1st Dynasty
2nd Dynasty
3rd Dynasty
Stone Vessels

Walter Bryan Emery

Walter B. Emery

Egyptologist Walter Bryan Emery was born in Liverpool on July 2, 1903. Before his career in Egyptology started he had been addressed by his parents to the Marine Engineering, where he learnt the principles of draughtsmanship which will be brilliantly exploited into the line drawings illustrations of his books plates. In 1923 he participated to the EES excavation campaign at Amarna as student assistant thanks to a recommendation by T.E. Peet.
In 1924 he was already Field Director of sir Robert Mond's Excavations at Thebes for the Liverpool University.
He made several clearings, restorations and protective operations into a score of tombs at Sheikh Abd el-Gurnah and in the following years, a 22 years old boy, he was directing four hundred men for the clearance and restoration of the wonderful tomb of the Town Governor and Visir Ramose (TT 55); few years later he also drew the fac-simile of Ramose's tomb reliefs which easied the task for Davies' publication.
In 1927-28 he worked, still for R. Mond, at Armant where he discovered the Buchis bulls catacombs: it was Emery's first animal necropolis before the long series he'll excavate at Saqqara in the last ten years of his life.
The following season he joined H. Frankfort in the excavations at Armant where Emery was accompained by his wife Molly, married in 1928. In the six following years they were together in Nubia for five campaigns of rescue of sites and monuments after the construction of the new Aswan dam. The most amazing and difficult task proved to be the research (1931) on the Tumuli of Ballana and Qustul, which it was still doubt whether they were natural formations or artificial mounds. The IV-VIth century A.D. X-Group kings who ruled Lower Nubia after the fall of Meroe had been buried beneath those mounds with their wooden chests, weapons, glass vessels, furniture, silver harnessed horses and camels, sacrificed servants and wives (The Royal Tombs of Ballana and Qustul, 1938).
The Nubian survey ended up in 1934 and in the following year his presence was requested at Saqqara where he was asked to continue the excavation of the archaic cemetery interrupted four years before on C.M. Firth's demise.
At Saqqara Emery started in 1935 from tomb FS 3035, which Firth had only partially cleared (cf. the plan in Reisner, Tomb Development); for the first time it was shown that, unlike most of the 2nd and 3rd Dynasty mastabas dug by J. E. Quibell before the war, the First Dynasty tombs contained magazines even in their superstructure: FS3035 had 45, and many still contained part of their original provisions (cf. Saqqara).
Emery estabilished with P. Lacau that, after the recording of the loose tombs which Firth had commenced to dig, "only the systematic clearance of the whole site square by square" could do justice to such an important cemetery.
More tombs excavated or re-excavated in 1937-39 were published by Emery only after the Second World war (GT I, 1949): S3036, 3111, 3038, 3120, 3121, 3338, X (also cf. GT III, 1958, 1-2).
In 1938 he had also discovered S3357, the oldest tomb known at Saqqara, which was soon published in the next year (Hor Aha, 1939); this publication opened the famous dispute between those who thought that the Early Dynastic kings were buried just in those tombs at Saqqara (the Abydos tombs being regarded as mere cenotaphs) and those who instead still shared Petrie's view maintaining that Abydos was the royal cemetery (see the page of Saqqara).
The last find/excavation before the war was S3471, which contained an incredible quantity of copper (cf. Saqqara page).
After the war, Emery found (in 1946) the mastabas S3500 and 3503; in the following 7 years the works were stopped.
For a short period Emery dedicated to the diplomatic career; then he obtained the Chair of Egyptology at University College, London in 1951 and he was appointed Field Director of the EES in 1952; in 1953 the fieldwork at Saqqara were started once again.
In this period he excavated S3503 (discovered in 1946), and found four new tombs: S3504, S3505, S3506 and S3507 (published in GT II/III, 1954, 1958). S3507 was the last mastaba of the 1st Dynasty excavated on the eastern ridge of the North Saqqara plateau; in the last 7 years of his life Emery worked on the other side of the plateau (see below).
Unfortunately the whole complex of 'minor' tombs, e.g. the smaller ones of First Dynasty date and those of the Second and Third Dynasty, which Emery had worked at during the 1933-1939 / 1945-1947 seasons, have never been published at all (see Archaic Egypt, 158-164, figs. 94-97).
From 1956 to 1964 he was in Nubia for the salvage campaigns (7 seasons) of the sites and monuments threatened by the High Dam of Aswan. It was in these years that he published two divulgative and interpretative books: Archaic Egypt (1961) and Egypt in Nubia (1965); in 1962 he published a small report on the Second Dynasty tomb 3477 in which an intact funerary repast had been found (A Funerary repast, 1962).
He was finally back to North Saqqara in October 1964; he found some Third Dynasty mastabas on the western part of the Northern plateau, where he discovered the tomb of Hetepka (published by Martin in 1979) and the Ibis galleries; in these years he began to think that there could have been a relation between these animals necropoleis and the Third Dynasty mastabas, perhaps a possible indication that the seat of the tomb of Imhotep should have been very near; in 1967 Emery was operated but forty days later he was already beginning a new work season; in 1968/9 he cleared and planned a large (m 52x19) 3rd Dynasty twin Mastaba (S3518, Djoser's reign) and the Baboons necropolis; next year the catacombs of the falcons and those of the cows, the Mothers of Apis bulls, together with large amounts of late period objects were brought to light; in 1970-71 it was the turn of a new Ibis catacomb and more nearby tombs of the Third Dynasty: S3050, S3519 (cf. Emery's reports in JEA 51-57; Martin, Smith, Jeffreys in JEA 60, 63); but in the last five years his health conditions had often been difficult and only his character strength allowed him to pursue day by day in the work which he had loved for all his life. Few days before the end of the 1970-71 season he lost consciousness after the morning work and died four days later in the night of March 11, 1971 (H.S. Smith, in: JEA 57, 1971, 190-201); Emery was the most important figure working and walking through the North Saqqara plateau in the middle of the last century, his contribute to the knowledge of the Early Dynastic period was perhaps second only to J.P. Lauer's, whose name was still more indissolubly tied to the necropolis of Saqqara; both these men shared a profound affective attachment to this site, an indefatigable will to tear the past out of the its sands and an undoubt professionality in undertaking their work and documenting it with very high standards of publication.
The EES works at North Saqqara were prosecuted for some years by G.T. Martin and H.S. Smith; in 1976, when the excavations were definitively closed, the EES declared that (apud J. D. Ray, WA 10:2, 1978, 151) the "mummified zoo" which Emery and co. had discovered amounted to 4 million mummified ibises, 500.000 hawks, 500 baboons, 20 cows, 4000 dedicatory statues, about 1000 documents in demotic and other texts in Greek, Aramaic, Coptic, Carian, Arabic and an unknown language using the Greek alphabet; not to count the terraced temples and the tombs.
But for us the most precious inheritance he's left is certainly the series of sixteen First Dynasty tombs wonderfully published in five books, twenty years of professional excavations at North Saqqara East (1936-1956), a number of articles and reports (esp. in JEA, ASAE and The Illustrated London News), the first synthesis of the Archaic Egypt culture and a clear example of full dedition to the passion of a life by one of the greatest names of Egyptology ever.

[Full Bibliography in the Saqqara page]


© Francesco Raffaele, 2002