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Documents from Deir el Medina

Turin Royal Canon for the Museo di Egizio TurinoPapyrus
The provenance of many documents from Egypt is impossible to determine.  Many of the most important documents were collected by two competing Consuls, Henry Salt of Britain and Bernardino Drovetti of France. Unfortunately at this time acquisition [for sale] was the goal, not archaeology.  Much of the Drovetti finds were not highly prised and their care was poor.  An example is the Turin Royal Canon, a Papyrus dating to the reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213) inscribed in Hieratic with a list of the names of Egyptian rulers, evidently copied from a more complete original. When it was first acquired by Drovetti in the early 19th century, it seems to have been largely intact, but by the time it had been purchased by Charles Felix King of Sardinia in 1824 and become part of the collection of the Museo Egizio di Turin, its condition had deteriorated. The diligent work of egyptologists Jean-Francois Champollion and Gustavus Seyffarth ensured that the many fragments were placed in the correct order, but many parts are missing.

Gold Mine map from the Museo di Egizioin TurinoAmong the remains Champollion found 50 pieces of a manuscript which lists over 300 Egyptian rulers and foreign rulers.  He recognized the importance of this document with his unique ability to translate - without which these scraps of history would have been lost forever. No other pieces of the papyri could be found, and this has caused gaps in the list, he wrote to his brother "I confess that the greatest disappointment of my literary life is to have discovered this manuscript in such a desperate state.  I will never console myself - it is a wound which bleed for a long time".

Other important documents were also included in the same collection - including the Gold Mines map and the plan of Ramesses IV's tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Its thought that these, and other document, such as the Judicial Papyrus recording a plot against Ramesses III, had once formed a part of the same government archive and that they had originated in Medinet Habu. Medinet Habu was the administrative headquarters of Thebes [Western] at the end of the New Kingdom and was a very short distance from the village. Also the villagers were moved into here when their safety was at risk later in during the period leading to the 3rd Intermediate Period.

'The Tale of Setne-Khaemwaset' is one of the most interesting stories documented and it was also found at Deir el Medina - not in a ancient tomb of but that of a 3rd century BC Coptic Monk.  It is curious that a Monk, often associated with destroying pagan objects, should have collected this and other documents, which were buried with him. The story was written in Demotic and 4, of 6, pages were found. 

 

Late Ramessid Letters
Henry Salt, who arrived in Egypt in March 1816 as the British Consul-General, managed to gather enough material to sell 3 collections of finds. Many documents were to Europe in 1818 and they included some from the Deir el Medina family archive - collectively known as the Late Ramessid Letters. 

The text of letter 28 says "To the fan-bearer , royal scribe and general, high priest of Amun-Re, king of the gods, viceroy of Kush, ... Piankh, from the two chief workmen, the scribe of the necropolis, Buteshamun, the guardian of Kar.  In life, prosperity and health and in the favour of Amun-Re, king of the gods.  We have noted all matters about which our lord had written us... saying "Uncover a tomb among the ancestors and preserve its seal until I return", so said he our Lord.  We are doing commissions.  We shall cause you to find seal still affixed made read is that of which we know. 

Its suggested that this is Paiankh using the treasure from a tomb to finance his campaign into Nubia (against Panehsy) and it was 'official' removal not robbing that removed much of the treasure from the Valley of the Kings. Piankh was High Priest and General in the 20th Dynasty.  There is question whether he preceded or succeeded Herihor, based on the above we could calculate that he succeeded. Herihor broke away form the central control and established a virtually separate kingdom based on the High Priesthood of Amun at Thebes. Piankh was Herihor's son or son-in-law.  Piankh was succeeded by his son, Pinudjem I.  Pinudjem I was also High Priest of Amun at Thebes, which was now an established near-royal dynasty.

Panehsy was a Viceroy of Kush in the 20th Dynasty and had been appointed by Ramesses XI (later King in the dynasty). He helped send Amenhotep (High Priest of Karnak) into exile and controlled much of southern Egypt.  He was eventually pushed back into Nubia, by Herihor [who succeeded Piankh], where he lived to an old age.  This was the last time Nubia was a province of Egypt.

Library of the scribe Kenherkhepshef
Bernard Bruyère excavated a number of tombs from the village.  In 1928 a shaft between two tomb revealed a cache of documents.  This was a cache of different types of documents and their importance was partially lost because they were divided, some to London (BM) and some to Dublin (Chester Beatty).  Along with other earlier papyri this was part of a large library collected or gathered by a worker form the village - the scribe Kenherkhepshef.
 
Kenherkhepshef was already known from documents and his visibility started in Year 33 of Ramesses II (Usermaatra Setepenra, 1279-1213 BC), becoming scribe in Year 40 and continuing until the end of Sety II's (Userkheperura Setepenra, 1200-1194 BC) reign.  However his reputation was for being a poor official, lax in his duties and corrupt.  His passion was his library which had a wide ranging of subject matter - how he collected it is another question. After his death his family kept the rolls of Papyrus, but they became less values and eventually re-used as scrap. 
 
One of the Late Ramesside Letters written at the end of the New Kingdom by scribe Djehutymose to his son (the scribe of the tomb Butehamun) reported "Now as far as the documents onto which the sky rained in the house of the scribe Horsheri, my grandfather, you brought them out and found that they had not become erased.  I said to you I will unbind them again.  You brought them down below and we deposited in the tomb of Amennakht my great grandfather."  The location matches and there is water damager to a Chester Beatty papyrus. The library became unwanted and was put into a tomb, not to destroy it but to remove an unwanted collection.

The contents are a very interesting mixture - almost as if Kenherkhepshef was searching for things to keep him alive and well for longer (he was also known to have a 12 year old wife).  The library contained:

  Chester Beatty I Contendings of Horus and Seth, love songs, hymns praising Ramesses IV, cattle sale document
  Chester Beatty II Story of the Blinding and Vindication of Truth
  Chester Beatty III how to interpret dreams book, battle of Kadesh, letter to Vizier Panehsy; dreams included "if a man sees himself shaving his lower parts, BAD it means mourning"
  Chester Beatty IV hymns, students notes and doodles
  Chester Beatty V Hymn to the Nile, magical texts, short texts in letter form
  Chester Beatty VI medical prescriptions and text
  Chester Beatty VII magical spells against scorpions; spells against fever etc.
  Chester Beatty VIII magic-religious texts
  Chester Beatty IX Ritual of Amenhotep I, part of magical text, book of protection, book of invocations
  Chester Beatty X part of a book of aphrodisiacs
  Chester Beatty XI Story of Isis and Re, magical texts, accounts, spells of safety on the river, hymn to Amun
  Chester Beatty XII parts of magical text with mythological allusions
  Chester Beatty XIII magical text
  Chester Beatty XIV religious text
  Chester Beatty XV magic-medical text
  Chester Beatty XVI magical text, accounts
  Chester Beatty XVII extracts of satirical letter of Hori
  Chester Beatty XVIII miscellaneous letter, medical text
  Chester Beatty XIX extract on the satire on the Trades
  Deir el Medina I Teaching of Ani, magical texts
  Deir el Medina II part of Naunakhte II-III
  Deir el Medina III-XVI letters
  Deir el Medina XVII list of bronze utensils
  Naunakhte I-IV will documents
  Geneva incantation against scorpion strings, notes
Ostraca
In 1888 Georges Daressy made a number of finds in Egypt.  He was Maspero's French assistant from the Bulaq Museum and this period was his very 1st archaeological work. He was searching the Valley of the Kings, in the tomb of Ramesses VI (KV9) and Ramesses IX (KV6) which had been open since antiquity. He found a number of stelae and also a large number of Ostraca, around 300, with preliminary sketches and 'doodles'.  Most were recovered from KV9 and were the work of two draftsmen from Deir el Medina - Amenhotep and Nebnufer.
 

 


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