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The Italian-Egyptian Mission at West Aswan under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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The Italian-Egyptian Mission at West Aswan under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Categories: Archaeology and Heritage

The section ‘Let’s talk about archeology’ continues.

Two mummies covered with cartonnage, probably mother and child, from the tomb AGH026, EIMAWA 2019
Two mummies covered with cartonnage, probably mother and child, from the tomb AGH026, EIMAWA 2019

Since 2018, the joint archaeological Mission of the University of Milan and the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (EIMAWA) has been operating in Aswan, on the southern border of Egypt, directed by Patrizia Piacentini for the Italian side and by Abelmoneim Said for the Egyptian side; deputy director is Massimiliana Pozzi. Since its inception, the Mission has obtained the institutional recognition of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, is funded by the same Ministry and the University of Milan, and carries out its activities in coordination with the Embassy of Italy in Egypt.

For the column Let’s talk about Archaeology, Prof. Piacentini and Dr. Pozzi updatee us on the ongoing research and discoveries.

The results achieved are relevant, and ongoing studies on collected data will increase its value. The area investigated covers 25,000 square meters on the west bank of the Nile around the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan, which dominates the landscape. About 300 tombs have been identified and mapped there so far. However, various clues show that many more burials are present in the area that altogether covers about 100,000 square meters. This is the necropolis where people who lived in Aswan from the late Pharaonic to the Ptolemaic-Roman period (6th century B.C.-3rd century A.D.) were buried, as suggested by the inscriptions, ceramic types and objects found, such as stone sarcophagi, parts of funerary beds, stelae and decorative elements. The information that can be retrieved from such a large necropolis is fundamental to better understand the society in many of its aspects. In the period under study, the population had increased considerably and was very heterogeneous, as a result of immigration and various foreign dominations that had followed one another in the country. The history of the inhabitants and the crucial role of Aswan from an economic and military point of view during that millennium were partly known thanks to papyri and archaeological discoveries made both in Elefantina, the island in front of Aswan, and in the city itself, but the burial place of these people was unknown: and it is this that was found by the Italian-Egyptian Mission in West Aswan.

In 2019, the Italian-Egyptian Mission discovered a tomb, completely hidden under the sand, that had been used over several centuries. Visited by thieves in ancient times, it housed 40 mummies – some intact, others very damaged and reduced to only scattered bones that were reassembled – and various objects, including many painted cartonnages (a kind of papier-mâché made of linen or papyrus and plaster) that covered the bodies. Inside the tomb, in a side chamber, the mummies were accompanied by jars that still contained pine nuts, a very rare fact in Egypt since the pine was not a local plant and its seeds were certainly imported. Of the bodies deposited in the main room, five meters deep, a dozen were of children and one of an infant. Leaning against the north wall of the room was an intact stretcher made of palm wood and bituminized linen strips. A disassembled wooden funerary bed was also discovered, which had an intact hieroglyphic text reading the name of the owner, Pamerih, who was “chief of the troops of Syene,” the Greek designation for Aswan.

In 2020, EIMAWA continued to work in the necropolis, albeit at reduced ranks due to the health emergency. In close collaboration with the local authorities, an extensive site-management project was then initiated, aimed at improving the management and preservation of the site and making it available to the public in the future.

In the spring and fall of 2021, work resumed at an intense pace, rewarded by the discovery of a cult structure, with significant traces of animal and vegetable offerings and offering tables, which covered a tomb articulated in four underground galleries. At the entrance, a mummified body was discovered with a copper alloy necklace next to it, which bore the name Nikostratos engraved in Greek, testifying to the coexistence in this necropolis of Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and, even before, Persians.


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