Bersha necropolis

Bersha necropolis

Deir El Bersha (also written as Dayr al-Barsha, Deir el-Bersheh) is a Coptic village in Middle Egypt in the Minya Governorate. During the pharaonic period, there was a vast cemetery, which is most well known for its decorated Middle Kingdom tombs on the north flank of Wadi Nakhla.

Location of Bersha necropolis

Bersha necropolis is located on the east bank of the Nile to the south of Antinoöpolis and almost opposite the city of Mallawi, Minya Governorate.

Overview

Dayr al-Barsha necropolis is near the Nile Valley town of Minya, 225 km south of Cairo. An elite cemetery Middle Kingdom on the North Hill (referred to as Zone 2) is the most well-known area of the necropolis. During the Middle Kingdom, it was the cemetery of the governors (“nomarchs”) of the Hare Nome, the 15th Upper Egyptian Nome. It contains several spectacular rock-cut tombs, one of the most famous being that of the nomarch, Djehutihotep. Several of these tombs were destroyed by ancient quarrying and looting, including some for construction at Amarna. However, “despite their poor state of preservation, they still contain important texts which, linked to contemporary quarry inscriptions at Hatnub, make it possible to reconstruct a family tree of the governors, spanning much of the Middle Kingdom.”

The cemetery was in use before the Middle Kingdom, with third-dynasty “rock-circle tombs,” the largest yet found of this period, have been found on the west of the Middle Kingdom cemetery (zone 8). It also continued to be used as a cemetery until the end of the Second Intermediate Period and the early New Kingdom.

Excavations

In 1891–1892, a survey of tombs at Deir el-Bersha funded by the Egypt Exploration Fund was undertaken by Percy E. Newberry, George Willoughby Fraser, Howard Carter and Marcus Worsley Blackden. They recorded ten of the Middle Kingdom tombs across two volumes. One volume is solely dedicated to the tomb of Tehuti-Hetep (Djehutyhotep), a twelfth-dynasty nomarch whose tomb is well known for its depiction of the “colossus on a sledge,” a tomb wall painting depicting the transportation of a colossal statue.

In 1897 and 1900, Georges Daressy and Ahmed Kamal excavated several tomb shafts, including several in the forecourt of the tomb of Djehutyhotep. In several of these tomb shafts, they found elaborately decorated and inscribed coffins of officials of the twelfth-dynasty and grave goods such as offerings tables and wooden models. In 1902, Kamal returned to excavate at Dayr al-Barsha with a “Mr Antonini, the owner of the sugar factory at Mallawī,” and “only one object was considered worthy of publication, an offering table made of calcite alabaster.

In 1915, Boston’s Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts, led by George Andrew Reisner’s expedition, dug at Bersha. They excavated a tomb (designated number 10A) that belonged to an early Middle Kingdom nomarch named Djehutynakht. The tomb contained an enormous collection of wooden models representing scenes of daily life and boats, along with the extraordinary painted coffins of Djehutynakht and his wife. The grave goods are now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In the 1970s, some excavations remain unpublished from the village of Dayr al-Barsha, undertaken by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization.

The current KU Leuven investigation of the site began in 1988 under Prof. Dr Harco Willems, initially with Leiden University. In 1990, the project was a joint effort of Leiden University, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the University Museum of Penn State University. In 1992, the mission was solely a Leiden University one. Between 1996 and 2001, there was a brief halt in the project, and in 2001, Willems, now at KU Leuven, obtained the grants to return to the project.

The current project aims to “provide a regional description of the region’s archaeology around Dayr al-Barsha, the southern limit being at al-Shaykh Sa’id and the northern one at Dayr Abu Hinnis.” There have been several significant finds at Dayr al-Barsha during the current investigations.

In 2007, the burial chamber of Henu, an estate manager and high-ranking official during the First Intermediate Period (2181 to 2050 BC), was found. The chamber contained a large ka-statue of the deceased and wooden tomb models representing workers making bricks, women grinding grain, a model of a boat with rowers, and complete-sized wooden sandals painted white. Henu’s mummy was wrapped in linen and placed in a large wooden coffin inscribed with offering formulae.

In 2019, archaeologists announced that the oldest copy of The Book of Two Ways had been found on the Coffin of Ankh, a woman’s early Middle Kingdom coffin. The study published in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology shows that the fragment includes Coffin Text spells 1128 and 1130, two spells found in The Book of Two Ways later examples.