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Chapter 4


As far as can be ascertained to the present, the earliest reports (apart from topographical descriptions already mentioned) of any recorded archaeological description relating to Akhmim, seems to be initially in a volume of Descr. de lEgypte, Ant and a brief description of a Ptolemaic temple mentioned in the diary of Bonomi in 1825. In addition, a description of fragments of ceiling from this temple, and a cartouche of Caesar Germanicus, are mentioned in the manuscripts of Nestor lHote who was in Egypt in 1838-9. There are also brief descriptions in publications of Wilkinson (1797-1875) and Champollion (1790-1832), where Champollion describes part of a Ptolemaic and Roman temple just west of Akhmim village.

In 1868 King Edward (when Prince of Wales) visited Egypt and brought back mummies said to be of the 26th.Dynasty at least one came from Akhmim, that of Nesmin, Priest of Amun. This was later presented to the Castle Norwich museum while the rest were dispersed to various collections.
Mariette (1821-1881) the French Egyptologist includes a mention in his survey of 1872,(note) while Maspero (1846-1916) who organised the work of recording scenes and descriptions of many tombs, especially in the Valley of the Kings, refers to tomb robbing at Akhmim in the early 1870s, the art of which seemed to progress as time passed. Indeed, this situation may have been a contribution to the founding of the Egypt Exploration Society (in 1882) by Amelia Edwards (1831-1892).

The next recorded visit of any archaeologist or Egyptologist to the Akhmim area, seems to have been Robert Forrer. Forrer seemed quite taken with the site, comparing his initial reaction with what the Israelites must have felt when entering the promised land, or Christopher Columbus when setting foot on the Americas.

In 1894-5 James Henry Breasted honeymooned in Egypt with his bride Francis Hart, subsequently visiting Akhmim while collecting antiquities for the Oriental Institute in Chicago.
There is also a reference in the late 1880s of a Welsh interest, whereby a donation of a mummy to the now Swansea museum, was given by Sir Francis Grenfell (a well known Swansea, South Wales family) a major, later General and Sirdar in the Egyptian army.

Mummy of Taut Heru, Priest of Isis more than 2000 years old, obtained from Echmim, an Arab town 400 miles up the Nile, 1887

The mummy in question is thought to be of the Ptolemaic Period, dating to circa 200 BC.

Sir Ernest Wallis Budge arrived in the January of 1896 when seeking antiquities for the British Museum, making a number of trips in the following years.
There seems to be some confusion however, with regard to some of the purchases and circumstances under which they were acquired at Akhmim, and indeed whether there were any excavations at all. There is also the possibility of a number of the objects dated to the Late Period actually being attributed to one of the earlier Intermediate Periods, where arrangements over purchases with the local robbers or entrepreneurs were agreed upon. We know that Budge had the capacity to absorb the local culture, and at ease with the local people, so he possibly found it much easier to barter from the plunderers rather than take time out to organise any time-consuming excavation.

The earliest preserved report of his journey was in the January of 1896 (written on the 4th.February 1896), where he:
Purchased four painted papyrus mummy cases, a mummy with a rare gilded casing, 41 scarabs, two sets of funereal genii and scarabs, a stele and a thick Demotic papyrus.

The majority of these objects were sent on the 25th.January 1896 via R.J.Moss and Co. shipping agents at Alexandria, arriving at the British Museum sometime in February. He also mentions a stela;

The stela is more precisely called a small limestone stela with designsand inscriptions in ink, and dated to the late Period.

The only limestone stela of the Late Period attributed to Budge, and involving the shipping by R.J. Moss & Co. seems to be either AKH/061, or possibly AKH/066 one given by The Reverend Chauncey Murch around this period (1895) and also involving the same shipping company.

Budge also mentions, 4 painted papyrus mummy cases or later described as,
4 painted cartonnage cases. These have been identified as AKH/183, AKH/184, AKH/185 and AKH/188 and allocated to the Graeco-Roman Period, 1st.century BC to 1st.century AD. In addition, a bitumen-preserved mummy with a gilded casing of the Ptolemaic period was also mentioned, where this is traced to AKH/193.

As one can see the database is extremely useful for cross-referencing key words and phrases. However, in the case of the Budge objects much of the information actually given by Budge, and his reports and letters to the BM, seem somewhat confused regarding the actual dates of visits and methods of acquiring the material

In Budges report of the 8th.March 1896 he mentions that, with the exception of the scarabs which were discovered at Abydos, all were;

Found together in Upper Egypt at a place which promise to yield an abundance of antiquities which date from 500 BC - AD 300, they were obtained from the discoverers.

There seems a strong possibility from this that the objects were from Akhmim, and again, bought from the local tomb robbers as the time before.
According to Budge (1920 vol.2) he is supposed to have visited this region earlier in 1892, spending three days or so at Sohag examining a newly opened tomb in the hills to the West of the Red and White monasteries. Could this be one of the Roman burial tombs?

Budge was a prolific writer but at the same time always on the move never seeming to have time to stay in one place for any reasonable time, always wanting to go on to the next discovery. It may be that the closeness of Akhmim and Sohag, and the recent tomb robbing in the vicinity, offered Budge a convenient and speedy method of supply of antiquities for the British Museum, hence the confusion in an accurate provenance of either of the two sites.

A more detailed report of activity in Akhmim came some fifteen years later in 1912 where Percy Newberry, (1869-1949), worked on the inscribed tombs of the 6th. and 12th. Dynasties. Newberry and his colleague Hugh Whitaker, worked at Akhmim during the January and February of 1912 examining some 28 inscribed tombs East of El-Hawawish, the southern end of the limestone hills. They explored the area between El-Ahaiweh, opposite El-Menshiyeh on the South, to El-Hawawish on the North.

Newberry discovered three painted wooden coffins of the Old Kingdom and five of the total number of the tombs, were of great chieftains of Akhmim, including one of a vizier and governor of the Pyramid city. (Tomb No.7. see also Kanawati 1988). In addition, Newberry ascribes many of the personal names as compounding with the name Min, for example; Min-ankh (Tomb No. 23), Min-en-ankh (Tomb No.22), Sa-Min (Tomb No.19) and so on.
An interesting comment made in his notes brings back shades of Budges day;

"We were told by the natives that several hundred Arabs had been robbing this cemetery up to a few days of our arrival there."

So it seems that this site has proved to be somewhat of a goldmine to the local entrepreneur having drained the antiquities from its interior consistently for over 35 (known) years.

In 1936, the French archaeologist Jacques Vandier (1904-1973) carried out minor work at Akhmim, but at the present time have no details of the excavation work.

For many years no systematic excavation or recording was thought to be profitable, and so the site was left undisturbed until 1978 when trial-excavations on the churchyard of Abu Seiffein were made by the University of Minnesota, under the direction of Sheila McNally.
In 1979 excavations were carried out by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation under the direction of Mr. Motawea Balboush and Mr. Yahy Sabr, on a previously discovered Ramesside temple, that of Ramesses II and his daughter Meret-Amun, on the outskirts of Akhmim itself. The initial work was on a discovery of a colossal standing limestone statue of Ramesses IIs daughter which had fallen across the entrance of a gateway of the temple, and where a Roman construction was added on top.

Kanawati (Macquerie, Australia) carried out substantial excavations from 1979 until 1988 on the Old Kingdom tombs at El-Hawawish making several interesting discoveries thereby assisting in enlightening Egyptologists on the administration of that and subsequent periods

While in 1981 further work was carried out on Abu Seiffein (Peter Donaldson and Cherry Nelson) where Late Roman and early Islamic (7th.century) inscriptions were found, and believed to be the earliest inscriptions from Egypt, several centuries before Arabic writing became common.

The latest discovery to date in this area was in March 1998 at Sohag, where a Pharaonic tomb of the Old Kingdom (2613-2181 BC) was unearthed by the Egyptian Archaeological Mission. The tomb is believed to belong to a governor called Ithy, his family was also entombed, and the mummies were all intact.

The potential of this site as one can see is enormous, especially as relatively little work has been carried out on the Late and Ptolemaic periods. With further research and additional input of data into the Akhmim database, the application may prove invaluable in not only collating the whereabouts of the objects themselves, but may be of assistance in locating the most suitable area in possible future excavation work. It also provides the catalyst and knowledge towards a further understanding of how life and order was initiated in ancient Egypt, but a deeper understanding of our very origins from this intriguing cradle of civilisation.

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