Study day: Djehutihotep. 100 years of excavating in Egypt

In 1915, the American archaeologist George Reisner began excavations in the Egyptian village of Dayr al-Barsha. A hundred years later, a KU Leuven team carries on the excavations. This centennial is the occasion for an exhibition about how archaeology was pursued in Egypt a hundred years ago, and how this work continues to impact on modern research.

The digitally reconstructed, 4000 years old tomb of governor Djehutihotep constitutes the core of the exhibition. Early excavation records, like Howard Carter’s exquisite watercolours, maps from Napoleon’s day, and Reisner’s amazing photos, allow us to gaze over the shoulders of our predecessors at a now-vanished archaeological landscape. The intact tomb inventory of the Chief of Police, Abu, excavated in 1900, is shown to the public for the first time, and visualizes the funerary customs of the Dayr al-Barsha region. 

In conjunction with this exhibtion, a study day is organised on 7 November 2015.


Study day in conjunction with the exhibit ‘Djehoetihotep. 100 jaar opgravingen in Egypte’

Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels – Saturday 7 November 2015

(Jubelparkmuseum, Jubelpark 10, 1000 Brussel)

10.00u Welcome

10.20u Peter Der Manuelian (Harvard University)

George Andrew Reisner: A Life in 20 minutes

Most scholars recognize the name of George Andrew Reisner (1867‒1942) as, next to Flinders Petrie, perhaps the foremost founding father of scientific archaeology in Egypt. However, few are aware of his early career and its many twists and turns. These took him from high school history classes in Indiana to Semitic language studies at Harvard University, and a career in Assyriology with several years spent in Berlin. It was there that the great ones of the “Berlin School” exposed him to Egyptology. Reisner returned to Harvard and then proceeded to Cairo to join a new international commission to publish fascicles on the Egyptian Museum’s growing collections. Only later did he face a historic crossroads that offered him three distinct career paths. The one he chose opened an entirely new chapter in his life and scholarship: Egyptian archaeology. This paper will briefly explore aspects of Reisner’s life and career, leading up to the excavations at Dayr al-Barsha and beyond.

10.45u Denise Doxey (Museum of Fine Arts Boston)

Dayr al-Barsha 1915: The Untold Story of Story

While most people credit George Reisner with conducting the Harvard University-Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition’s excavation at Barsha in 1915, including the discovery of the tomb of Djehutinakht, Reisner was in fact present at the site for only a short while. In his absence most of the work was carried out by the museum’s registrar, H. Lyman Story. On his first expedition to Egypt, Story was faced with a series of challenges including impending world war, hostile weather and equally hostile villagers. The tasks of documenting the finds from Djehutinakht’s tomb and delivering them safely to Boston presented their own set of problems.

11.10u Lawrence Berman (Museum of Fine Arts Boston)

Dayr al-Barsha in the Museum

George Reisner often said that the masterpieces of Egyptian art in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, were simply the by-products of historical research. Yet it was the Museum that kept the expedition in the field. Reisner was expected to enrich the collection with works of art from every period of Egyptian history, and he needed to be mindful of this both in choosing a site and in negotiating the division of finds with the Egyptian government. Once in Boston, the works of art began a new life as museum objects. This paper focuses on the history of the objects from Dayr al-Barsha sent to Boston after the excavations: what was selected, and how were they displayed.

11.35u Rita Freed (Museum of Fine Arts Boston)

The Application of New Technology in the Understanding of the Human Remains in the Tomb of Djehutynakht

Entering Tomb 10A at Bersha in 1915, George Reisner’s team found a mummified head atop a coffin and a headless, limbless torso in a corner. Perhaps because of its decorative wrapping, Reisner chose to bring the head back to the Museum of Fine Arts, where it is currently on view. What has become a favorite of school children is also a source of fascination for scientists, and the head has been subjected to the latest testing, including CT scanning, fiber optic examination of the inside, 3-D printing of the skull beneath the wrappings and DNA testing (in two different countries). Thanks to these examinations, we know a lot more about the technique of mummification and age at death, among other things. One answer remains elusive, however, and that is whether the skull is that of the nomarch Djehutynakht or his wife, also named Djehutynakht, so testing is ongoing. This paper will present those tests and the results they yielded. 

12.00u     Lunch Break

Suggestions: the museum restaurant 'Midi cinquante' (reservation recommended - 02 735 87 54) and several retaurants & sandwich-shops at Avenue de Tervueren, Rue des Tongres and nearby the Schuman square.

13.45u Harco Willems (KU Leuven)

George Willoughby Fraser and his Saw. Or how did the Djehutihotep Girls end up in the Cairo Museum?

The scene depicting three of the daughters of nomarch Djehutihotep has long belonged to the treasures of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and it shortly will be prominently on display in the new “Grand Egyptian Museum.” In Newberry’s publication, this famous scene is still shown as being part of a far larger scene, of which the Leuven mission has been finding numerous fragments over the years. Clearly, the scene was more complete at the beginning of the Newberry mission than it was at the end. What happened?

14.15u Marleen De Meyer (KU Leuven)

Where did Newberry go wrong? New recording and digital reconstruction of the tomb of Djehutihotep

The publication of the tomb of Djehutihotep that Newberry’s team produced in 1894, is still the standard today, even though the book was produced in less than ideal circumstances. At the time, the walls of the tomb were still covered with dirt, adequate lighting was not available, and everything had to be copied in a very short period of time. That mistakes entered into the publication, was inevitable. In 2014 a new photographic recording of the tomb was made, showing for the first time exactly where Newberry went wrong. Based on this new recording, a 3D model of the tomb was created, which serves as the basis for new and future research on the decoration in this tomb.

14.40u Tanja Pommerening (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz)

Unravelling Daressy’s excavations of the five shafts in front of the tomb of Djehutihotep

In 1899, Georges Daressy excavated five tomb shafts in front of the tomb of Djehutihotep. His finds rank among the major treasures in the Cairo Museum, the British Museum, and the Louvre. However, Daressy’s plan of the site was wrong, and it is only due to the reexcavation of the area, which was finished in 2014, that Daressy’s account can be properly understood. The find results include several fragments of objects found by Daressy, and they help to reconstruct the excavation history, and the attribution of shafts to members of Djehutihotep’s court.

15.05u  Coffee break

15.30u  Georgia Long (FWO Vlaanderen – KU Leuven)

Something old, something new. Reconstructing find contexts in the tomb of governor Nehri I

During the archaeological mission of 1915 the team of George Reisner excavated many tombs on the north hill of the Dayr al-Barsha necropolis. Among them was the tomb of governor Nehri I, the finds of which have largely remained unpublished. Reisner only excavated part of the tomb, while the other part had already been excavated by Ahmed Kamal in 1900. Kamal, however, wrongly attributed his finds to the burial equipment of the tomb of Amenemhat. Illicit digging had also been taking place during this period and many of the burials were robbed in antiquity, making the excavation history a rather complex matter. The combination of old excavation reports and modern research is now providing new insights into this complex history and what it can tell us about the tomb and its owners.

15.55u Luc Delvaux (Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels)

From Dayr al-Barsha to Sedment: Middle Kingdom wooden models in the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels

More than fifty wooden models of the First Intermediate Period or the Middle Kingdom are preserved in the Royal Museums of Art and History of Brussels. An important part of them come from the tomb of the head of the police department Abu, discovered at Cheikh Ibada in 1899-1901 by the French archaeologist Albert Gayet. But others were discovered at Sedment by Petrie or acquired by the museum through ancient private collections. A new look at these sets of models sheds fresh light on their possible provenance and archaeological contexts. 

Entrance fee: €15 / students €5

Advance registration is not required, just show up in Brussels on the 7th.


Attention: Due to road works, the entrance to the museum has changed temporarily. If you come by car, you need to access the esplanade via the Merode roundabout. For a detailed plan, see