Museum & private collections of objects from Deir el-Medina

The land of Egypt with its architectural wonders and pleasant climate has been attracting travellers 
for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians themselves were the first tourists in their own 
country, visiting chapels and tombs of their gods and predecessors and leaving their names inscribed 
on many walls.
A thousand years later, Greek and Roman travellers also left their names written on the statues and 
temple and tomb walls.
Following the Arab conquest of Egypt, travel to the country became restricted for Europeans, 
resulting in the curtailment of the quest for knowledge about Egypt and its ancient monuments south 
of Cairo.
From the beginning of the 18th century several adventurous travellers ventured farther up the Nile 
Valley. The deciphering of hieroglyphic script by Champollion in 1822 opened the flood gates to dozens 
of individual travellers, scholars, artists, adventurers and scientific expeditions. Ever larger numbers 
of sightseers with growing interest in antiquities created demand for portable antiquities. Ancient 
cemeteries started to be dug up in the hope of finding buried treasures to supply this new market. 
The 19th century collectors acquired objects through purchases from the dealers and at local 
markets.
The village of Deir el-Medina, filled with blown sand, started giving up its secrets as early as 
1840s, when the local people made a find of a cache of papyri – a rich mixture of documents, 
including all of scribe Dhutmose’s letters to his son Butehamun, the correspondence of general Piankh 
sent from Nubia and also records of the great tomb robberies of the late 20th dynasty. These 
papyri and various other objects found were sold by the 19th century collector and dealer Drovetti to 
various European collectors, and most of them eventually found their way into numerous museums. The 
second spectacular find, made by the locals in the second half of the 19th century, was the 
discovery of Sennedjem’s tomb. Maspero oversaw the clearing of the tomb. The contents were 
distributed to museums as far apart as New York, Berlin and Cairo.
Many objects coming to light during that time were completely unrecorded and thus taken out of 
context lost their provenance. Other objects were recorded by scholars like Wilkinson, Lepsius or 
Champollion, who were passing through Deir el-Medina at the time. Some of their drawings are the 
only record we have today of some objects which have now disappeared.
Since Schiaparelli’s first proper archaeological excavation of the site in 1905, objects originating 
from the area started to be recorded systematically and excavation reports were being produced. 
Each campaign was followed by lists of finds resulting from the work. The most detailed reports 
were, and still are being published by the French Institute, following nearly 30 years of Bruyere’s 
work.
Thousands of objects found in the area of Deir el-Medina are nowadays scattered all over the world. 
While most of them found their way into museum collections, many are in private hands. The richest 
Deir el-Medina collections are in the museums of Cairo, Paris, London, Turin, Florence, Berlin, 
Brooklyn, Prague and Brussels. Some of the artifacts are on display, some are kept in depositories, 
but some objects have not yet been studied by curators or scholars due to time or financial 
restrictions. Even at Deir el-Medina itself, there are around 20 magazines full of objects found at 
the site, still awaiting detailed scholarly study.
The aim of the “Collections” pages of the st-maat web site is to make at least some of the 
collections available at a click of a button

Museum collections
Nowadays all major and some small 
museums around the world have objects 
from Deir el-Medina present in their 
collections. Some objects are on  
permanent display, some are displayed 
during occasional exhibitions. For some 
objects I make an appointment with the 
museum curator to see and photograph 
them.

click on the image below to view the museum 
collections I visited and photographed so far

Private collections
The private collections of antiquities 
are the most difficult to access 
scholarly information from. They come 
down to their current owners through 
family inheritance or through auction 
purchases.
The following link brings some of the 
objects from Deir el-Medina in 
private collections closer to the rest 
of us.

click on the image below to view the private 
collections

Author: DonFletcher

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