Although the Spanish-Egyptian Archaeological Mission in Saqqara (SEAMS) was officially established in 2019, the project as a whole is much older: 2022 marked 25 years since its inception.

The Mission has gone through two phases. The first phase from 2019 to 2022 and consisted of the excavation of the site of Kom el-Khamaseen (the initial aim of the Mission), the systematic survey of the entire desert area surrounding this site, and the excavation of a second site, hitherto unknown, discovered during this survey. Kom el-Khamaseen is a small necropolis dating from the end of the Old Kingdom to the Middle Kingdom, with particular activity during the First Intermediate Period. The second site was found to be a small royal cultic complex from the New Kingdom.

The second phase begins in 2023. Our activity moves to northern Saqqara, to the cementery of the high priests of Ptah and Sokar of Memphis during the Old Kingdom, located northwest of the step pyramid of Netjerkhet-Djeser. We will work in the area of the monumental mastaba of Sabu Tjety, where we will initially carry out archaeological surveys and geological and topographical studies, and then move on to the systematic excavation of the tomb.

Kom el-Khamseen
New Kingdom Cultic Complex
Sabu Tjety

A survey in 1997

In 1997 a team from the Institut d’Estudis del Pròxim Orient Antic (IEPOA) (Institut for Ancient Near Eastern Studies) of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain), under the direction of Dr Josep Cervelló Autuori, carried out an archaeological survey in the site of Kom el-Khamaseen, located 3,2 km. west of the pyramid of Djedkare Isesi, in the South Saqqara Desert. It lies upon a natural kom (fig. 1).

Fig. 1. The hillock of Kom el-Khamaseen

The site had already been disturbed when we visited it and a large number of architectural remains lay scattered over an area of 40 x 25 m approximately, especially in the south half of the kom. The most widespread material was limestone (fig. 2). Two types of blocks or block fragments could be distinguished: rectangular blocks (20 to 35 cm both deep and wide x 70 to 110 cm long), and more square blocks (20 to 30 cm deep x 40 to 50 cm both wide and high). All of them were very regular in shape and were the parts of the limestone coating from the walls and chapels of a tomb (or perhaps several tombs).

Fig. 2. Limestone blocks on the surface of the site and looting holes

Beside the limestone blocks, granite block fragments, mainly in the northern half of the site, were also recorded. As for pottery, only a few shards were recorded in the south-western area of the site. No traces of mudbrick were found.

All this material showed extensive damage, because of the weathering and wind erosion, and there were clear traces of tomb robbing and illicit digging; in fact, large-size round holes, filled with loose wind laid sand, were clearly visible (fig. 2). In spite of this, 4 blocks or block fragments preserved traces of inscriptions nad reliefs. The titles of smr waty, Xry-Hbt, imy-rA a(Aw) (fig. 3), imy-rA pr y Hmt-nTr Hwt-Hrw, as well as the epithet imAxw y and the female name xnwt associated with the female title, were recorded. The name and title of the lady were on the same much damaged block as a relief fragment showing the upper part of the legs of a nobleman wearing a short and fishing in the marshes, a typical iconographic motif in the decorative programs of the tombs of the VI dynasty high rank noblemen.

The shape of the limestone blocks, epigraphy and iconography suggested that Kom el-Khamaseen was a little necropolis of the end of the Old Kingdom. The results of this work were published in 2006 in the ASAE:

  • Cervelló Autuori, J.; Díaz de Cerio Juan, M. 2006. A New Old Kingdom imy-r a(Aw) from the Memphite Region. Results from a Survey at a Site in the South Saqqara Desert. Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte 80: 85-96.
Fig. 3. Rectangular limestone block with an inscription fragment

The work at El-Mohemat magazine in Saqqara in 2005/2006

In 1999 the site of Kom el-Khamaseen was severely plundered, and the Inspectorate of Saqqara, under the responsibility of Dr Mohammad Mohammad Youssef, recovered from there a total of 62 limestone and granite blocks or block fragments with inscriptions and reliefs. Of these, 57 are blocks or fragments of limestone and 5 are fragments of granite; and 52 correspond to building elements, such as walls, lintels or roofs, and 10 are small fragments of false door stelae or offering tables. The inscribed blocks from the 1997 survey were not retrieved.

In 2004 Dr Cervelló Autuori submitted an application to the SCA asking to study this material, stored in the El-Mohemat magazine, in Saqqara. The work was made in 2005 and 2006. The results were very interesting. The new material enabled us to refine our understanding of the site and to conclude that Kom el-Khamaseen was a small necropolis were individuals of different status were buried in graves apparently of different size and richness from the end of the Old Kingdom up to the beginning of the First Intermediate Period. In fact, the fragments of two cartouches, the first one with the name of Pepy and the second one with Neferkare (which probably correspond to the same king) point to the last reign of the Old Kingdom; and the paleography and the titles fo the most important individual now documented point to the beginning of the First Intermediate Period.

The names of three new individuals and some of their titles were recorded. The title of imy-rA a(Aw) has not appeared again, and may correspond to a fourth individual or to one of these three. Along with the lady Khenut, then, we could have, as a minimum, 4 or 5 people buried in the site. Two fragments of inscriptions belonged to a mti (n) zA xntyw-S of a pyramid, called Sankhhathor-Pepy. A fragment of a lintel records the images, name and titles of the smr, Xry-tp nswt and HoA-Hwt Menkhi (fig. 4).

Fig. 4.  Menkhi's lintel

The last of the documented individuals stands out because of this rank and historical importance. This is Imephor, great priest of Ptah at Memphis. He is, moreover, the best documented: if all the previous individuals were known to us from only one or two limestone block fragments, Imephor was known through 25. He was furthermore associated with the 5 recovered granite fragments, which appear inscribed with his names and titles (fig. 5). This proves the richness of his tomb, since granite is a material reserved to the high rank people. Some rectangular limestone blocks, also inscribed with his names (fig. 6), formed the pitched roof of a little chapel, probably the burial chamber. The inscriptions record the beautiful name and the great name of Impehor, respectively, Impy and Nikauptah. The most important of his titles are: wr xrpw Hmww («overseer of the chiefs craftsmen» = «great priest of Ptah»), sm, Xry-Hbt Hry-tp y HAty-a (fig. 7).

Fig. 5. Granite block fragments with the titles and name of Imephor
Fig. 6. Limestone rectangular blocks with the names of Imephor
Fig. 7. Limestone block with the names and some titles of Imephor

The results of this work were the object of several publications:

  • Cervelló Autuori, J. 2006. Imephor-Impy, gran sacerdote de Ptah. Una nota prosopográfica [en:] Del Olmo Lete, G.; Feliu, Ll.; Millet Albà, A. (eds.) Šapal tibnim mû illakū. Studies Presented to Joaquín Sanmartín on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday (Aula Orientalis-Supplementa 22). Sabadell: Ausa. P. 109-119.
  • Cervelló Autuori, J. 2007. L’épigraphie de Kom el-Khamasin (Saqqâra Sud, fin Ancien Empire–début PPI). Rapport préliminaire. Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 107: 71-87.
  • Cervelló Autuori, J. ; Díaz de Cerio Juan, M. 2009. Kom el-Khamasín: arqueología y epigrafia. Trabajos de Egiptología / Papers on Ancient Egypt 5: 167-182.
  • Cervelló Autuori, J. 2009. Prospección y documentación epigráfica en Saqqara. Necrópolis de Kom el-Khamasin [en:] AAVV, 120 años de arqueología española en Egipto. Catálogo de la exposición. Madrid: Ministerio de Cultura. P. 88-97.

2009 to 2019: from Saqqara to art galleries around the world

After the looting of Kom el-Khamaseen in 1999, the members of the Spanish team and the SCA authorities were convinced that the material stolen from the site would appear on the art market around the world sooner or later. Actually, the material related to Imephor is easy to recognize because of the paleography of the inscriptions and the fact that this proper name is a hapax. Indeed, from 2009 to present around 30 pieces, including limestone block fragments and statuettes, all inscribed with the names and title of Imephor, have been documented in art galleries around the world, especially in Spain, England, and Australia. In some cases, following a trial, the pieces have been returned to Egypt. In this regard, the video on can be seen:

Saqqara. Decosmisos arqueològics

In some cases, we have had the occasion to see and study these pieces.

The inscribed blocks from the art galleries give us new titles and epithets of Imephor, some of them certainly important in order to understand his career (fig. 8): imA-a, «gracious of arm (?)» (reserved to viziers and higher rank officials), xrp iAt nbt nTrt and ir m awy=f. And the sattuettes, with no parallel in the Egyptian art of this period, bear his names on their right arm (fig. 9).

Fig. 8 An inscribed block from the tomb of Imephor documented in an art gallery
Fig. 9. An inscribed statuette of Imephor documented in an art gallery

We already published some of these documents:

  • Cervelló Autuori, J. 2016. Kom El-Khamasin. Histoire accidentée d’un site archéologique égyptien [en:] Collombert, Ph.; Lefèvre, D.; Polis, S.; Winand, J. (eds.) Aere perennius. Mélanges égyptologiques en l’honneur de Pascal Vernus (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 242). Louvain: Peeters. P. 17-41.

On the other hand, during these same years Dr Mohammad Youssef has been able to recover other block fragments from the site, as a result of new occasional raids by robbers, and to point out some archaeological structures and materials in the surroundings. This is the reason why our work falls into the category of salvage archaeology and why the intervention was urgent.

From 2019 to the present: Mission establishment and firts seasons

Thus, Josep Cervelló and Mohammad Youssef considered that the time has come to excavate Kom el-Khamassen and recover from there all the material that still remained, in order to complete the archaeological and epigraphic information. The Mission was set up in 2019 with this initial objective in mind. The aim was also to prospect the entire surrounding area to find out if there were any other archaeological sites or remains there and, eventually, to study the occupation patterns of the territory.

Between 2019 and 2022, three seasons have been carried out, the last one in two periods: Season 2919 (June), Season 2021 (April-May), Season 2022 (April-May and November-December). In 2020 there was no work season due to the Covid 19 health crisis.

These campaigns have resulted in a number of preliminary publications and keylectures and communications at international conferences. Other publications are in press and the final monograph by Kom el-Khamaseen is in preparation.

  • Cervelló Autuori, J. 2021. Misión Hispano-Egipcia en Saqqara Suroeste. Yacimiento de Kom el-Khamasin y área circundante [in:] AAVV. Investigación arqueológica española en Egipto. Museo de Almería, 4 de noviembre de 2021 – 30 de enero de 2022, Almería: Consejería de Cultura y Patrimonio Histórico, Junta de Andalucía. P.170-183 and 196.
  • Cervelló Autuori, J.; González León, D. 2023. A Memphite high priest at the fall of the Old Kingdom. Egyptian Archaeology 62: 8-12.
  • Cervelló Autuori, J. forthcoming. The Kom el-Khamaseen Project, 1997-2022 [in:] Jiménez Serrano, A. (ed.), Old Kingdom Art and Archaeology 8th Conference. Arqueologías. Serie Egiptología. Jaén: Editorial de la Universidad de Jaén.

Once the work at Kom el-Khamaseen and the surrounding area has been completed, the Mission is starting a new project in 2023 at Saqqara North, in the cementery of the high priests of Memphis of the Old Kingdom, to the northwest of the step pyramid: the excavation of the mastaba of Sabu Tjety. 

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