Map of the excavations

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Map of the excavations

Here to download the map of the excavations

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

Excavating the area of Heliopolis, the principal site of the ancient solar cult, began in the spring of 1903.  A series of preliminary test-digs on the site revealed its poor condition. The excavation site was covered with thousands of stone and ceramic fragments, of all shapes and from all 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 BCE) and those of a large tabernacle of Seti I (1290-1279 BCE).

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-cut tombs and mastabas from the 4th-6th Dynasties (2543-2118 BCE), from which the jambs and architraves of elaborate false-doors, stelae, offering tables and fragmentary statues were sent to the Museum. Despite Schiaparelli’s intentions, research into this site did not continue, 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 papyri. The search was initially entrusted to the specialist Evaristo Breccia, accompanied in 1904 by Giacomo Biondi.

The material found, which were over twenty chests full of papyri, went to Florence, while less, but still interesting items arrived in Turin. They included fragments of papyri with decorations 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 over the following years with six archaeological campaigns until it was decided to cease excavating in 1913, “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 crouched in vases, or mummies lying on rectangular wooden coffins. Among the grave goods discovered were numerous wooden statuettes, some of them of quite large dimensions.

Many of Schiaparelli’s colleagues took part in the excavations: 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 stated: “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 mountain range near the village of Hammamiya”. 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 Islamic 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 Qau, a thriving city that had enjoyed considerable independence during the Middle Kingdom (1980-1700 BCE), following the  weakening of central power. Here, the Italian mission systematically explored the monumental semi-rock-cut tombs belonging to the local governors, those of Wahka I and Ibu in 1905, and in the following year that of Wahka II . Francesco Ballerini, Schiaparelli's collaborator, wrote this about 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 a lot of grave goods, “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 papyri 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 occurring at Giza, Schiaparelli and Ballerini started working on 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 BCE). 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 Third Intermediate Period and the beginning of the Late Period (8th-7th centuries BCE), coming from burials robbed in ancient times.

The most sensational find came in 1904 with the discovery of the lavish 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 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 tomb 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 person chosen for the job was Giovanni Marro, who continued the research in the 1930s even after Schiaparelli.

11. Aswan, excavation campaign: 1914

After Schiaparelli’s last brief stay at Deir el-Medina and in the Valley of the Queens in order to finish recording the work undertaken, he then 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 BCE) and others from the First Intermediate Period (2118-1980 BCE), very spacious, rich in texts and decorations, from which large quantities of archaeological material were recovered such as 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”.