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International Conference
Origin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt

(Cracow, Poland: 28th August - 1st September 2002)
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The Funerary Objects from the Early Dynastic Royal Tombs at Abydos
in the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels


Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels (Belgium)



In the Egyptian collection of the Royal Museums of Art and History (RMAH) in Brussels is preserved an enormous amount of objects from the royal tombs of the first and second dynasties at Umm el-Qaab (Abydos, Upper Egypt). These artefacts consist in the first place of an outrageous mass of fragmentary stone vessels, estimated at more than 50.000 individual fragments. Furthermore there are about 400 fragments of decorative stone vessels and 510 objects belonging to other categories (pottery vessels, bone and ivory objects, flint artefacts, seals, seal impressions …). An important number of these bear hieroglyphic inscriptions. Indubitably, we are dealing here with the largest collection of archaeological material from these tombs outside Egypt.

These objects have reached the museum in Brussels in several ways. A number of remarkable pieces was bought in 1904 in Paris when the collection of Emile Amélineau (who excavated the royal tombs in 1895-1898) was sold by auction. Another series of objects originates from the excavations which W.M.F. Petrie carried out in 1899-1901 on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Fund. The RMAH subscribed to this undertaking as Petrie was used to present important collections of objects to the institutions who supported him financially. The museum apparently received a much greater share than it would have been entitled to considering the money invested in the Egypt Exploration Society. This is probably due to the excellent relationship between Petrie and Jean Capart, in those days keeper of the Egyptian section of the RMAH.

Although excavated a hundred years ago, the material in Brussels has never been adequately studied. Because of the renewed interest in this type of material displayed by several museums with collections of the same provenance en because of the currently undertaken re-excavation of the site by the German Archaeological Institute, conditions for such a research project were considered particularly favourable.


The main objective of this project is the complete recording and analysis of the objects from the royal tombs preserved in de RMAH. This should result in a published catalogue.

The study of the funerary equipment will not only allow more insight in the original contents of the royal tombs, but also in the chronological development of particular types of objects throughout the Early Dynastic Period. For several types of objects, information will be obtained regarding their function and fabrication. This is especially the case for the stone vessels, the manufacturing of which is still largely unknown. Because of its sheer quantity, the material preserved in Brussels certainly allows for a new and much more rigorous approach of these technological aspects.




Concerning the stone vessel fragments, the pieces will be sorted according to the type of stone and characteristic shape elements. The next step will be looking for matching pieces and reconstructing as many complete vessel profiles as possible. This will allow the development of a typological system and the identification of the minimal number of vessels represented.

The complete vessel profiles, the small objects and the decorative stone vessels will be catalogued in a computerized data bank. In order to assure a complete documentation, drawings and technical descriptions will be included for each object. The larger majority will also be documented photographically.

The final goal of this research project will consist of the global treatment of al information gained. Relevant data regarding objects from the Abydos royal tombs in other museum collections and from the German excavations at Umm el-Qaab will be included in this study and compared with the results obtained on the Brussels material.



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