The South Asasif Conservation  Project team has just opened its eleventh season in the South Asasif tombs of Karakhamun (TT223), Karabasken (TT391), and Irtieru (TT390). We will be working until September and are looking forward to a productive season. Watch this page for weekly updates from team members, along with images and video clips of the work.


Celluloid Mummies, Presented by Katherine Blakeney

Happy Halloween to our mission members, sponsors and friends! The South Asasif conservation Project is preparing for 2018 and looking forward to a great season. Meanwhile, we’re in the mood to have some fun and celebrate with our own Katherine Blakeney, who is preparing to launch her new blog, Stardigger’s Treasure Trove.

Check out the teaser post “Mummy Love: Cleopatra as Cinema’s First Mummy” below:


Mummy Love: Cleopatra as Cinema’s First Mummy

by Katherine Blakeney


Halloween is my favorite day of the year and I spend most of October preparing to celebrate this glorious day of darkness, monstrousness and decay. Hoping to scare my friends into the holiday mood I planned to make this post as bloodcurdling as I possibly could. And what better way to scare an archaeology lover than with a thoroughly terrifying mummy?


A daring archaeologist dares disturb the tranquility of an ancient Egyptian mummy in Georges Méliès’s 1900 short Infortunes d’un explorateur.

So far so good. Now, to choose the right one. The phantom of Boris Karloff comes to mind at once, but I suspect he is all too familiar to you already. To scare you properly I resolved to delve into uncharted waters, into my favorite era in cinema history – silent film. Considering that the earliest known film featuring the character of an Ancient Egyptian mummy was made in 1899, I had a lot of resin-stained bandages to wade through in search of my silent horror monster.

To my great regret, all I brought back from my journey into the afterlife was a flock of mummified damsels in distress. I apologize, but it is my lamentable obligation to present you with a parade of fair Victorian maidens clad in fashionably draped bandages. I can only assume that with all the glamorous dinners in Egyptian tombs and mummy unwrapping parties held at the turn of the 20th century, mummy bandages were seen as rather alluring.


Theda Bara as Cleopatra in Cleopatra (Edwards, 1917). Not technically a mummy, but a vivid depiction of the exotically sensuous ancient Egyptian female as depicted in many films of the 1910s and 20s.

That first cinematic mummy of 1899 graced a humorous trick film called Cleopatra’s Tomb, directed by French illusionist and special effects pioneer Georges Méliès. It centers around a seductive female mummy reanimated by a prying archeologist who loses no time in falling for the “monster” he has unleashed. Perhaps a horror story in the making, but there’s no sign the film had a sequel. From this early cinematic experiment until the mid-1920s, around twenty films were made with titles containing the keyword “mummy.” I’m rather partial to Romance of the Mummy, Mummy Love and The Eyes of the Mummy. The Live Mummy and The Missing Mummy aren’t bad either. The above number includes the United States, United Kingdom and France alone, roughly translating to 2-3 mummy-themed films a year (all referring to a preserved ancient body rather than a maternal parent). Many of these films are unfortunately lost and we have no way of knowing how many more were burned in studio backlots to make way for newer and more fashionable films. Incidentally, burnt celluloid was once widely used by conservators of Egyptian art as a solidifying protective varnish. I suppose we know what really happened to all those unwanted mummy movies. How’s that for a horror story?

But what about lumbering revenants slinking out of sarcophagi in the night, muttering ancient curses under their breaths as their embalmed fingers crush the tracheas of solid modern citizens? Ask Boris Karloff.

Karloff Mummy

Boris Karloff in Universal Studios’ The Mummy (Freund, 1932)

The familiar image of the vindictive monster-mummy as seen in the popular The Mummy franchise (1999-2008), didn’t come into its own until Karloff’s Imhotep in the 1932 horror classic The Mummy. Most of the mummies of the Silent Era, as seen in films such as 1911’s The Mummy or the 1918 German film Die Augen der Mumie Ma (Eyes of the Mummy Ma), are not vengeful killers, but rather exotic ingénues in search of rescue at the hands of a strong and silent archaeologist. These films have little or no connection to the horror genre as we know it today, traversing the spectrum from comedy to romance. A lighthearted approach to a macabre subject and a reflection of contemporaneous perceptions of archaeological finds and archaeologists themselves.

Even an ominously titled film like 1903’s The Monster (another Méliès short), is really a farcical love story about an Egyptian prince who resorts to dark magic to resurrect his mummified lover. (I encourage you to consider the results by clicking the link included at the end of this post before you attempt this at home.)

the monster 1903

Le Monstre (Méliès, 1903)

Overall, the resurrected mummy of the early 1900s and 1910s brings to mind Théophile Gautier’s 1840 short story, “The Mummy’s Foot” rather than the costume rack at your local pharmacy. Gautier’s mummy, who comes to collect her stolen foot from a Parisian antiques collector, is not a psychopathic priest but a beautiful princess. She uses charm and bargaining skills rather than violence to achieve her aim, bartering her mummified foot for a statuette. The story is humorous, but it also presents the mummy as mysterious, desirable and ultimately benevolent. Thanhouser Company Films’ The Mummy (1911) also centers around a mummified Egyptian princess stranded in the midst of modern society. Revived by an electric current, she instantly forms romantic designs on a young Egyptologist – greatly vexing his fiancee. There are no ancient curses here, and the story ends not with a battle but with a wedding as the amorous princess finds a widowed professor to marry – a fortunate solution for all involved.

The Mummy Thanhouser 1911

The Mummy (Thanhouser, 1911)

Eyes of the Mummy Ma (Lubitsch, 1918) injects additional drama into the ubiquitous tale of the undead singleton. This entry features a villainous Egyptian hypnotist (Emil Jannings) forcing a living maiden (Pola Negri) to impersonate the eponymous mummy. In a not-so-shocking twist she is rescued by a heroic European painter who brings her home with him to be his muse. The film celebrates her exotic allure while at the same time hinting that she’s far better off in the care of civilized Europeans. It’s all very well being a rescued mummy, as long as you don’t get your bandages caught in the teapot while entertaining guests.

Eyes of the Mummy Ma

Poster for the 1918 German film Die Augen der Mumie Ma (English language The Eyes of the Mummy or The Eyes of the Mummy Ma), featuring the seductive mummy of the title.

This post hasn’t gone at all the way I envisioned. Instead of making you scream and run, my ferocious cinematic mummies pine for your love and attention, painting lovely watercolors as they wait for the right archaeologist to come along. Perhaps this is a terrifying prospect after all?

If you’d like to adopt a mummy this holiday season you can take your pick by exploring the links I’ve collected below, leading to preserved and restored silent films where possible or to stills from those that became conservation materials.


The Monster (Georges Méliès, 1903)
The Eyes of the Mummy Ma (Die Augen der Mumie Ma, Ernst Lubitsch, 1918)

Lost Films:
Cleopatra’s Tomb (Georges Méliès, 1899)
The Mummy (Thanhauser Films, 1911)

“The Mummy’s Foot” (1840) by Théophile Gautier

The Discovery of the Burial Chamber and Sarcophagus of the Mayor of Thebes and Forth Priest of Amun, Karabasken (TT 391) (25th Dynasty)


Photo by Katherine Blakeney

The monumental red granite sarcophagus of Karabasken discovered by the team is a unique example of a Kushite sarcophagus in an elite tomb.

The descent to the burial chamber was found in the center of the cult room, which features six niches on the north and south walls and remains of the false door on the west wall. Excavation work in this area has revealed an angled descent, 900cm long and 225cm wide, leading to a burial chamber (574cm x 354cm x 406cm). The burial chamber was filled with flood deposit up to the ceiling. Clearing of the burial chamber uncovered a monumental red granite sarcophagus occupying almost the whole space of the room.


Drawings by Katherine Blakeney


The dimensions of the sarcophagus are as follows: Height 241cm ( base 163cm, lid 77cm), Length 306cm, Width 130cm, Thickness of the base 18cm. The base of the sarcophagus is a rectangular box with a rounded head end. The lid is vaulted with a convex upper surface and an almost flat lower surface. It is decorated with a single horizontal band 27cm in width. No inscriptions were found on the exterior surface of the sarcophagus.

The base and the lid show deliberate damage in the head area and on the left side close to the foot end. This is evidence of two attempts to break into the sarcophagus. The interior of the sarcophagus was flooded after the first attempt.


Photos by Katherine Blakeney


The architectural features of the descent and the burial chamber were evidently designed to lower down and house a large sarcophagus contemporary to the original tomb. The royal features in the burial apartment and sarcophagus of Karabasken are a manifestation of the Kushite revival of past traditions and assimilation of royal and temple features in the elite tombs of this period.

image006.jpgPhoto by Katherine Blakeney

Mysteries of Irtieru

The tomb of Irtieru (TT 390) is among the most intriguing tombs of the Theban necropolis. Irtieru’s titles, Chief Attendant to the God’s Wife Nitocris and Female Scribe place her among the highest elite of her time. The wife and mother of Viziers of Upper Egypt, she did not mention the names of her husband Nespamedu (buried in Abydos) or her son Nespakashuty D (buried at Deir el Bahri) in the decoration of her tomb. Few women even among the higher-ranking elite had tombs that reflected this level of personal career orientation.


 The Entrance Gate to the tomb of Nespakashuty D (TT 312) was reconstructed by a Metropolitan Museum/ARCE mission directed by Elena Pischikova in 2004-2005

 She chose the Kushite South Asasif necropolis to construct an imposing monumental tomb with two pillared halls, a large Tornische and a spacious open court with two deep porticoes. Unfortunately the burial place of the grand lady was later re-used for rather less profound purposes.

When Elena Pischikova and Katherine Blakeney visited the tomb in the early 2000 the architectural elements were obscured by various livestock. Katherine had to chase away a rather large goose so we could photograph the false door. As she did not have experience in this kind of activity she had to rely on the friendly help of the young Said Abd El Rassul. It was the beginning of our friendship and cooperation with many members of the family.


Fifteen years later the space in front of the false door of Irtieru is occupied by the “High Steward” and “Receiver of the Offerings” of Lady Irtieru, John Billman.


John is the Head of the Registration department of the Project who receives and registers all the finds at the site during our five-month seasons. Most of the “offerings” come from the archaeological team of Marion Brew and Leslie O’Connor, who has been doing an amazing job at the site for many weeks since our opening in May.


 Among John’s favourite kinds of finds are shabtis. This year he is blessed by the tomb owners of the South Asasif necropolis with a large number of shabti fragments.


Here John is sorting the fragments looking for joins and identifying different sets. Besides endless registration challenges John also carries the burden of being the President of the South Asasif Trust. We are extremely grateful to John, our trustees Annie Howard, Francesca Jones and Marion Brew and everyone who donated to the Trust for their support of the Project.

An important place in Irtieru belongs to our Inspector Shereen Ahmed Shawky who is sharing with us her experience in physical anthropology.


 The tomb of Irtieru is slowly changing, revealing its original beauty. The cleaning and reconstruction process is significantly aided by Lepsius’s records of the tomb.


LD III, pl. 272

Ahmed Ali Hussein, General Director of the Conservation Department of Upper Egypt and Chief Conservator of the Project spent weeks in 2007 removing a thick layer of mud from the lintel of the entrance to the Second Pillared Hall using nineteenth century records as a guide.


 Among the most elegant architectural features of the tomb are two half-columns with palm capitals. Their three palm fronds are bound with several circles of rope with a loop in the middle. Their elongated proportions and delicate details make them a distinct addition to the decorative doorframe of the Tornische. This area was cleaned in the earlier years of the Project.


The porticoes of the court, vestibule and entrance staircase remain a mystery, still hidden under the remains of modern houses. The team of the Project is planning to clear and restore these areas in future seasons.

Cats of Karakhamun and Other Updates

The 2016 season of the South Asasif Conservation Project is in full swing and our mission members are making amazing discoveries every day. Most of the recent discoveries were made while working with small fragments of Karakhamun’s relief decoration. The more we understand the tomb the more we see incredible details that were overlooked before.

Annie Howard and Francesca Jones were very happy to join a few fragments and bring back to life a couple of beautiful cats.

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Unfortunately Karakhamun cannot consider these cats his personal possession as he does with his favourite dogs. “That male cat is Ra himself, called Cat (miw)” from the text of BD 17 on the south wall of the First Pillared Hall in the tomb of Karakhamun.


We cannot cease to be amazed by the beauty of the animal images in the tomb even if they are small-scale determinatives. The BD 17 team achieved considerable results this season. The work is supervised by Miguel Molinero Polo.

Ken Griffin and Mohamed Shebib are having a great time (and great results) identifying numerous fragments of the BD vignettes for the pillars of the Second Pillared Hall. One of their latest achievements is an almost complete reconstruction of the vignette for BD 75 with Karakhamun standing before the pillar of Heliopolis.


This reconstruction puts into context another image of Karakhamun and brings closer the time when the whole gallery of his images might be studied not only in terms of their style and iconography but also their distribution within the spaces of the tomb.


The vignette and the texts of BD 74 and 75 will shortly be reconstructed on the south side of South Pillar 3.

Katherine Blakeney is deep in calculations of the height of the partially preserved figure of a sm-priest on the lintel of the entrance to the Second Pillared Hall.


Its dimensions are one of the clues to the height of the doorway. The front and back doorframes of the entrance were found in hundreds of small fragments and we are going through the agony of calculating the relationship between its architectural elements. One of the most beautiful elements of the front doorframe is a pair of single-stemmed semi-columns with a bell-shaped open capital.


We are planning to finish the reconstruction of this entrance for the inauguration of the completed Second Pillared Hall during the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the South Asasif Conservation Project in September.

We are grateful to our neighbour Miguel Molinero Polo for sharing drawings of parallel architectural features from TT 209. Our team was happy to have a chance to visit Miguel’s project and admire the discoveries of the TT 209 team.


We are happy to welcome our wonderful sponsors and team members to the site.


Darren McKnight presented the happy conservation team with new tools, t-shirts and hats.


Our Seer Anthony Browder is sharing with us his wisdom and vision and provides incredible support to the Project. Thank you!


The South Asasif Conservation Project in May 2016

We were happy to return to the site in May and reunite with our Egyptian team members for the 2016 season. We are very grateful to the Ministry of Antiquities and our sponsors and supporters for making this season possible.

Most of the conservation work this season will be concentrated in the Second Pillared Hall of the tomb of Karakhamun (TT 223). Our great conservation team started the season with reinforcing the south-west pillar and preparing it for the reconstruction.


Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali, Ali Hassan Ibrahim, El Tayib Hassan Ibrahim, Mohamed El Azeb Hakim, Hassan El Dimerdash, Sayid Ali Hassan , El Tayib Sayid, Mohamed Badawy around the pillar.


The stone cutters and builders are continuing the reconstruction of the northern architrave. The western section of the architrave and cavetto cornice were assembled on the floor.


The stone cutters prepared a block of new limestone that will rest on the western pillar and pilaster. The block arrived in the Second Pillared Hall via our wooden railroad, which starts in the open court.


It was lifted with the help of two winches and a team of “stone people” as they are called at the site: Ahmed Badawy, Ahmed Mustafa, Mahmoud Gamal, Mohamed Hassan , Hassan Mustafa, Moamen Ahmed, El Tayib Hassan.


This team of “stone people” has been working with the Project for many years and this year they have become a dynasty. One of the most skillful builders on the team has brought his young son to work with us. Here are the first portraits for the growing family tree of Ahmed Mustafa and Mustafa Ahmed.



Our international team members were happy to resume their activities as well. Marion Brew is joined by Lesley O’Connor in the continuing work in the tomb of Karabasken. Clearing of the open court of the tomb was completed in May and the field team moved to the pillared hall. They are enjoying their new office in the court.


John Billman is performing the magic of registration in his sanctuary.


Katherine Blakeney is in search of the most dynamic angles to record the activities of the conservators.


Today was a very special day at the site. We wished our Egyptian team members Happy Ramadan and handed out Ramadan presents.


Abdelrazk and Katherine are packing gift boxes


Team members are handing the gift boxes to the workmen



We thank the South Asasif Trust and Marion Brew for sponsoring this event.

Happy Holidays From the South Asasif Conservation Project!

Dear Team Members, Friends, and Supporters of the South Asasif Conservation Project,

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for 2016! Next year we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary. We are looking forward to seeing you at the site and at our second Thebes in the First Millennium BC Conference.

Thank you for giving Karakhamun a hand and keeping him immortal!


Discovery of Padibastet


Excavation of the open court of the Mayor of Thebes and Fourth Priest of Amun, Karabasken (TT 391) started in 2013. Three years of work in the court yielded a large amount of exciting discoveries. One of the most important ones was the discovery of the lost High Steward of the God’s Wife, Padibastet. Padibastet re-inscribed the entrance doorframe and vestibule of the tomb of Karabasken. In addition his stela was carved on the west wall of the sun court of the tomb. The research of our team member Dr. Erhart Graefe identified this previously unknown High Steward as the grandson of Pabasa A bearer of the same titles and owner of TT 279 in North Asasif. Most of the owners of the beautiful monumental tombs of the North Asasif bore the same title. Yet Padibastet reused a Kushite tomb in a different necropolis. It must be evidence of his very short time in office.

Four beautifully carved images of Padibastet and a collection of his texts at the entrance area and the court of the tomb of Karabasken allow to assume that he was buried in this tomb. We now have two high officials of the 25th and 26th Dynasties sharing the same tomb. Future field research will yield more information on their burials. We are looking forward to an exciting 2016 season!

The announcement of the discovery was recently made by the Ministry of State for Antiquities. Graefe’s paper on Padibastet will appear in the 2nd volume of our AUC series Tombs of the South Asasif Necropolis.


Erhart Graefe is placing a fragment on the doorframe of Padibastet.


MSA conservator Taib Hassan Ibrahim is reconstructing decoration on the south side of the vestibule. The vestibule is not a room but rather a corridor with a short staircase starting in the middle. The architect of the team Dieter Eigner suggested calling it a “staircase vestibule” as an early version of a Kushite vestibule transformed into a room in the tomb of Karakhamun. According to Eigner’s opinion all the architectural features of the entrance to the tomb were carved for Karabasken and later reused by Padibastet.

July in South Asasif Part II

This season our main conservation efforts are concentrated in the Second Pillared Hall of the tomb of Karakhamun. In July our international team of conservators, artists and researchers started recreating the doorframe on the south wall of the hall. Abdel Razk, Ali Hassen, Tayeb Hassen, Hassan Eldemerdash, Sayed Abo Gad, Anthony Browder and Katherine Blakeney are proudly presenting the first results.


Delivery of steel rods by Darren McKnight allowed us to start one of the main phases of the reconstruction process planned for the season – securing the architrave on top of the pillars of the north aisle.


Beautiful sections of a monumental architrave topped with cavetto cornice were uncovered during the 2009-2010 seasons. Numerous titles of Karakhamun and the cornice still retain their original bright colours.


After numerous preparations and measurements the first fragment was lifted today and placed on top of the second pillar.



Ken Griffin is taking in the long-anticipated moment.


The high central aisle of the court, topped with a monumental cavetto, will create a temple type processional passage to the focal point of the Second Pillared Hall and the whole tomb of Karakahamun – the statue of Osiris.

July in South Asasif Part I

Time runs very fast and we are already in August. Work in the middle of the summer is very hard but always rewarding. Today after nine hours in Karakhamun in 46 degree heat we still felt lucky to be surrounded with incredible art and people. Here are only two examples:


Builder Ahmed


Offering Bearer from the First Pillared Hall

Last month was very productive. Our team members truly enjoyed field work in the Open Court of the tomb of Karakhamun. They looked slightly disheveled but always happy.


Taylor Woodcock and Luna Zagorac from AUC featuring the latest archaeological fashions at the end of the work day.

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Suzanne Arnold and Sharon Davidson spent so many days sifting debris and sorting small finds that we even asked them for the reasons of their happy facial expressions. All we heard in response can be summarized as “the work was gratifying, rewarding, and giving a sense of accomplishment”. Sharon added that in this hot weather she would appreciate some Canada Dry. It is understandable as Sharon came from Toronto. It is Sharon’s fourth year on the Project. This year she has assumed a new role as volunteer coordinator (Thank you!)


Reconstruction work in the tomb of Karakhamun is progressing with incredible speed due to the hard work of the mission members and new power tools donated to the Project by our wonderful sponsors. News from Karkahamun will be featured in Part II of this blog entry.

Recreating Karakhamun’s Second Pillared Hall

The reconstruction of the Second Pillared Hall of the tomb of Karakhamun is one of the goals of the 2015 season. This work has already been going on for a number of years but now with our new stonecutting machine continuously cutting blocks for pillars and slabs for walls we believe in the success of this ambitious plan. The Second Pillared Hall is the least-preserved room in the tomb of Karakhamun. Used for years as a quarry it did not have much left in situ when we finished its excavation in 2010.


Thanks to our  epigraphers, builders, stonecutters  and incredible conservation team of

Abdel Razk Mohamed Ali,  Ali Hassan, Tayeb Hassan, Mohamed Shabib, Mohammad Azab Hakem, Hassan Eldemerdash, Tayeb Sayed, Mohamed  Badawi, Sayed Abo Gad, and Hussein Mohammadayn  walls and a false door rose by 2014. Thousands of fragments of the hall’s original decoration came together into a monumental puzzle.


This photograph taken at the end of the 2014 season shows the remains of the pillars on the north side. The 2015 season began with the rebuilding of the pillars.


Reconstruction of the decoration of the second pillar on the north side started from the top with BD vignettes. It is conducted by Ken Griffin and our conservation team.


This photograph shows the beginning of the installation of the BD 57 vignette on the eastern face of the pillar.


With the lower part of the figure of Hathor in a tree and streams of water offered to Kharakhamun sitting on a chair, it is almost complete.

The northern side of this pillar features a combination of two vignettes of BD 104 and BD 51. It seems that Spell 51 plays a special role in the tomb of Karakhamun as it was used four times in both halls of the tomb. As it is a “Spell for not Walking Upside Down in the Necropolis”€, Ken Griffin suggests that this was Karakhamun’s worst nightmare. This fear is completely understandable and we are happy to reconstruct the text that can prevent our tomb owner from such a misfortune.

The south wall is growing as well. We are rebuilding a section to the east of the entrance to the chapel of Karakhamun’s brother, Nesamenopet. The western section of the wall is decorated with an offering scene reconstructed in 2013-2014.Image012

The remains of the seated figure of Nesamenopet on the bottom of the wall are the only traces of the doorframe of the entrance to his chapel found in situ.


Its counterpart on the eastern doorjamb will be reconstructed this year.

This little head was fond in 2010. All these years we saw it as a head of Karakhamun from a BD vignette or a lintel. It was difficult to locate its original place because it did not have a distinctive break pattern on the back of the stone. Its back was accurately chiselled in the manner of ancient repairs. Karakhamun’s bedrock is very inconsistent even in the same layer. Patch stones were used to fill the areas of weaker stone not fit for carving.


This season the conservators were able to join this head with its body and Karakhamun lost this face to his brother Nesamenopet.


This group of fragments will shortly be installed on the newly rebuilt south wall flanking the entrance to the chapel.


Katherine Blakeney and Ali Hassan, who reconstructed the figure are tracing it on the wall to mark where all of the fragments will go.