Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Missions working in Egypt, South Asasif Conservation Project: Mysteries of Irtieru

The tomb of Irtieru (TT 390) is among the most intriguing tombs of the Theban necropolis. Irtieru’s titles, Chief Attendant to the God’s Wife Nitocris and Female Scribe place her among the highest elite of her time. 

The wife and mother of Viziers of Upper Egypt, she did not mention the names of her husband Nespamedu (buried in Abydos) or her son Nespakashuty D (buried at Deir el Bahri) in the decoration of her tomb. 

Few women even among the higher-ranking elite had tombs that reflected this level of personal career orientation.

The Entrance Gate to the tomb of Nespakashuty D (TT 312) was reconstructed by a Metropolitan Museum/ARCE mission directed by Elena Pischikova in 2004-2005.  

She chose the Kushite South Asasif necropolis to construct an imposing monumental tomb with two pillared halls, a large Tornische and a spacious open court with two deep porticoes. 

Unfortunately the burial place of the grand lady was later re-used for rather less profound purposes.

When Elena Pischikova and Katherine Blakeney visited the tomb in the early 2000 the architectural elements were obscured by various livestock. 

Katherine had to chase away a rather large goose so we could photograph the false door. As she did not have experience in this kind of activity she had to rely on the friendly help of the young Said Abd El Rassul. 

It was the beginning of our friendship and cooperation with many members of the family.

Fifteen years later the space in front of the false door of Irtieru is occupied by the “High Steward” and “Receiver of the Offerings” of Lady Irtieru, John Billman. 

John is the Head of the Registration department of the Project who receives and registers all the finds at the site during our five-month seasons. 

Most of the “offerings” come from the archaeological team of Marion Brew and Leslie O’Connor, who has been doing an amazing job at the site for many weeks since our opening in May.

Among John’s favourite kinds of finds are shabtis. This year he is blessed by the tomb owners of the South Asasif necropolis with a large number of shabti fragments. 

Here John is sorting the fragments looking for joins and identifying different sets. Besides endless registration challenges John also carries the burden of being the President of the South Asasif Trust. 

We are extremely grateful to John, our trustees Annie Howard, Francesca Jones and Marion Brew and everyone who donated to the Trust for their support of the Project.

An important place in Irtieru belongs to our Inspector Shereen Ahmed Shawky who is sharing with us her experience in physical anthropology.  

The tomb of Irtieru is slowly changing, revealing its original beauty. The cleaning and reconstruction process is significantly aided by Lepsius’s records of the tomb.

Ahmed Ali Hussein, General Director of the Conservation Department of Upper Egypt and Chief Conservator of the Project spent weeks in 2007 removing a thick layer of mud from the lintel of the entrance to the Second Pillared Hall using nineteenth century records as a guide.

 Among the most elegant architectural features of the tomb are two half-columns with palm capitals. Their three palm fronds are bound with several circles of rope with a loop in the middle. 

Their elongated proportions and delicate details make them a distinct addition to the decorative doorframe of the Tornische. This area was cleaned in the earlier years of the Project.

The porticoes of the court, vestibule and entrance staircase remain a mystery, still hidden under the remains of modern houses. The team of the Project is planning to clear and restore these areas in future seasons.

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