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The first excavation season of the Brown University Abydos Project focused on two areas. The first was a large tomb, presumably built for a family, that dates to the Ptolemaic period (332-30 BC). The three subterranean vaults of this tomb had been found in 2004 during a season of New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. Only one of the three vaults had been opened that season, so continuing the excavation and recording of the tomb was a high priority. In the 2008-9 season we opened the southwest vault of the tomb. It was found to be highly disturbed, with no burials in their original places. Nonetheless, pieces of many large limestone coffins were recovered as well as substantial human remains and artifacts, including a small libation table, great quantities of pottery, and a leather shoe.
Left: Supervisor Gaea McGahee overseeing excavations in the southwest vault of the Ptolemaic tomb. Right: The tomb vault at the end of excavations, showing the battered remains of limestone anthropoid coffins.
In addition to this area, we opened a series of excavation units in a small, unused area inside the modern Coptic cemetery that covers part of the North Cemetery. Magnetometry survey had demonstrated the presence of a large structure with parallel walls in this area, and a test trench dug by NYU in 2002-3 showed that this was Ptolemaic in date. The nature of the building was unknown, however, and its relationship to earlier remains was also a point of interest. The 2008 season found this structure to consist of subterranean vaults; an enclosure wall ran around the area of the building. Only one vault was entered in 2008, and this via a staircase that was added some centuries after the original construction. Niches had been carved in the walls of the vault and inscriptions and simple line drawings of saints added. It was clear this represented Coptic reuse of the Ptolemaic structure, but the original use of the building remained a matter of speculation. Great quantities of linen cloth, much of it with seal impressions mixed in, suggested some function related to mummification. It was not until the 2010-11 season that we could unequivocally state that the vaulted structure was used for the burial of ibis mummies.