Hello! I am Dr. Lisa Saladino Haney, Assistant Curator at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and resident Egyptologist. An Egyptologist is someone who studies the history, material culture, architecture, religion, and writing of the ancient Egyptians – one of the ancient cultural groups living in Africa’s Nile Valley. Learning about ancient cultures helps us to better understand the world today and to appreciate the creativity and ingenuity of people who lived thousands of years ago. Archaeology is one technique that allows us to interact with and study the past and there are hundreds of archaeological sites and projects throughout the Nile Valley that constantly add to our understanding of what life was like.
Trying to determine some of my favorite archaeological sites from my travels in Egypt turned out to be an impossible task! Please join me on this photo exploration of a few of the many interesting archaeological sites in Egypt and learn where you can find more information about active archaeological excavations and other projects going on in those areas.
Saqqara is an important cemetery site associated with the ancient Egyptian capital city of Memphis, near modern Cairo. The cemeteries at Saqqara contain a number of tombs, both royal and private, including the famous Step Pyramid of the Third Dynasty Egyptian king, Djoser (ca. 2630-2611 BCE). The earliest burials at the site date to the creation of the ancient Egyptian state and it remained an important site through the Graeco-Roman Period.
Royal Tombs: The Step Pyramid of Djoser
The Step Pyramid of Djoser marks an important step in the development of the pyramid-shaped royal tomb. The complex was designed by the famous royal architect Imhotep, who would later become deified in ancient Egypt. You can see a bronze statue of Imhotep in Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt. A 14-year long restoration project at the site was just completed in 2020 which included strengthening the overall integrity of the structure by filling in gaps in its six rectangular mastabas as well work on the interior burial chamber and passages of the pyramid.
Check out some pictures from my visit to the Step Pyramid in 2011, early on in the restoration process, or, for a gallery of photos and more on the newly completed restoration, click here.
Old Kingdom Mastabas: Tombs of Kagemni and Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep
The Old Kingdom (ca. 2649-2150 BCE) mastabas at Saqqara are some of the most beautifully preserved and decorated tombs. Here are two of my favorites from my last visit. The tomb of Kagemni is the largest mastaba in the cemetery associated with the reign of the Sixth Dynasty king Teti (ca. 2323-2150 BCE). Kagemni was a Vizier, the highest position in the royal administration.
The tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhoptep, also known as the tomb of the two brothers, dates to the late Fifth Dynasty and contains a number of exceptional scenes that underscore the closeness of the two men, both of whom served as overseers of the royal manicurists. Archaeologists uncovered a number of blocks from the tomb’s entrance repurposed in the nearby causeway of the pyramid complex of the late Fifth Dynasty king Unas (ca. 2353-2323 BCE). Thanks to the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, you can now go on a virtual tour of the tomb!
Beni Hasan is a cemetery site located in Middle Egypt, near the modern city of Minya, that was important during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030-1640 BCE). During that time some of the most elite Egyptians were buried on the escarpment (desert cliff) with one of the most beautiful views of Nile Valley around! For more on excavations at Beni Hasan in the early 1900s visit the Griffith Institute and for a virtual tour of the tomb of Kheti at Beni Hasan visit the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
Karnak temple complex is one of the largest religious sites in the world. The first temple at the site was built during the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030-1640 BCE) and the complex grew in size and complexity over time. The main temple at Karnak is dedicated to the Egyptian god Amun-Re, but there are smaller temples dedicated to Mut, Khonsu, and others. See if you can spot the snoozing pups in the pics below!
There are a number of ongoing excavations at Karnak that you can explore to learn more about the site. Check out this amazing minicourse on the Karnak Mut Precinct available on YouTube with Dr. Betsy Bryan, Alexander Badawy Chair of Egyptian Art and Archaeology and Director of Johns Hopkins’ excavations at the Mut Precinct.
Lisa Saladino Haney is Postdoctoral Assistant Curator of Egypt on the Nile at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.