PAST: Djehutihotep

100 years of excavations in Egypt
Fri 06-11-2015 - Wed 20-04-2016

Since 15 years Egyptologists of KU Leuven University have been conducting archaeological research at Dayr al-Barsha (Middle Egypt) and its ancient Egyptian cemeteries. The site is best known for the beautifully decorated tomb of governor Djehutihotep (c. 1840 BC) which has captured the imagination of travellers for over 200 years. Excavations in this area offer new results every year, such as for instance the intact tomb of a man named Henu, which attracted international attention in 2007.

Exactly 100 years ago, in 1915, the American archaeologist George Andrew Reisner carried out excavations at the same site. His finds from that season belong to the most important Egyptian art treasures from the early second millennium BC. Reisner was, however, not the first one with an interest in this area. Already in the time of Napoleon, maps were drawn of the region that are still of vital importance for modern day research. During the 19th century, the site was moreover often visited by western travellers, many of whom have left us detailed sketches, drawings, and photographs that are largely unknown. Of special interest are the watercolours made by Marcus Blackden and Howard Carter, the latter of whom would discover the tomb of Tutankhamun later in his career. A considerable amount of documentation exists concerning what the site looked like in the past and how excavations were undertaken during the colonial era. Traces of the activities of these early explorers are also frequently encountered during modern fieldwork.

A centenary in the Cinquantenaire Museum

The centennial of Reisner’s expedition in 1915 inspired KU Leuven Egyptologists to organise a unique exhibit in the Cinquantenaire Museum at Brussels. The goal of this exhibit was to show how innovative methodologies, applied to old documentation, can contribute to new insights. Digital techniques allow for instance to reassemble damaged and dispersed wall fragments into virtual reconstructions. Projecting modern satellite images onto old maps aids in visualizing the living environment of the past. Based on old photographs, the Egyptian landscape can be evoked as it looked before the construction of the Aswan dam.

These different themes were presented around a nearly life-size reconstruction of the tomb of Djehutihotep, which forms the center piece of the exhibit. A virtual 3D model of the tomb was created by the firm INGEO in cooperation with KU Leuven. Different layers of documentation were brought together, allowing the visitor to observe the evolution of research methodology. Watercolours and sketches by Carter that have never before been shown, were on display. Moreover, the funerary culture typical of Dayr al-Barsha was illustrated through a complete tomb inventory which was excavated at a nearby site. These objects have been in the collection of the RMAH in Brussels for over a century, but have never been shown together to the public. This exhibit putted Belgian Egyptology in the spotlight, familiarizing the audience with the possibilities of Egyptology and the projects of KU Leuven.

This exhibit is organised in cooperation with KU Leuven and access to it is included in the entrance ticket of the exhibit ‘Sarcophagi’ or the general entrance ticket of the Cinquantenaire Museum.