Deir el-Medina Stelae and Other Inscribed Objects in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Deir el-Medina Stelae and Other Inscribed Objects in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Reading June 08. 2020

Project description

Beginning in 2001, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) in Madrid carried out a study of the stelae from Deir el-Medina collected at the Egyptian Museum of Cairo. The project was directed by Dr. José M. Galán in collaboration with the late Aadel Mahmoud, the then-curator of the Egyptian Museum. The project aimed at cataloguing some of the Deir el-Medina inscriptions in the museum and resulted in the publication “Deir el-Medina Stelae and Other Inscribed Objects. By José M. Galán and Gema Menéndez. Supreme Council of Antiquities Press, 2018”.

Decorative program 

The catalogue of the Deir el-Medina corpus comprises 66 objects, including stelae, offering tables, libation basins, architectural pieces (lintels, jambs, fragments of wall), etc. The catalogue does not include the so-called ‘ancestor stelae’ since they have already been published by Rob Demarée in 1983.[1]

“The objects reached the Egyptian Museum in Cairo at various times, from different areas of Western Thebes. CG 35051 came from Victor Loret’s works in KV 37 in 1898/99, and CG 35002 from Theodore Davis and Edward Ayrton’s excavations in the Valley of the Kings in 1905/06. Twenty-eight of the objects came from Émile Baraize’s work inside the Ptolemaic temple enclosure for the Service des Antiquités in 1912; twenty-nine from Bernard Bruyère’s campaigns for the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale between 1922 and 1952; and eleven more pieces of unknown provenance, but known to belong to the people of Deir el-Medina, were gathered by the Service des Antiquités under different circumstances and taken to the Egyptian Museum.”

“The stelae form the core of the present corpus, not only because they are the most numerous but also due to the information they convey on familial and professional ties among the workmen and their expressions of personal piety. There are forty-two limestone stelae or stelae fragments of different sizes, decorated in relief and painted, which illustrate a period of almost five hundred years, from the late 18th to the 20th Dynasty.”

“The ensemble constitutes a significant documentary corpus for the study of the individuals and their social relationships within the community of workmen and their expressions of personal piety.”

“The beneficiaries of these small monuments portray themselves and their relatives raising their hands in adoration, either standing or with one knee on the ground. Women kneel with both legs on the ground. They request the benevolence and mercifulness of the gods, begging them to listen to their prayers, sometimes depicting large-scale ears as their supplication ‘listen!’.”

Documentation method

“The objects were kept in different storerooms within the Egyptian Museum, according to type and preliminary dating. Thus, our first task was to identify and locate any inscribed stone originating from Deir el-Medina by consulting the Journal d'Entrée, the Temporary Register and the Special Register. New measurements of all the pieces were then taken, along with notes on their manufacture, epigraphy and current state of preservation. Ahmed Amin, the official photographer of the museum, took a set of photos of every piece in 2006, 2008 and 2009.”

“The epigraphic drawings of the pieces were made by Gema Mnéndez using Adobe Illustrator. While the relief, either raised or sunk, has been outlined, the painting is indicated in grey (and not outlined) only when considered to add information on some aspect of the piece. Different shades within a grey scale indicate different colours. It should be noted that occasionally the painting applied on the relief was used to correct the outline of the carving, and in those cases the two do not precisely overlap.”

Visual example(s)

CG 35004 (JE 43564; SR 4/13563)

CG 35005 (JE 43565; SR 4/13557)

CG 35036 (TR 21.8.15.5; SR 4/14105)

35044 (JE 72007; SR 4/13902)

CG 35046 (JE 72010; SR 3/9993)

35055 (JE 43692; SR 3/10059)

What we like

  • The reliefs are mostly presented with single-weight outlines; depth of carving is indicated by different grayscale shades, light gray implying shallower carving. In some cases, however, the traditional sun and shadow conventions are used.
  • On painted surfaces, colors are indicated by solid grayscale fill. Figures and hieroglyphs are outlined with black paint.
  • Damaged areas are indicated with a light gray dotted pattern, which fits unobtrusively into the decoration program.
  • Solid grayscale fill of various thickness suggests depth in case of the offering tables and sometimes other objects, such as pillars, columns etc. 

Additional reading

This article is based on the publications Deir el-Medina Stelae and Other Inscribed Objects by José M. Galán and Gema Menéndez, Supreme Council of Antiquities Press, 2018, which you can download through academia.edu.

Also see “A Selection of Wall Fragments from Deir el-Medina’s Tombs in Cairo Museum” by Gema Menéndez in J. Toivari-Viitala – T. Vartiainen – S. Uvanto (eds.), Deir el-Medina Studies. Helsinki. June 24-26, 2009. Proceedings, (The Finish Egyptological Society-Occasional Papers 2), Helsinki, 2014, 136-143, downloadable here


[1] Demarée, Robert J.: The Ax iqr n ra-stelae: On Ancestor Worship in Ancient Egypt. EGU 3 (Leiden, 1983).

Précis and commentary by Júlia Schmied

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