Conservation and investigation of an ancient human burial at Abydos, Egypt

Lucy Skinner, Corina Rogge, Islam Shaheen, and Salima Ikram


Excavations at Abydos during 2012 uncovered several graves in the sand at the base of a giant dune in the North Cemetery, including one well-furnished human burial from the Middle Kingdom (around 1800 BC) requiring urgent conservation intervention. The conservation and investigation of this burial is the focus of this article.

The first phase of the project took place in 2012 and combined field conservation, block-lifting the body within the remains of the coffin, and transfer of the “block” to the on-site magazine at Abydos. Thanks to a grant from the American Research Center in Egypt, a small team returned to Abydos for five weeks in 2015 and three weeks in 2016 to complete the treatment, analysis, and investigation of this and other bio-archaeology remains. Careful planning was essential throughout the project to ensure that we had sufficient materials (both imported and sourced locally in Egypt) and suitable personnel in the field to carry out conservation treatment and investigation of the burial. Analytical equipment, including a Bruker portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometer and an Agilent portable Fourier transform infrared spectrometer, were imported to enable scientific analysis and materials investigation in the field. The project was ambitious in its aims, striving to demonstrate that rigorous and high-quality research is possible in a challenging environment (regarding both logistics and resources) through the application of determination and ingenuity.

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