Research projects conducted by the department of Egyptology.

MastaBase 2.0

The Leiden Mastaba Project was initiated to develop a coherent database of iconographic programmes in Old Kingdom elite tombs from the Memphite area (c. 2600-2150 BCE). The project was directed by dr. René van Walsem and partially financed by NWO and LUF/Gratama. Hans van den Berg and drs. Marije Vugts played a vital role in its development. In 2008, the database was released on CD-ROM.

In 2014, the Leiden Mastaba Study Group was formed to work on an enhanced and updated version of the database. Currently a new online open access database is being prepared, to be consulted free of charge by researchers, students and interested people around the world.

Project website:

Identity marks at Deir el-Medina

Deir el-Medina is famous for the large number of written records that were found there. They were composed by its ancient inhabitants, the workmen and artisans employed in the construction of the royal tombs of the Theban necropolis during the New Kingdom. The rate of literacy among these workmen is assumed to have been much higher than elsewhere in ancient Egypt. A system of marks was used in addition to writing. There are ownership marks on ceramic vessels (pot marks), a practice well known from other times and places in Ancient Egypt. Interestingly, signs were also used as identity marks applied in graffiti in the Theban mountains, and in the daily administration found on ostraca.

In May 2011, the research project Symbolizing Identity. Identity marks and their relation to writing in New Kingdom Egypt started in order to study the corpus of the Theban marks ostraca: several hundred pottery and stone fragments inscribed with marks representing the royal necropolis workmen of the New Kingdom. Its aims will be to explain the shapes and nature of the marks themselves, and their affinity with writing, and to assess precisely how the marks were used in the workmen’s community – in addition to writing.

Read more about this project


From 1975 to 1998 the joint mission of the National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) and the Egypt Exploration Society (EES, London) have excavated over 10 (elite) tombs in the New Kingdom necropolis south of the pyramid of Unas (ca. 2350 B.C.), dating from the time of Tutankhamun to the early Ramesside period (dynasties 18-19). Since 1999, the role of the EES has been taken over by the department of Egyptology of Leiden University.

Apart from the original aim to find background information on tomb fragments and statues in the RMO, the abundance of the data makes it possible to formulate penetrating research questions on the underlying conceptualisation of the necropolis (e.g. patterns of spatial/chronological distribution, of offering cults, of access and communication, of architectural and iconographic design, of social status, of demography and of reuse in later periods), revealing the dynamics in various subsystems of the Egyptian culture. The project has a website and a supporting society, the Friends of Saqqara.

In 2007, the tomb of Ptahemwia, dating from the time of king Akhenaten, was found.

For more information:

Deir Abou Hinnis

The hills east of the village of Abu Hinnis in Middle Egypt were especially used as stone quarries in Egypt's New Kingdom. In these quarries later lived monks who adapted the often giant spaces to their needs. There is a church attested with a baptise chapel and cycles of 6th-8th century wall paintings. Both in the church and hermitages dozens of inscriptions were found. These paintings and inscriptions, which are largely unpublished, are of great importance for the iconological research of cycles of scenes from the childhood of Christ and John the Baptist.

This project is being conducted by mrs. dr. G. van Loon.

Deir el-Malâk (Naqlûn), Fayum

From 1986 onwards, a mission of the Polish Centre for Mediterranean Archaeology, directed by Prof. W. Godlewski (Warsaw University), is excavating on the site of an ancient monastery dedicated to the Archangel Gabriel. The rich Coptic textual material that is found includes documentary, magical and literary texts, as well as inscriptions, dating from the sixth through the twelfth century. Prof.dr. J. van der Vliet is responsible for the study and publication of these finds. Parts of this research project are carried out by Leiden Ph.D.-students Clara ten Hacken (edition of the hagiographic sources about Saint Aûr, the legendary founder of the monastery) and Joost Hagen (forthcoming edition of a complete codex of the Sahidic Gospel of Saint John, found during the 2002 season).

The Dakhleh Oasis

Research is carried out into the decoration and ritual aspects of the temples in this large oasis as part of the international Dakhleh Oasis Project. The temples currently under investigation include the temple of Amon-Re at Deir el-Hagar, the temple of Thoth at Amheida (website), the temple of Seth at Mut el-Kharab, the temple of Tutu at Kellis/Ismant el-Kharab and the temple of Amun-nakht at Ain Birbiyeh. Their epigraphic study and publication is in the hands of Prof. dr. O.E. Kaper.

Deir el-Medina Database

The village of artisans working at the royal cemeteries of New Kingdom Thebes has left a substantial amount of written material. A database has been compiled by members of the department, giving public access to this material together with an expert assessment of its contents.

Various aspects of the history and archaeology of the artisan's community are the subject of an ongoing Deir el-Medina seminar, as well as the publication of monographs and articles by Leiden Egyptologists. The hieroglyphic palaeography of Deir el-Medina tombs is studied in close cooperation with the Institut Francais d'Archéologie Orientale in Cairo. Staff responsible for Leiden-based research related to the site are Dr. R.J. Demarée and Dr. B.J.J. Haring.

Last Modified: 09-12-2015