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
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
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

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
The following link brings some of the
objects from Deir el-Medina in
private collections closer to the rest
of us.

Author: DonFletcher