Map of the excavations

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Map of the excavations

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1. Heliopolis, Excavation campaigns: 1903 – 1904 – 1905 – 1906

The excavation of the area of Heliopolis, the principal site of the ancient solar cult, began in the spring of 1903 with a series of preliminary test digs of the site, which revealed a badly compromised situation. The excavation site was strewn with thousands of fragments of stone and terracotta of all shapes and periods.

It was «as if a devastating fury had shattered and ravaged the whole area», said Francesco Ballerini, a colleague of Schiaparelli's, who continued the research on the site again in 1904, 1905 and 1906. The final results were not particularly satisfactory, due to the presence of groundwater in the excavations, but there was no lack of significant discoveries: the stone fragments of a wall relief dating back to the sovereign Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty (2592-2543 BC) and those of a large tabernacle of Seti I (1290-1279 BC).

2. Giza, Excavation campaign: 1903

The excavations in the Giza area began in mid-February 1903 under the direction of Schiaparelli accompanied by Evaristo Breccia, the future director of the Graeco-Roman museum in Alexandria. At the same time, research also began in Thebes, entrusted to Schiaparelli's young collaborator, Francesco Ballerini. The work was concentrated immediately west of the great pyramid of Cheops (Khufu), to ascertain the existence of his funerary temple, from which two blocks of stone were sent to Turin. Research continued in the southern part of the necropolis, east and west of the great pyramid, revealing dozens of rock tombs and mastabas of the 4th-6th Dynasties (2543-2118 BC), from which the jambs and architraves of elaborate false ceilings, stelae, offering tables and fragmentary statues were sent to the Museum. Research into this site had no sequel, despite Schiaparelli’s intentions, partly due to differences with the German and American archaeologists with whom the excavation area had been subdivided.

3. Ashmunein, Excavation campaigns: 1903 – 1904 – 1909

Accepting the proposal put forward by the Accademia dei Lincei, Ernesto Schiaparelli engaged in a joint campaign to discover Greek papyruses. The search was initially entrusted to the specialist Evaristo Breccia, accompanied in 1904 by Giacomo Biondi.

The material found, over twenty chests of papyruses, went to Florence while lesser but interesting objects arrived in Turin. They included fragments of figured papyruses and architectural elements.

The research resumed in 1909 with Arturo Frova, again on behalf of the Accademia dei Lincei and under Schiaparelli’s direction. 

4. Deir el-Gebrawi

The rock-cut tombs of Deir el-Gebrawi are situated about 20 km north of Assiut, in Middle Egypt. The Italian Archaeological Mission did not excavate in this area, but it is presumed that during excavations in Assiut, Schiaparelli made an exploratory journey in the area, perhaps planning an excavation (but never carried out by Italian archaeologists) in the necropolis.  

5. Asyut, Excavation campaigns: 1906 – 1908 – 1910 – 1911 – 1912 – 1913

Exploration of the site of Asyut, in Middle Egypt, started in April 1906 and continued in the following years with six excavation campaigns, until 1913, when they were broken off, «since the archaeological material that is yielded by the necropolis is very uniform, and this museum already has a considerable quantity of it».

The finds were remarkable, including numerous intact burials with bodies squatting in vases, or mummies lying in rectangular wooden coffins. Notable among the tomb furnishings were numerous wooden statuettes, some of them of large dimensions.

Many of Schiaparelli’s colleagues took part in the search: Francesco Ballerini in 1906, Virginio Rosa in 1911, Pietro Barocelli in 1912, Giovanni Marro and Pietro Molli in 1913, as well as their Egyptian colleague Bolos Ghattas and the Franciscan friar Zaccaria Berti.

6. Hammamiya, Excavation campaigns: 1905 – 1906

As Ernesto Schiaparelli related, «While excavations continued on the mountain of Qau el-Kebir, I also began exploring a prehistoric necropolis. It was less than two kilometres away and stretched along the slopes of the Arabian range near the village of Hammamya.» The work was entrusted to the classical archaeologist Roberto Paribeni, assisted by Dr. Malvezzi de’ Medici, who also collaborated with Schiaparelli in the 1905 campaign. The necropolis that winds along the mountain slope yielded numerous burials ranging in date from prehistoric times to the Christian and Arab periods.

7. Qau el-Kebir, Excavation campaigns: 1905 – 1906

After moving the focus of their work to the Valley of the Queens on 8 March 1905, the following day the team began to explore Qaw, a thriving city that had enjoyed considerable independence during the Middle Kingdom (1980-1700 BC), when the central power was weakened. Here the Italian mission systematically explored the monumental partly rock-cut tombs belonging to the local governors, those of Uahka I and Ibu in 1905 and that of Uahka II the following year. Francesco Ballerini, Schiaparelli's collaborator, wrote of the tomb of Ibu: «in our excavations we were very fortunate: in a chamber at the bottom of a well we found the intact sarcophagus of a great priest Prince Absu [Ibu] in beautiful compact limestone, carved and painted».   The exploration of these splendid tombs, which also brought to light a large limestone statue, numerous other fragments and much funerary material, «was certainly the finest achievement of the Italian Mission», as Schiaparelli stated in his annual report to the Ministry.

9a. Deir el-Medina, Excavation campaigns: 1905 – 1906 – 1909

Shortly before reaching the Valley of the Queens, to the east, stands the village and necropolis of Deir el-Medina. In Schiaparelli’s time, the remains of the village, formerly inhabited by labourers and craftworkers employed in the royal necropolis, were completely buried in sand and the mountain was scored with fissures and ravines.

The search began in 1905, while work was being completed in the nearby Valley of the Queens, concentrated around the temple of the goddess Hathor. Here, among the remains of some houses, two jars came to light containing dozens of papyruses from the Ptolemaic period. In 1906 the extraordinary intact tomb of Kha and Merit and the funerary chapel of Maia were discovered.

9b. Valley of the Queens, Excavation campaigns: 1903 – 1904 – 1905

In the winter of 1903, at the same time as the excavations at Gisa, Schiaparelli and Ballerini started the first major site of the Italian Mission in the royal necropolis of the Valley of the Queens.

The search continued for the next three years with the discovery and exploration of over forty tombs, many previously unknown, belonging to queens and princes of the New Kingdom (1539-1076 BC). They included that of Prince Khaemwaset (Qv44), discovered on 15 February 1903 and his brother Sethiherkepeshef (QV43), which yielded dozens of coffins dating from the end of the 3rd Intermediate Period and the beginning of the Late Period (8th-7th centuries BC), coming from burials robbed in ancient times.

The most sensational find came in 1904 with the discovery of the sumptuous tomb of Queen Nefertari, the wife of Ramesses II. Though it had been pillaged, it retained its extraordinary internal decoration almost intact.

10. Gebelein, Excavation campaigns: 1910 – 1911 – 1914 – 1920 – 1930 – 1935 – 1937

Gebelein, in Arabic meaning «the two mountains», is a town just south of Luxor, characterised by the presence of two rugged hills standing side by side. They contain three distinct archaeological areas: a temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor, incorporated into a fortress built of raw bricks, the wretched remains of the city of Pathiris and the vast necropolis.

The excavations began in January 1910 and continued the following year under the guidance of the young researcher Virginio Rosa. In Schiaparelli’s absence, Rosa conducted a long campaign which proved very successful. Important tombs were brought to light, some intact with their rich grave goods, as well as the monumental tombs of Iti and Neferu with their precious paintings. The excavations also discovered a considerable quantity of organic materials, prompting Schiaparelli to request an anthropologist to work in the field. The choice fell on Giovanni Marro, who continued the research even after Schiaparelli with Giulio Farina in the 1930s.

11. Aswan, excavation campaign: 1914

After his last brief stay at Deir el-Medina and in the Valley of the Queens, to finish recording the work done, Schiaparelli moved the search to Aswan in Upper Egypt to prepare his last excavation site. In addition to Bolos Ghattas, he was accompanied by the anthropologist Giovanni Marro and Fr. Michele Pizzio, on his first archaeological dig. The camp was pitched on the mountain top overlooking the Nile, next to the splendid tombs of the princes of Elephantine. The research was conducted in January 1914 and concentrated along the mountainside, in the northern and southern parts of the necropolis. Numerous tombs were brought to light from the Old Kingdom (2592-2118 BC) and others from the First Intermediate Period (2118-1980 BC), very spacious, rich in texts and decorations, from which large quantities of archaeological material were recovered: coffins, terracotta vases and, as Schiaparelli said, «there were also wooden statues representing bearers of offerings, but the wood had been completely eaten by termites, so that nothing could be saved. Everything fell to dust as soon as it was touched, fading like a mist.»