The necropolis of Asyut as an important element of Egypt’s cultural memory

About 4,000 years ago, Asyut was an important cultural center in Middle Egypt. The ancient city with its temples, palaces, libraries, and houses later disappeared under Nile flood sediments and modern construction, which is why its sights have never become as popular as those in Thebes or Luxor. Quite the reverse: Until recently, little was known about the history of ancient Asyut, while the large city has not been highly regarded in modern Egypt.
But this picture is changing thanks to a joint German-Egyptian project that has thoroughly investigated the necropolis in the mountain of the Gebel Asyut al-gharbi in the west of the city. The project that ran for 16 years has been shedding light on the monumental royal tombs, shaft tomb complexes, diverse ceiling paintings, colorful wall decorations, endless inscriptions, and grave goods. “The finds broaden our knowledge about the history and art of a region that experienced a cultural and economic boom during the First Intermediate Period and the period of the Middle Kingdom,” said Professor Ursula Verhoeven-van Elsbergen of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). “Asyut, consequently, has a significant role to play in Egypt’s cultural memory.”
Together with Professor Jochem Kahl from Freie Universität Berlin, Verhoeven-van Elsbergen led the project in close cooperation with researchers from Sohag University in Egypt. Over 14 field seasons, the international and interdisciplinary team worked for two months each summer on the mountain complex, which was reopened for archaeological fieldwork by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities for the first time in 80 years in 2003. The first documentary record of individual graves dates from Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign in 1799. Shortly afterwards, quarrying work resulted in the collapse of tomb ceilings and entrances. Tomb robbery and archaeological excavations in the 19th and early 20th century led to the plundering of the mountain. Valuable burial objects found …
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