Epigraphic Work at Asyut


Sameh Shafik


History of the epigraphic work at Asyut

A number of expeditions have worked in the last three centuries in the cemetery west of Asyut, spending many years of fieldwork but finding great difficulties mostly due to the conditions of the scenes and inscriptions in the tombs of this cemetery. Examples of such expeditions are:

The French expedition in 1799

Hay                      in 1830

Griffith                in 1889

Montet                           in 1991

The present Asyut project in 2005

The difficult conditions of work are the result of:

  1. a) The tombs of the western mountain at Asyut have been cut in an area with poor limestone formation full of cracks and fissures. Evidence suggests that ancient Egyptians have dealt with the problem by using a layer of plaster with varying thicknesses from one place to another. This layer has also collapsed in some spots.


  1. b) The wall surface is not straight with lots of irregularities both inwards and outwards
  1. c) Many travellers and visitors to the site have left graffiti, prayers and dates on the walls.
  1. d) Where the limestone was of good quality, it was subjected to quarrying, frequently using dynamite which resulted in the loss of a great deal of scenes and inscriptions.
  1. e) The wall surfaces have suffered greatly from excrements of bats and birds, soot and dust, resulting in the disappearance of many scenes.
  1. f) The many additions, alterations and modifications of the recorded information, whether in the same era or at a later period create great difficulty in establishing a coherent record. Examples to that may be seen in the tomb of Iti-Ibi No.3.
  1. g) The large size of the tombs and the decorated wall surfaces as well as the height of the walls represents a considerable difficulty. The average height of the walls in the tombs of Djefai-hapy is approximately 11 meters.
  1. h) Most of the entrances to these tombs and their facades are damaged, and as they all face east the sunlight hits the wall surfaces directly causing difficulty in controlling the direction of the light for any recording or photography.

The technique used

The decision to use a specific technique in recording certainly depends on the circumstances and the conditions of the project. In the past scholars used a bleaching technique in which they took a photograph, drew with a special ink over the outline then put the photograph in a liquid which removes the photographic material leaving the inked outline. Others rubbed the scenes with carbon paper over tracing paper then inking it, others copied directly on tracing paper etc. Nowadays there is a preference for using digital epigraphy and we will come to that later.

From the beginning it was clear to us that before any work could be done the wall surfaces had to be cleaned and conserved. This was done by the Egyptian conservation team, who should be commended for the excellent results. They started with mechanical cleaning, then chemical treatment for removing soot and dust and finally the conservation of the scenes by strengthening the colours and the treatment of natural cracks and human vandalism.

As some of the scenes and inscriptions were at a considerable height, we had to use a very high scaffolding for both conservation and recording.

Two methods were used in recording:

  • Drawing from photographs. This was used in difficult or dangerous areas such as ceilings and fragile areas.
  • Recording on transparent plastic sheets, which were fixed to undecorated spots on the surface. Scenes and inscriptions were copied using special gentle felt pens and with the help of cool lamps, which we were able to move at different angles to obtain a full record of a faded scene or multiple texts recorded on top of each other.
  • The drawings on plastic were reduced photographically, and then inked on calque paper.

For full text, see:

Sameh Shafik, "Epigraphic Work at Asyut", in: Seven Seasons at Asyut: First Results of the Egyptian-German Cooperation in Archaeological Fieldwork, The Asyut Project 2, Edited by Jochem Kahl, Ursula Verhoeven and Mahmoud El-Khadragy, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2012, pp. 59-68.