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August, 1903.


Of the University of Cali-
fornia as conducted

by Geo. A. Reis

ner, Ph. D.

No 2.

By J. Leslie Dobbins

Of the University of California, illustrated with photographs taken as the work proceeded.

These excavations, which the following article explains, are among the most important enterprises any university in America has undertaken. Mr. J. Leslie Dobbins has had special opportunities for understanding the work, and had the benefit of Dr. Reisner's verification of his statements before the director returned to the field of operations in Egypt. The information obtained through these investigations of an ancient people are significant for a country that, like Egypt, needs irrigation to develop its great agricultural resources to the full, and the more knowledge gained of Egyptian habits and customs, the nearer we reach an understanding of their methods of land cultivation.


XCAVATION among ruins of ancient Egyptian cities is a task in which scientific organizations have been engaged for more than two centuries, but it is a work whose field is still infinitely fertile. Discoveries of the greatest importance have been made very recently, discoveries which have thrown a great light upon the past. Ten years ago it was impossible to trace Egyptian history with any degree of certainty beyond 2300 B. C., but with the help of these recent discoveries, the story of twelve hundred years more has been revealed, and the date of the first dynasty of Egyptian kings can now be placed at about 3500 B. C.

And of all the expeditions now at work in Egypt, none has achieved such scientifically important results as that which, through the munificence of Mrs. Phoebe A. Hearst, is being conducted by George A. Reisner, Ph. D., for the University of California. It is, with but one exception-that of the Babylonian ex

pedition sent out by the University of Pennsylvania-the only expedition for research which any American university now has in the field in the Old World. And through it the University of California will come into possession of a much more complete collection of Egyptian antiquities than is to be found at any other university in America.

Dr. Reisner started for Egypt in 1899, accompanied by A. M. Lythgoe, of Harvard, and F. W. Green, of Cambridge, whose place was taken later by A. C. Mace, of Oxford. Five years were to be devoted to this quest, and the two years yet to come of this time will undoubtedly yield many additional treasures.

But already during the three years which have been spent in the field, facts have been brought to light and prove as important as those determined by the long series of excavations carried on for many years by the Egyptian Government.

Work was begun in a cemetery at Koptos, but most of the land there


Cemetery of Der-el-Ballas before excavations opened.

was under cultivation, and difficulties arose. It was necessary to purchase the land, and purchase was not always possible. But at Derel-Ballas, the next scene of operations, conditions were more favorable, and two cemeteries rich in antiquities were there opened up, one of the eighteenth dynasty, the other a prehistoric burial place of a date earlier than that of the first dynasty.

In all the graves of this latter cemetery, the bodies were found in the same position, lying on the left side, with the head to the south and face toward the West, and with knees drawn up almost to the chin. This contracted burial was found, by repeated discoveries, to have been the prevalent custom for many centuries, and it was only in the cemeteries of the eighth dynasty that extended burials were first found.

It was in this characteristic position that the most valued find of the first year was disclosed. At Nagaed-Der, the body of a woman evidently of high social standing was unearthed. About her neck was found a long, heavy necklace of gold, ruby and carnelian beads. This treasure was more costly than any heretofore found by the expedition. The tomb was one of the few which had escaped being plundered. In it,

also, was a well-preserved inscription which showed that the body had been buried in the reign of Menes, the first king of the first dynasty. A number of pieces of pottery lay near the body, besides a few alabaster jars, all lying in their original positions, having been there undisturbed for almost six thousand years.

In the oldest tombs discovered clay pottery similar to this and stone jars were found. From that time, throughout the history of Egypt the custom of burying with the deceased many treasures and of pottery seems to have been observed. No grave was too humble for at least a few crude pieces pieces of pottery, and no undisturbed grave was found to be without them. It was often by means of this pottery found in the tomb that the date of the burial could be ascertained when no inscription was found. For the evolution of pottery could be traced by a comparison of the specimens found, and a comparison showed the modifications in shape and style, due to the greater skill and better workmanship that later years produced. By an inverse process of reasoning, the relative dates of the tombs themselves could be approximated from this same comparison of the pottery found in


The modifications produced in the pottery give an insight into the history of the early dynasties. As an example of this, it was seen and proved from a rather sudden change in the nature of pottery that the potter's wheel was invented and used during the sixth dynasty, about 2800 B. C. Especially were these discoveries valuable when the jars. bore inscriptions. No better instance of the importance of seemingly small particulars could be mentioned than that of an elaborate ala

[graphic][merged small][graphic][merged small]

baster jar found in a tomb of the sixth dynasty in the cemetery at Naga-ed-Der. Upon it, besides the name of the man buried there, was the inscription, "I bring thee, King Theti, all manner of incense. Shown thus by this inscription, no further proof was necessary that incense and spices were to be found in Egypt as early as the sixth dynasty, of which Theti was the first king, thus presupposing still earlier commercial relations with other lands; for spices and incense have never been produced on Egyptian soil, but were imported from the Far East. The supposition has been corroborated by other discoveries.

It was in these cemeteries at Naga-ed-Der, cemeteries which extended with almost unbroken continuity from prehistoric times. to the present century that most of the work of the expedition has been done, and here several discoveries of the greatest importance. have been made. In one of the tombs of the first dynasty was a stone jar which tained sixteen



seal cylinders. cylinders. Only broken fragments of cylinders of so early a date had ever been found before, so this discovery had a twofold value-it removed all doubt about the existence and rather general use of writing at that time, and as these cylinders constituted what might now be called the books of a prosperous business firm, it gave a new view of business conditions and possibilities in Egypt during the first dynasty. very dis

In two

tinctive features the

methods of this expedition have differed from those of any other which has excavated in Egypt. Instead of throwing the debris from one tomb into some adjoining section Dr. Reisner had everything of this nature hauled to the edge of the cemetery and dumped there. Thus the entire field of operations was left clear, so that the plan of the whole cemetery could be made, either by photography or by drawing, with far more accuracy than would have been possible in fitting together outlines of different sections made whenever circumstances would permit. The systematic use of the camera was also an innovation upon previous methods, and one of vital importance. Heretofore all questions depending upon the position in which certain objects lay


An apartment tomb, with entrance blocked


depended for its ans-
wer entirely upon the ac-
count of how they ap-
peared to
to the excava-
tor. Very frequently
this dependence upon one
man's recollection has led
to serious mistakes, for it
is not an unheard-of oc-
currence for a man to
think and to declare in
good faith that he saw
something which in real-
ity was not at all as he
thought. A photograph
would instantly and un-
questionably settle any
such dispute, and thus in
many cases assure some
important conclusion.

This importance of having a positive proof for every assertion was fully realized by Dr. Reisner, and in this expedition each phase of every excavation was photographed and the plate developed and dried before work was resumed upon it. By this means the original position and condition of the various objects in each tomb can be shown now with perfect accuracy. The collection of photographs of this expedition now includes about five thousand views, unequaled in importance by any other collection of Egyptological photographs in the world.

A tomb 6,000 years old.

It was largely by means of these that it was possible to disprove the idea of "beheaded burials." Nearly all excavators in Egyptian cemeteries have found some bodies with the heads severed from them and lying at the side; and from these discoveries the theory had arisen that there had at one time been a regular custom of beheading the body before burial. Dr. Reisner claims that this condition was the work of robbers who rifled the richest tombs. For plunderers might find it easier

to get possession of the necklaces found on a body by cutting off the head. That this was often the case there can be no doubt, for in many of these so-called "beheaded burials," the skulls have been found at some distance from their natural places, in tombs which showed many other signs of having been broken into. And wherever this condition has been found, there have been some other indications of plundering.

But from the point of view of the Egyptologist, the greatest achievement of this expedition was the proof, verified throughout by discoveries, that the inhabitants of Egypt in prehistoric times were Egyptians, and not Phoenecians, as had previously been supposed. This conclusion was borne out by an ana

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