friends of Saqqara Foundation in 2018. Elaboration: Alessandro Mandelli.

3D model of Maya’s tomb: detail of reliefs. Elaboration: Alessandro Mandelli.

3D model of Maya’s tomb: detail of reliefs. Elaboration: Alessandro Mandelli.

Regarding the survey of Meryneith’s shaft and its underground chambers, our PhD student Luca is eager to test a time-effective and low-cost photogrammetric device to survey narrow spaces together with elaboration methodology to guarantee accuracy. The aim is to tailor this technique to cope with the many challenges of surveying this kind of spaces like the tightness of the environment, the absence of any sort of natural illumination and the mazy, meandering architecture. Last year, the team faced a similar situation, when they surveyed a shaft in front of one of the Ramesside chapels in the north area.

Technical drawing of Shaft 131 (season 2018). Elaboration: Luca Perfetti.

Technical drawing of Shaft 131 (season 2018). Elaboration: Luca Perfetti.

In the next days, when the shaft will be opened, they are going to construct a test to compare different approaches and techniques and check for final accuracy.

If you want to know more… stay tuned with the Leiden-Turin Expedition to Saqqara!

Alessandro Mandelli and Luca Perfetti

2019-04-17T20:47:24+01:00April 5th, 2019|Categories: Digging Diaries 2019|

Digging Diary 2, 23-29 March 2019: Working in a conservator’s paradise

In 2018, the Leiden-Turin Expedition to Saqqara agreed with the Egyptian authorities at Saqqara that we should invest more in both the restauration and consolidation of our shared heritage stored at the central Saqqara magazine, as well as of newly excavated material. The plan is to invite at least one conservator specialized on a specific kind of material to the excavation every season. This season we started with a stone conservator, and so we would like to give the word to Stefanie Papenheim in this week’s digging diary to introduce herself and her work.

My name is Stefanie and I arrived in Cairo on the 21st of March to join the Leiden-Turin team, supporting them to preserve the archaeological stone finds of this season.

Stephanie Papenheim and Islam Taha. Photo: Lara Weiss.

Stephanie Papenheim and Islam Taha. Photo: Lara Weiss.

I studied conservation and restoration at the University of Applied Science Erfurt (Germany) and I’m specialized in the treatment of stone and wall-paintings. Since 2014, I work at a private restauration company in Weimar with a focus on the conservation and restoration of stone sculptures and historic gypsum busts from museum collections.

I am very happy to be here, as it is in fact not the first time that I had the chance to work on amazing Egyptian artefacts from Saqqara. In 2015, I supported the Leiden Museum to preserve and restore some of their most famous exhibits, for example the limestone tomb statues of Maya and Meryt.

During the first two days on the excavation site I got a first overview of the latest findings, the material and the condition of preservation. Most of the objects in the storage are impressive reliefs made from limestone with fragments of polychrome colour. They show damage typical for limestone such as flaking, powdering, cracking or exogenous and endogenous deposition like firmly adhering crusts from mud, sand and salts.

Stephanie and Islam working on an offering table. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Working on an offering table found this season. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

In general these kinds of damage are caused by salinization combined with high changes in temperature and relative air humidity or water infiltration. This means that the main conservation work focuses on the reduction of deposition and structurally damaging salts, and on the stabilization of the limestone by consolidating it. All surfaces have to be cleaned carefully with soft brushes and if necessary with a mixture of water and alcohol. During all interventions it is important to reduce the water input to a minimum to avoid the solution and transportation of salts. In some cases a salt reduction with a desalination compress is necessary. Scalings and cracks have to be glued and backfilled. Surface completions of scalings and cracks have to be applied to stabilize the fine and skilfully carved relief. The fragile and flaking fragments of colour on the polished relief surfaces of course require a lot of patience and a very sensitive treatment to fix them.

Our office in the tomb of Maya. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Our office in the tomb of Maya. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

In my work, I am supported by Islam Taha, conservator in the Ministry of Antiquities and student of Architecture Preservation and Rehabilitation of Heritage Buildings at Cairo University. We enjoy the team work and it’s very nice to exchange our experiences. We are very much looking forward to working together on various sculptures and reliefs on the excavation site and in the magazines in the upcoming two weeks. We are happy to help preserving them for the future!

Stefanie Papenheim

2019-03-27T17:39:38+01:00March 29th, 2019|Categories: Digging Diaries 2019|

Digging Diary 1, 17-22 March 2019: Arrival in Saqqara

It’s on! This year’s excavation campaign (17 March to 24 April) started far more comfortable than we are used to. Because of the frequent travels to Egypt in the scope of our new EU project with the Egyptian Museum in Cairo we were able to negotiate a nice deal with a hotel in Zamalek that we are also allowed to use for our travel to the excavation. This is nice, because we have now a big team where we can all be together. On Friday 15 March, the whole team could therefore share a delicious breakfast buffet with Nile view! After some shopping we were ready to go to Saqqara. Our Saqqara driver Hassan Yusef came to pick us up in his Peugeot and Moshir Tawfik, the driver of NVIC, came as well with two cars to get the total of 13 team members and all our equipment to the dig house.

Driving to Saqqara. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Driving to Saqqara. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Atef Sayed Ramadan, our cook, had already arranged for our equipment such as books and mosquito nets to be moved to the house from the Saqqara storage. So, we could unpack immediately upon our arrival. The next day, Saturday 16 March, the team went on a field trip to the Imhotep site museum, the Serapeum, the Djoser complex, and the tombs of Maia and Nemtymes in the Bubasteion area.

Paolo Del Vesco, Miriam Müller and Nico Staring. Photo: Luca Perfetti.

From left to right: Deputy field director Paolo Del Vesco, and Leiden University Archaeologists Miriam Müller and Nico Staring looking at a new 3D model of our excavation area kindly made by the 3D Survey Group / Politecnico di Milano. Photo: Luca Perfetti.

Lara Weiss, Miriam Müller, Valentina Gasparini, and Daniel Soliman walking to the Djoser complex. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

From left to right: Field director Lara Weiss, Archaeologist Miriam Müller, Pottery specialist Valentina Gasparini, and Epigrapher Daniel Soliman walking to the pyramid complex of Djoser. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Welcome to Saqqara. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Welcome to Saqqara. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

On Sunday 17 March, we opened the site and started working. Important to know for our friends and colleagues is a new regulation by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), that limits our opportunity to receive visitors, as they now have to be approved by an official letter by the Head of the SCA, Mostafa Waziri. We are therefore obliged to kindly ask you not to visit our excavation area this season to avoid difficulties.

The plans for this season’s work are exciting. We will continue to work in the area north of the tomb of Maya and explore and excavate the entrance to the new large tomb we found in 2018.

Luca Perfetti surveying the site. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Luca Perfetti surveying the site. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

In addition, PhD student Luca Perfetti, a member of the 3D Survey Group, will survey the underground chambers of the Early Dynastic tomb that is situated underneath of the tomb of Meryneith. These subterranean rooms were already discovered at the time of excavation of the tomb of Meryneith (c. 1325 BC), but with the new methodology we hope to get even better analysis results of the space to be published soon by Ilona Regulski. In addition, the 3D Survey Group started a new survey of the tomb of Horemheb.

Valentina Gasparini, Alice Salvador and a few workmen in the tomb of Horemheb. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Valentina Gasparini, Alice Salvador and a few workmen in the tomb of Horemheb. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Part of the team in front of the pyramid of Djoser. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Part of the team in front of the pyramid of Djoser. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila.

Work is also continuing on material from previous seasons, including small finds, pottery and skeletal material. Osteologist Ali Jelene Scheers studies the child burials we found last year, and Pottery specialists Valentina Gasperini and Alice Salvador keep up with the pottery found in 2018 and continue with the creation of their new typology.

Lyla Pinch-Brock and Barbara Aston working on the pottery from the area south of the tomb of Meryneith.

Lyla Pinch-Brock and Barbara Aston working on the pottery from the area south of the tomb of Meryneith.

Last but not least, Barbara Aston and Lyla Pinch Brock will hopefully finalize the pottery for Maarten Raven’s publication of the area of the so-called Five Tombs (forthcoming in the PALMA Series with Sidestone).

In this first week we continued to remove the debris of earlier excavations in the area north of Maya in order to remove the sands and be able to excavate further the tomb that was discovered last season. Beside several small shabti figurines and secondary deposits of burial materials, several objects were found among which a piece of Greek or Coptic papyrus and a small inscribed offering table.

Now we will relax a little bit and catch up on sleep, and very much look forward to continue digging on Saturday!

Lara Weiss

2019-03-22T07:07:18+01:00March 22nd, 2019|Categories: Digging Diaries 2019|

The 2019 Leiden-Turin excavations at Saqqara have started!

A workman gently sifting the sand.

This week the team members from the National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, the Egyptian Museum in Turin and the Politecnico di Milano arrived in Saqqara.

The mission’s excavation season starts Sunday 17 March and ends Wednesday 24 April.

The first Digging Diary of 2019 is expected to go online on 22 March!

Visit our website every week for the latest Digging Diary of the 2019 fieldwork season!


2019-03-20T20:24:52+01:00March 19th, 2019|Categories: News|

Renew Your Membership 2019

If you wish (to continue) to support archaeological research in Saqqara through the Friends of Saqqara Foundation in 2019, we kindly request you to transfer your 2019 donation into bank account number NL18INGB0009562150 of the Friends of Saqqara Foundation, stating “Donation 2019” and your Friends-number.

Your continued support, financially and otherwise, remains a necessity for achieving the objectives of the Foundation.
We thank you for the trust you have placed in us.

The proposed minimum donations are, as in previous years, as follows:

  • standard: € 35.00 (€ 40.00 for members living abroad)*
  • student: € 17.50 (€ 22.50 for student members living abroad)*

Of course, higher donations are also welcome!
After receiving your donation, you will be marked as a member for the calendar year 2019, with the associated privileges: no entrance fee for the Saqqara Day in June (held in Leiden), discounts on publications sponsored by Friends of Saqqara and you will receive our exclusive Saqqara Newsletter (printed in English) in the autumn.

*An additional € 5 will be charged for shipping outside the Netherlands)

2019-03-21T08:34:48+01:00March 19th, 2019|Categories: News|

Obituary Willem Beex

It is with great sadness that we announce the unexpected passing of Willem Beex (age 56), the former surveyor of the Leiden Mission at Saqqara, on Saturday 26 January 2019.

Willem Beex
* Eindhoven, 25 July 1962
† Amsterdam, 26 January 2019

Willem studied art history, archaeology and prehistory at Groningen and Amsterdam University and worked on various excavations in the Netherlands and in Italy. He worked with an archaeological service on sites in the north of the Netherlands from 2001-2003 and he was a self-employed archaeological consultant since 2003.

Willem joined the Saqqara expedition from 2000 till 2009 and introduced modern surveying techniques involving computer-aided design. He was responsible for making the plans, sections, and reconstructions of the tombs and structures found during these fruitful years.

Willem will be missed by his mother, family, friends and colleagues.

2019-01-31T15:06:02+01:00January 31st, 2019|Categories: News|
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