The earliest excavations undertaken by George A. Reisner at Giza are summarised, including a little-known area dubbed the Wadi Cemetery, to the north of the Western Cemetery plateau. This area, excavated as early as 1904 and then covered and lost under subsequent Western Cemetery clearance dumps, may hold the key to understanding the earliest chronological development of the Giza Necropolis prior to and during the early reign of Khufu. Selected inscribed objects are considered, particularly the lintel of a baker named Nebu, and comparisons to other areas of modest mud brick cemeteries at Giza and elsewhere are suggested.
Over four millennia have passed since anyone gazed upon the Giza plateau and sawonly bedrock and sand, devoid of towering pyramids and their surrounding cemeteries.
But one of the most interesting questions about Giza concerns the appearance of the site before Khufu set his artisans to work in the early Fourth Dynasty. A small step towards answering that question is attempted below, in the discussion of some of the very first systematic excavation ever undertaken at Giza.
It has been over a century since George Reisner (1867–1942) moved his earliest excavations in 1902 from Deir el-Ballas, el-Ahaiwah, Naga ed-Deir, Mesaeed, and Mesheikh, to Giza.
At that time his financial support came from Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842–1919), and the ‘Hearst Egyptian Expedition’ was based at the University of California, Berkeley. Although Reisner never taught at Berkeley, he set that institution on firm Egyptological footing. These early years at Giza, between 1902 and 1904, saw some of the first archaeologically controlled forays into the region west of the Khufu pyramid. These are the least known, and the most poorly published of all of Reisner’s Giza seasons. While photographs exist, no maps or plans have so far surfaced in the various expedition archives. A short description appears in Reisner’s History of the Giza Necropolis I (1942), and a summary article was published in 1905 in a now defunct journal called Records of the Past. But the most useful item is an unpublished report by Reisner on the 1903–4 Hearst work (excerpted in the Records of the Pastarticle), which has survived in several versions, housed in the archives of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the University of California, Berkeley (Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology and Bancroft Library).

Excavation History
Egyptian Antiquities Service Director G. Maspero informed Reisner on 20 November
1902 that his Giza excavation concession had been granted. In December 1902 the
Giza Necropolis was divided between the American, German, and Italian missions
(see above, note 1). Unable to leave Naga ed-Deir, Reisner sent Arthur Cruttenden
Mace north to Giza to search for the most promising areas to excavate. He instructed
Mace to begin preliminary excavations in the far Western Cemetery, primarily to
establish the western edge of the site (fig. 1).
Mace began to build ‘Hearst Camp’
(later to be renamed ‘Harvard Camp’) west of the Khafre pyramid on 11 March 1903
with the help of fourteen workmen from Quft. From 18 March through 19 April
1903, sixty-one workmen cleared about twenty Fifth and Sixth Dynasty mastabas
under Mace’s supervision, including a small number of intact burials, reliefs, and
inscriptions. These tombs appear as the unnumbered structures at the far western
edge of the Western Cemetery in Map 2 of Reisner’s
History of the Giza Necropolis
but Expedition photography labels them as G
1, G
2, etc, since they predate Reisner’s
four-digit tomb-numbering system.
On 6 December 1903, after spending the summer in Göttingen, Reisner arrived at
Giza to direct the excavations personally. Mace’s preliminary work had demonstrated
the impracticality of dumping his excavation debris further to the west. Consequently,
one of the first orders of business for Reisner was to establish an area to the north
of the Giza plateau for disposing of his debris dumps. Reisner’s test excavations in
north of the Western Cemetery began on 9 December 1903 (fig. 2), and
continued into September 1904.

The number of workmen increased over this period
from 90 to 151, with the average remaining around 137. It was here that Reisner
Giza Necropolis
I, 23–4.
G. A. Reisner, ‘The Work of the Hearst Egyptian Expedition of the University of California in 1903–04’,
Records of the Past
4, Part 5 (May 1905), 130–41.
G. A. Reisner, ‘The Excavations of the Hearst Egyptian Expedition of the University of California 1903–4’
(unpublished MS).
Giza Necropolis
I, 23; see also C. C. Lee,
… The Grand Piano Came by Camel: Arthur C. Mace, the
Neglected Egyptologist
(Edinburgh, 1992), 53–4.
Mace took approximately 874 Expedition photographs at Giza, of which about 130 illustrate this far western
edge of the Western Cemetery.
Records of the Past
4, 133–4.
Fig. 2. The Wadi Cemetery, north of G
2000 (= Lepsius 23), looking southwest,
after three or four days of excavation; December 1903 (G. A. Reisner, C10036).
uncovered several clues to the early history of the Giza Necropolis. He cleared an
area that measured about 40
× 30 metres and included about seventy-seven numbered
tombs (and many more that remained unnumbered or unidentified), off the edge
of the plateau, just north of the great anonymous mastaba G
2000 (= Lepsius 23).
Reisner numbered these tombs GW
1, GW
2, etc. (GW most likely standing for ‘Giza
He produced about 243 photographs, most of which he shot personally.
After one month of intensive work, he deemed a portion of the area sufficiently
examined and commenced in January 1904 with excavation of the Western Cemetery
proper, up on the plateau, just to the west of G
2000. But additional photography
from July and August 1904 indicates that work continued in the Wadi Cemetery as
well. In fact, the wooden markers with tomb numbers on them that appear in many
photographs seem to have been a later addition; most of the earlier Wadi Cemetery
photographs do not include such markers.
Reisner’s dump-heaps are still visible
Two tombs appear to have been numbered GW
1: one ‘in trial pit in path of upper dump heap’ with burial
excavated in January 1904 (the exact location of which is unknown), the other a small mud and rough stone
mastaba, apparently with burial unexcavated, that appears with wooden tomb marker numbered ‘1’ in photographs
of the eastern edge of the Wadi Cemetery.
These photographs, along with all of Reisner’s photography, diary pages, finds, and other excavation
documents, are available online for scholarly research on the Giza Archives Project website at <
>. For a summary of Reisner’s photographic philosophy and strategy, see P. Der Manuelian,
‘George Andrew Reisner on Archaeological Photography’,
29 (1992), 1–34.
See, for example, the
in situ
photograph of the niche lintel of Nebu (to be discussed below) that dates to
January 1904 (HU–MFA Expedition photograph C10066) and omits wooden tomb markers, while the same area,
this time with wooden tomb markers, is dated August 1904 (HU–MFA Expedition photograph A10942).
today, and the Wadi Cemetery has all but disappeared beneath them. As I hope to
demonstrate below, efforts would be well spent in reclearing this area in an attempt to
clarify the early history of Giza.
Since the Wadi Cemetery remains buried to this day, and since no plans or section
drawings have yet surfaced in the Hearst or Harvard–MFA Expedition archives, the
remarks below must remain of the most superficial nature; they pose more questions
than they answer, and rely perhaps too much on the speculation and reconstruction
of the original excavators. Nevertheless, I hope at least to draw attention to a hitherto
neglected chapter in Giza’s history, and invite more debate on the significance of
Reisner’s early finds. As part of the ongoing research program of the Giza Archives
Project, investigation by my colleague Diane Victoria Flores into this forgotten area
has allowed the creation of a sketch plan of the tombs, albeit without scale or accurate
relative proportions (fig. 3).
Moreover, a representative series of general views of
the cemetery has now been labelled for the first time with their tomb numbers. The
new sketch plan in fig. 3, along with the newly labelled expedition photography in figs
4–9, therefore provide the most detailed introduction to the Wadi Cemetery tombs
so far available.
Reisner began by excavating a series of test holes at 10-metre intervals, starting
with the lowest part of the
, north of G
2000 (= Lepsius 23; fig. 2). Beneath
1½ to 2 metres of sand he unearthed the tops of mud brick and undressed stone
mastabas, revealing what he called the ‘surface of decay’. A test excavation cleared
one particular mastaba, which lay on top of a still older mud brick structure beneath
it (fig. 10). This discovery necessitated the further clearance of the area to determine
the relationships of the tombs to each other, as well as to the Western Cemetery
proper up on the plateau.
The upper portions of the tombs had largely disintegrated due to exposure. By 14
January 1904, with some of the crew diverted to commencing with Cemetery G
up on the plateau, immediately to the west of G
2000 (fig. 1), Reisner began clearing
the hard-packed mud between the walls of the Wadi Cemetery tombs. He exposed
two levels of mortuary architecture. The older, lower level consisted of isolated
single-burial, mud brick or fieldstone mastabas plastered with mud and coated
with pink lime plaster, and containing two offering niches on the east side (fig. 11).
The excavation of the Wadi Cemetery seems to have been most active, to judge from the numbers of
photographs taken, during December 1903, then January, July, August, and September of 1904. A small number
of burials and finds were recovered (see below), but Reisner noted in his report that none of the burial chambers
was opened. Nevertheless, a few Late Period burials were exposed in the upper layers of the strata (see <
> for HU–MFA Expedition photograph C10004, December 1903). One Old Kingdom
contracted skeleton, at least, was excavated in tomb GW
1, in the course of sinking a trial pit in the path of the
upper dump heap (HU–MFA Expedition photographs C10015, January 1904, and C12022, 1905). And later, in
March 1905, several images display the excavation and mud brick door blocking for shaft A of GW
16, although
no burial is shown (HU–MFA Expedition photographs C10019, January 1904, and C11223, March 1905). Most
of the offering niches consist of mud brick, although at least one (apparently undecorated) limestone false door
was unearthed. This was
in situ
in tomb GW
3, at the eastern edge of the excavated area (see figs 3–4, and
HU–MFA Expedition photograph C10968, September 1904).
I would like to thank Diane Victoria Flores, Giza Archives Project research associate since 2000, for her
tireless efforts to reconstruct the photographic history of the Wadi Cemetery. Thanks to her, the many tombs
in this area have now been accurately identified in the expedition photography. She has also corrected numerous
mistakes in the original data, and improved the quality of the information on the collection housed in the Hearst
Museum, Berkeley. The sketch plan in fig. 3 is based on her research.

In some cases, a low wall delineated a courtyard east of the offering niches. The
upper, later level on top of these tombs showed larger mastabas of a similar type, but
with a compound southern offering niche, as well as tombs with multiple burials or
mastabas huddled together as part of family complexes (fig. 12).
Covering the surface of both the older and later mastabas were several ancient
dump heaps that originated up the cliff face towards mastaba G
2000 (fig. 6). For our
purposes, this may be the most important feature of the Wadi Cemetery excavations.
If these dump heaps are correctly interpreted, the conclusion to be drawn is that
they represent earth removed from the Western Cemetery plateau prior to or during
the early reign of Khufu in order to begin construction of the great mastaba G
Mastaba G
2000, the largest private sepulchre in the entire necropolis, is usually
ascribed to an anonymous son of Khufu.
Concerning the ancient dump heaps, Reisner noted three strata: clean disturbed
sand above, then decayed mud brick or plaster and limestone chips, and finally a
Some images seem to indicate narrow or blocked access to cult foci, suggesting alterations to the cemetery
within the same building level; see for example GW
7 blocking GW
11, HU–MFA Expedition photograph C10973
(September 1904).
Giza Necropolis
I, 68, 81, 414–16, pls 25–6, places the tomb between the end of Khufu’s reign
and the early years of Khafre (ignoring the reign of Djedefre), but see more recently P. Jánosi,
Giza in der 4.
Dynastie: Die Baugeschichte und Belegung einer Nekropole des Alten Reiches
, I:
Die Mastabas der Kernfriedhöfe und
die Felsgräber
= UZK 24; Vienna, 2005), 123, 146–9, who ascribes the mastaba firmly to Khufu.
Fig. 12. Larger, later Wadi Cemetery mastabas of later type built on a level with the tops of the earlier type
(indicated by metre stick in middle ground right): GW
22 and GW
20 (foreground centre, GW
20 south of
22), GW
30 (foreground right), unidentified tomb(?) (foreground left, east of GW
20), GW
19 (middle
ground centre left, south of GW
20), GW
31 and GW
32 (middle ground right, south of GW
30), GW
(background centre left, south of GW
19), GW
33 (background centre right, west of GW
16, south of GW
34 and GW
35 (background right), metre stick marks later level (middle ground right, south of GW
looking south; July 1904 (G. A. Reisner, C10391).
lower level of sandy dirt (fig. 13).
In reverse order then, the deposits derive from the
clearance of the plateau above for the construction of the earliest tombs of the Western
Cemetery: first the sandy dirt overburden, then the remains of mud brick structures
formerly occupying the plateau prior to Khufu’s constructions, and finally the clean
geological stratum from just above the plateau’s bedrock. If Reisner is correct, and
the evidence is not simply indicative of a natural process of wadi erosion, we may
note two important features here: first, the existence of the Wadi Cemetery prior to
Khufu’s better-known Western Cemetery constructions, and second, the presence of
pre-Khufu tombs up on the plateau proper, that were removed for Khufu’s ambitious
construction project. The massive core of mastaba G
2000 (= Lepsius 23) occupies
an area of roughly 100
× 45 metres. This footprint may already have been filled with
minor mastabas when Khufu, his son, or whoever built G
2000, selected the area in
the Fourth Dynasty.
Reisner believed the proof for his contentions lay in the presence of small mud brick
and fieldstone mastabas that survived the Old Kingdom up on the plateau proper,
which are visible in an early (1904) image in fig. 14. These tombs remained intact
because they did not obstruct anyone’s later construction plans; otherwise they too
would have been removed and ended up as dismantled remains thrown northwards
over the already existing Wadi Cemetery below. The late Third or early Fourth
Dynasty (reign of Snefru) may thus have been a time when Giza was occupied and
already in use as a Memphite necropolis of secondary status to Saqqara, Meidum,
and/or Dahshur. Perhaps we should add portions of the Western Cemetery to the
list of other known structures predating Khufu.
At any rate, we have in Reisner’s
reconstruction of 1904 perhaps the earliest example of in-depth stratigraphic analysis,
not just at Giza, but perhaps in all of Egyptian archaeology. As I hope to show below,
his reconstruction, if correct, is of fundamental significance for the history and
development of the Giza Necropolis.
Cf. Reisner’s original unpublished 1903–4 report, 11–13.
See L. D. Covington, ‘Mastaba Mount Excavations’,
6 (1905), 193–218. For the recently discovered
map of Covington’s excavations, and a useful summary of work in the area south of Giza, see G. T. Martin,
‘ “Covington’s Tomb” and Related Early Monuments at Gîza’, in C. Berger and B. Mathieu (eds),
Études sur
l’Ancien Empire et la nécropole de Saqqâra dédiées à Jean-Philippe Lauer
(OM 9; Montpellier, 1997), II, 279–88.
Mastaba V (Nazlet Batran) contained sealings of Djet, and Petrie also found five jar sealings with the name of
Ninetjer: W. M. F. Petrie,
Gizeh and Rifeh
(BSAE/ERA 13; London, 1907), 5, pl. 3.a, and 7, pl. 5.e. A flint bowl of
Hetepsekhemwy, reinscribed for Nebre, was found by Reisner in the Menkaure Pyramid Complex: G. A. Reisner,
Mycerinus: The Temples of the Third Pyramid
ma, 1931), 102, pl. 70.c. Predynastic settlements were
apparently removed in order to construct the Menkaure Pyramid Complex: see M. Bietak, ‘Egyptology and
the Urban Setting’, in K. R. Weeks,
Egyptology and the Social Sciences: Five Studies
(Cairo, 1979), 114, 142
35; K.
Siedlungsfunde aus dem frühen Alten Reich in Giseh: Österreichische Ausgrabungen 1971–1975
(DÖAW 136; Vienna, 1978), esp. 20–1; id.,
Nezlet Batran: Eine Mastaba aus dem Alten Reich bei Giseh (Ägypten)
(DGÖAW 12 =
UZK 11 Vienna, 1991), 42–3. An inscribed fragment with the phrase ‘King of Upper and Lower
Egypt Sened’ was reused in Khafre’s mortuary temple: G. Steindorff, in U. Hölscher,
Das Grabdenkmal des
Königs Chephren
(Leipzig, 1912), 106. See also A. A. Saleh, ‘Excavations Around Mycerinus Pyramid Complex’,
30 (1974), 131–54, pls 19–34; R. Stadelmann,
Die ägyptischen Pyramiden
(2nd edn, Mainz am Rhein,
1991), 107–8; and T. A. H. Wilkinson,
Early Dynastic Egypt
(London, 1999), 73–4, 84–5, 88, 130, 165, 339. A
good summary of Giza prior to the reign of Khufu, with full bibliography, is provided by Jánosi,
Giza in der 4.
Selected Finds
Objects discovered in the Wadi Cemetery appear to have received comparatively
little attention, either from the original excavators or later generations. Many of
them languished in storage magazines for decades before being moved to their final
museum destinations. Polished and coarse-ware ceramics were not individually
photographed, but many sherds appear in the excavation views, gathered together
and placed temporarily by the workmen on mud brick walls. These show primarily
early Old Kingdom coarse beer jars (at least one of which is complete) and model
vessels (see figs 15–16).
It is unfortunate that the current location of these
ceramics, if preserved at all, is unknown, rendering a detailed analysis and a more
precise date attribution impossible. Nevertheless, the visible forms, as well as the
accumulation of so many beer jars together, is indicative of an early, rather than
late, Old Kingdom date. Moreover, the apparent absence of bread moulds speaks
against a Sixth Dynasty date.
Two displaced, inscribed, limestone lintels, originally set into mud brick niches,
were found in association with tombs from the later, upper level, in addition to a few
relief fragments, a copper needle, flint chips, and a fragmentary limestone statuette.
The more elaborately decorated lintel comes from the debris near tomb GW
38 (figs
17–21). Although the context is disturbed, it might very well have tumbled from the
niche of GW
38. Reisner illustrated the lintel as fig.
23 of his 1903–4 Hearst field
season report.
Originally deemed lost, it was only recently located in storage in the
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It had escaped detection because it was excavated at a
time prior to Reisner’s creation of his Object Register Book field numbering system,
and it had never received a formal field or MFA accession number. A recent storage
inventory, photography, and rehousing project at the MFA, funded by the National
Endowment for the Humanities, resulted in the creation of a new colour digital image
and a new accession number for the lintel: APP.1921.1.
This documentation then
allowed for tracking the piece back to the MFA ‘packing lists’, documents that record
which objects were shipped to Boston and when. The relief in question appears on
five separate copies of a Packing List ‘C’ from 1921, albeit with an incorrect tomb
For examples of complete jars from the Wadi Cemetery, see HU–MFA Expedition photograph C10980
(September, 1904) on <
> accessed 1.10.2008 (upper left). On ceramics, see
recently S. Allen, ‘Miniature and model vessels in Ancient Egypt’, in M. Bárta (ed.),
The Old Kingdom Art and
Archaeology: Proceedings of the Conference held in Prague, May 31–June 4, 2004
(Prague, 2006), 19–24; M. Bárta,
‘Several Remarks on Beer Jars found at Abusir’,
4 (1996), 127–31; id., ‘Pottery Inventory and the Beginning
of the IVth Dynasty’,
149 (1995), 15–24; and D. Faltings,
Die Keramik der Lebensmittelproduktion im Alten
(SAGA 14; Heidelberg, 1998).
I am grateful to Anna Wodzinska, Ancient Egypt Research Associates, for sharing her impressions on the
ceramic assemblage visible in some of the Wadi Cemetery photographs; pers. comm., September 2008. See her
A Manual of Egyptian Pottery, II: Naqada III–Middle Kingdom
(AERA Field Manual Series 1; Boston, 2009).
Identification of this statuette remains problematic, since some of the original excavation records assign it
to mastaba G
1231 (= G
1234)(?). But the 1903–4 Hearst Expedition field season report illustrates the statuette
as fig. 24.
Several different versions of this report, both handwritten and typewritten, exist, but the only copy to
preserve the mounted photograph for fig. 23 is in Berkeley. I would like to thank Joan Knudsen and Elizabeth
Minor for providing copies of these pages.
I would like to thank Janice Kamrin of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and Mahmoud Helwagy of the
Egyptian Museum for preliminary investigations at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo into possible locations of this
and other objects from the Giza Wadi Cemetery.

provenance notation (GW
26, instead of the correct GW
38): ‘BGS 167. Contains:
Small limestone stela from G Wady 26 [sic]; Giza 1904…’.
The lintel APP.1921.1 thus clearly sat in a magazine at Hearst Camp, later renamed
Harvard Camp, on the Giza plateau, between 1904 and 1921. A comparison of the
photographs taken at Giza in 1904 (fig. 19) and on 18 May 2006 at the MFA (fig.
and pl. III) reveals the losses over time at the left and right edges. A particularly
large fragment is missing from the right edge of the panel, damaging portions of the
words for incense (
) and zizyphus (
). The fragment measures as follows: height
39 cm; width 19 cm; depth 7.5 cm.
This lintel fragment may be the only previously published object from the Wadi
Cemetery, for it found its way into a summary description (with a rather inaccurate
hieroglyphic reproduction) by American Egyptologist James T. Dennis (1865–1918).
I have so far been unable to find any mention of Dennis’s affiliation with Reisner
or the Hearst Expedition, but in a 1905 article Dennis states ‘In the excavations
near the Gizeh pyramids, with which I was connected last winter, we found many
inscriptions of officials of the IVth and VIth dynasties hitherto unknown…’.
Dennis described as a ‘sandstone stele of Ist or IInd dynasty work’ is more likely this
limestone niche lintel carved in sunk relief with a
Htp Di nswt
formula from right to
left across the top, and a table scene below. The formula reads
Htp rDi nswt inpw xnty
zH nTr qrs
m Xrt-nTr rtH.ty Nbw
‘a gift which the king gives (and) Anubis, foremost
of the divine booth, (namely) a burial in the necropolis, (for) the baker
The name of the baker Nebu (‘the swimmer’)
is written with the swimming
man over a pool. This example may be added to parallels at Giza from the tombs
of Tjenti in the Western Cemetery (G
4920 = Lepsius 47; fig. 22)
and the Eastern
Cemetery rock-cut tomb of another man named Nebu (Lepsius 72).
Henry Fischer
has commented on the sense of the name transitively as conveying support, in the
sense of one who keeps his family ‘afloat’.
In the centre of the lintel, Nebu sits on a cube seat with high back.
Both legs,
instead of just one, are shown in profile, and the right arm reaches towards an
Packing lists housed in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I am indebted to Diane Victoria Flores for
determining that GW
26 should be replaced with GW
38 as the lintel’s provenance, based on photographic
comparison of the Wadi Cemetery images. Until its recent accessioning, APP.1921.1 was temporarily inventoried
as Eg.Inv.13137.
J. T. Dennis, ‘New Officials of the IVth to VIth Dynasties’,
27 (January to December, 1905), 34, no.
11; PM III, 178. For more on Dennis, see W. R. Dawson and E. P. Uphill,
Who was Who in Egyptology
(3rd edn,
revised by M. L. Bierbrier; London, 1995), 122. He is listed as a volunteer assistant to E. Naville in 1905–6.
27, 32, also discusses objects from other parts of the Western Cemetery, such as the lintel
of Mesdjer from G
1011, corrected by H. G. Fischer, ‘Offerings for an Old Kingdom Granary Official’,
of the Detroit Institute of Arts
51/2–3 (1972), 79 (fig. 9) and n. 25 (based on HU–MFA Expedition photograph
Cf. H. G. Fischer,
Varia Nova
(Egyptian Studies 3; New York, 1996), 131, 139, pl. 26; R. Hannig,
, I:
Altes Reich und Erste Zwischenzeit
(KAW 98
= HL 4; Mainz am Rhein, 2003), 736, reviewed by
H. G. Fischer,
40 (2003), 199–202.
PM III, 178; H. Ranke,
Die altägyptischen Personennamen
, I (Glückstadt, 1935), 192.
, II, pl. 30.
Ibid., pl. 93b.
H. G. Fischer, ‘Marginalia III’,
185 (2001), 45–7, citing many parallels.
K. P. Kuhlmann,
Der Thron im alten Ägypten: Untersuchung zur Semantik, Ikonographie und Symbolik eines
(ADAIK 19; Mainz am Rhein, 1977), 51–56; id., ‘Thron’, in

VI, cols. 523–9. Examples of
women seated on similar seats, albeit not in offering scene contexts, include H. G. Fischer,
Egyptian Women of the
Old Kingdom and of the Herakleopolitan Period
(2nd edn, New York, 2000), 16 (fig. 13), 23 (fig. 20).

extremely wide offering table bearing seven half-loaves of bread. The left arm bends
at the elbow back across the breast, beneath a valanced wig that covers the ear. A
damaged list of assorted offerings appears in front (right) of the table, including
, and
, ‘incense, green eye-paint, black eye-paint,
zizyphus, loaf of zizyphus, and persea fruit’. Above the table, Nebu’s name and
title appear again. Behind him is a list of his family members:
mitrt Inti
, ‘the lady
msw=f RDi-ns
, ‘his children Redines (male), Ihi (male), Ikhi
(male), Senti (female), and Pepi (female)’. The drum below bears a third example
of the name and title
rtH.ty Nbw
extremely wide offering table bearing seven half-loaves of bread. The left arm bends
at the elbow back across the breast, beneath a valanced wig that covers the ear. A
damaged list of assorted offerings appears in front (right) of the table, including
, and
, ‘incense, green eye-paint, black eye-paint,
zizyphus, loaf of zizyphus, and persea fruit’. Above the table, Nebu’s name and
title appear again. Behind him is a list of his family members:
mitrt Inti
, ‘the lady
msw=f RDi-ns
, ‘his children Redines (male), Ihi (male), Ikhi
(male), Senti (female), and Pepi (female)’. The drum below bears a third example
of the name and title
rtH.ty Nbw
sign is now gone, since it appeared on the now missing lower right hand fragment of the lintel;
compare figs 19 and 20.
Fig. 22. G
4920 (= Lepsius 47), Tjenti, west wall between false doors,
detail of man named Nebu leading livestock; 6 July 1933 (Mohammedani Ibrahim, A7173: detail).
If this niche lintel had been found
in situ
, it would be of especially critical value
to the dating of the Wadi Cemetery. The context, as shown in figs 17–18, does not
eliminate the possibility that the piece is an intrusive addition. However, the son
named Ikhi is presumably the owner of an offering basin that Reisner discovered
in situ
further to the north (see below, figs 31–33), although he seems never to have
numbered the tombs in that area. While GW
38 (Nebu lintel) and the unnumbered
tomb (basin of Ikhi) are at opposite north–south ‘ends’ of the cemetery (that is, at
least as far as Reisner cleared it), the distance is not great, and hardly precludes the
possibility of a familial relation. Indeed, this could even indicate that the internal
developmental history of mastaba construction in the Wadi Cemetery proceeded from
south to north. Ikhi bears the title of
rx nswt
on his offering basin, but no title on his
father(?) Nebu’s lintel. As a late Archaic or early Fourth Dynasty object, the Nebu
lintel would confirm the interpretation of the Wadi Cemetery’s existence prior to the
construction of G
2000 (= Lepsius 23) and the Western Cemetery proper (up on the
plateau itself) under Khufu. As a late Old Kingdom piece it would cast doubt on that
same interpretation, suggesting that the Wadi Cemetery, or at least part of it, is a very
modest late Old Kingdom addition to an already densely packed necropolis.
There are numerous arguments both for and against dating Nebu’s lintel to the
early Old Kingdom. Against a date prior to the Fourth Dynasty is the presence of
the offering formula.
Additional elements that might speak for a late Old Kingdom
date include the sunk relief carving, and the three vessels instead of four on the
sign (Sign List W 17–18), which are prevalent during the later Old Kingdom.
spelling of
in the
Htp di nswt
formula is also potentially problematic for
an early Old Kingdom date.
plant is worthy of closer investigation for the
overlapping leaves, and heavily recurved upper stalk, although the sunk relief carving
obscures many of these details.
One might also argue that the name Pepi should
automatically date this fragment to the Sixth Dynasty.
By contrast, several features might challenge a late Old Kingdom date. First of
all, the name Pepi, mentioned above, occurs for a female, not a male, and the name
is in any case well attested before the Sixth Dynasty.
Furthermore, I have not yet
located a late Old Kingdom parallel to the unusually wide, archaic-looking, sunk
relief offering table in front of Nebu. And the
in the
booth resembles
the hieroglyphs carved on the central panel niche of Khabausokar from the Third
More importantly, the cube seat more closely resembles those used by
and by private individuals at Archaic Saqqara and Helwan
W. Barta, ‘Opferformel’,

IV, 584. Early Old Kingdom examples of the formula tend to favour the mention
of Anubis over the king; cf. H. G. Fischer, ‘A Unique Composite Hieroglyph’,
38 (2001), 1 n.
8; id.,
(Egyptian Studies I; New York, 1976), 24 n.
For examples of
vessels, see J. Kahl, N. Kloth, and U. Zimmermann,
Die Inschriften der 3. Dynastie:
Eine Bestandsaufnahme
(ÄA 56; Wiesbaden, 1995), 192 (D3/Sa/10, Saqqara S 3073, JdE 42002; three vessels), 214
(D3/Sa/26, granite fragment from Saqqara; three vessels); J. Kahl,
Das System der ägyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift
in der 0.–3. Dynastie
(GOF IV/29; Wiesbaden, 1994), 798–800, citing examples with both three and four vessels,
with Djer as the earliest attestation in both cases; id.,
Frühägyptisches Wörterbuch
, III (Wiesbaden, 2004), 354–9;
similarly, S.
D. Schweitzer,
Schrift und Sprache der 4. Dynastie
(Menes 3; Wiesbaden, 2005), 467–8 (three vessels),
468–9 (four vessels).
I am grateful to Andrey Bolshakov for his comments on this feature, which he suggests post-dates the Fourth
Dynasty (personal communication, April 2008). For examples including
, see the lintel of Inkaf from the
vicinity of G
1227: H. G. Fischer, ‘Old Kingdom Inscriptions in the Yale Gallery’,
7 (1960), 301 (fig. 1);
id., ‘Redundant Determinatives in the Old Kingdom’,
8 (1973), 21 =
Ancient Egypt in the Metropolitan
Museum Journal
(New York, 1977), 86 (fig. 22); L. Borchardt,
Denkmäler des Alten Reiches (ausser den Statuen)
im Museum von Kairo
, I (CCG 1295–1808; Berlin, 1937), 130–2 (CG 1447), pl. 33; and the chapel of Merib
2100-i): Lepsius,
II, pl. 19 = K.-H. Priese,
Die Operkammer des Merib
(Berlin 1984), cover.
A. Bolshakov, ‘Osiris in the Fourth Dynasty Again?’, in H. Gyory (ed.),
Mélanges offerts à Edith Varga: Le
lotus qui sort de terre
(Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, Supplément-2001; Budapest, 2001), esp. 74–5
(the Nebu example hardly qualifies as a ‘high quality inscription’). On the offering formula and all its variations,
see G. Lapp,
Die Opferformel des Alten Reiches unter Berücksichtigung einiger späterer Formen
(SDAIK 21; Mainz
am Rhein, 1986).
For examples of women named Pepi, several of whom predate the Sixth Dynasty, see L. Epron, F. Daumas,
and G. Goyon,
Le tombeau de Ti
, I (Cairo, 1939), pl. 16 (two examples); Borchardt,
Denkmäler des Alten Reiches
155–6 (CG 1466, panel of Iauptah and Nefret), 166–7 (CG 1479–1480, relief of Weta); Petrie,
Gizeh and Rifeh
pl. 7A (Neferherenptah); A. Eggebrecht (ed.),
Das Alte Reich
(Mainz, 1986), 60–1 (Inv. Nr. 17, family statue of
Rashepses); H. Junker,
, VI (DAWW 72/1; Vienna, 1943), 203 fig. 76 (north false door of Neferen); id.,
IX (DÖAW 73/2; Vienna, 1950), 86 fig. 36 (false door panel of Sensen). On the various readings of the royal
name, see H. G. Fischer, ‘The Transcription of the Royal Name Pepy’,
75 (1989), 214–15.
M. A. Murray,
Saqqara Mastabas
, I (BSAE/ERA 10/[1]; London, 1905), pl. 1.
M. Saleh and H. Sourouzian,
The Egyptian Museum Cairo: Official Catalogue
(Mainz am Rhein, 1987), cat.
no. 14; C. Aldred,
Egyptian Art
(London, 1980), 43 (fig. 12); W. S. Smith,
The Art and Architecture of Ancient
(3rd edn, revised by W. K. Simpson; New Haven, 1998), 23 (figs 33–4), and 26 (fig. 36).
Saleh and Sourouzian,
The Egyptian Museum Cairo
, cat. no. 16.
(fig. 23), than any typical Sixth Dynasty stool.
In fact, a cursory survey of Old
Kingdom table scenes overwhelmingly reveals theriomorphic stools with lion or bull
legs, but seldom the cube seat.
The shape of the half-loaves does not fit well with
Cherpion’s developmental scheme for the later Old Kingdom, but would appear to
predate it.
In the Archaic Period, such loaves generally retain the same directional
orientation as the seated deceased, reversing direction (as found on the Nebu lintel)
some time in the Third Dynasty.
The Nebu architrave is curious in orienting all loaves
towards the deceased, not to mention showing an offering table carved in such wide
Compare also the seat from a papyrus swamp scene of Meresankh II at Giza (G
7410–7420); MFA 25-1-1337;
W. S. Smith,
A History of Egyptian Sculpture and Painting in the Old Kingdom
(2nd edn, Oxford, 1949), 168 (fig.
63); HU–MFA Expedition photograph B5690 (Mohammedani Ibrahim, 6/15/1925). For analyses of inscriptions
of the Third and Fourth Dynasties, see Kahl, Kloth, and Zimmermann,
Die Inschriften der 3. Dynastie
, and
Schrift und Sprache der 4. Dynastie
Cf. N. Cherpion,
Mastabas et hypogées d’Ancien Empire
(Brussels, 1989), 34–6. For additional examples of
private cube seats, see H. S. Baker,
Furniture in the Ancient World
(London, 1966), 32 (fig. 21), 34 (figs 24–5);
Ancient Egyptian Furniture
, I:
(Warminster, 1980), 51. Although rare, a few examples of
private individuals on block thrones from the Sixth Dynasty include: S. Hassan,
Excavations at Gîza
, III (Cairo,
1941), 82 fig. 70 (Tjetut); A. M. Blackman,
The Rock Tombs of Meir
, IV (ASE 25; London, 1924), pl. 5 (Pepiankh
the Middle). For these last references I am grateful to Edward Brovarski.
Mastabas et hypogées d’Ancien Empire
, 42–9. See also, M. Bárta, ‘Archaeology and Iconongraphy:
Bread Moulds and “Speisetischszene” Development in the Old Kingdom’,
22 (1995), 21–35.
On the statistical use of these dating criteria see S. Seidlmayer, ‘Stil under Statistik: Die Datierung dekorierter
Gräber des Alten Reiches

ein Problem der Methode’, in J. Müller and A. Zimmermann (eds),
Archäologie und
Korrespondenszanalyse: Beispiele, Fragen, Perspektiven
(Internationale Archäologie 23; Espelkamp, 1997), 17–51.
Another ‘archaic’-looking repast scene may be found on the slab stela of Wepemnefret from G
1201 at Giza; P.
Slab Stelae of the Giza Necropolis
(PPYE 7; New Haven and Philadelphia, 2003), 38–9, pls 1–2.
For a selection of Archaic and early Old Kingdom table scenes, see Manuelian,
Slab Stelae
, 227–36 (figs
Fig. 23. Seated figures on cube seats with raised backs from Helwan stelae 1 (Hepet-khnumet), 2 (Menka-
heqet), 3 (Nisu-heqet), and 4 (Menkhet-ka), after Z. Saad,
Ceiling Stelae in Second Dynasty Tombs from the
Excavations at Helwan
(CASAE 21; Cairo, 1957), figs 1, 3, 4, and 6; and Sehefner from Saqqara tomb 2146 E,
after J. E. Quibell,
Excavations at Saqqara (1912–1914): Archaic Mastabas
(Cairo, 1923), 10, pls 26–27.

Table 1 gathers the various objects briefly described above. With the exception
of three (uninscribed?) offering basins from tombs GW
34, GW
35, and GW
72 (see
and a male statue head of uncertain provenance,
these represent the major
finds made by Reisner in 1904.
Much of the evidence provided above is admittedly fragmentary and speculative.
But perhaps we might benefit from comparing the Wadi Cemetery to another region
of the Giza Necropolis, one that was unknown to Reisner, and that first surfaced
after a tourist’s horseback-riding accident in 1990.
In the region south of the Wall
of the Crow and Southern Mount, Zahi Hawass has in the past decades unearthed
two previously unknown clusters of tombs now called the Cemetery of the Pyramid
Builders (figs 1, 34–35). What he has termed the artisans’ or upper cemetery consists
of elaborate, elite stone mastabas constructed high up the cliff face, with causeways
and multiple shafts, while a more modest workmen’s cemetery appears at the foot of
the ridge, just west of the settlement area currently being explored by Mark Lehner’s
AERA expedition.
This lower cemetery contained, as of 2003, 60 larger and 600
smaller structures.
It is the lower cemetery that we might compare to our Wadi
Cemetery, far to the northwest on the other side of the Khufu pyramid (figs 36–37,
39, 41). Both clusters of tombs occur as a smaller, simpler cemetery below a larger,
elite cemetery above. Mud brick and fieldstone are the material of choice below, while
a preponderance of more elaborate limestone construction appears above. Hawass’s
Note that while HU–MFA Expedition photograph C10996 in fig. 16 is dated to September 1904, a very
similar image C10071 (available on <
>, accessed 1.10.2008), which even includes
the same pile of potsherds in the foreground, is dated earlier to January 1904. The only substantial difference
between the two images is the presence of Reisner’s wooden marker pegs containing tomb numbers in the (later)
September photograph, C10996 (fig. 23). If the January and September dates are accurate, then we must assume
these two offering basins were left
in situ
over nine months. Perhaps that is the best indication we have that they
were uninscribed, and deemed unworthy of removal. They may still be
in situ
in the reburied Wadi Cemetery
today. A few line drawings of uninscribed offering basins are preserved in the archives of the Museum of Fine
Arts, Boston; perhaps two of them illustrate these two basins (candidates for GW
34 include: EG022323 and
EG022338, while candidates for GW
35 include EG022319 and EG022295). In addition, an uninscribed basin
in situ
in GW
72 might be illustrated in EG022300 or EG022351.
Hearst Museum, Berkeley 6-19808, a limestone head from a male statuette (h. 9 cm; w. 12 cm), has been
attributed to Wadi Cemetery mastaba GW
24, based on a mounted print card caption in the MFA photographic
archives, but no
in situ
photographs or object registration records are available to confirm this attribution. Other
Expedition photography attributes the provenance to G
1171, up on the Western Cemetery plateau proper.
Since Reisner makes no mention of this head in his 1903–4 Hearst Report, I believe it more likely that the
head comes from G
1171 than from the Wadi Cemetery. See H. F. Lutz,
Egyptian Statues and Statuettes in the
Museum of Anthropology of the University of California
(Leipzig, 1930), 17, pl. 26a. Online images on <
>, accessed 1.10.2008, have the following ID numbers: C11888, C11889, C11890, C11952,
C11953, C11954, 6-19808_d1, 6-19808_d2, 6-19808_d3, 6-19808_d4, and 6-19808_d5.
Z. Hawass,
Secrets from the Sand: My Search for Egypt’s Past
(New York, 2003), 101. I am grateful to Dr.
Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, for kind permission to reproduce this plan, as
well as the photographs of the Cemetery of the Pyramid Builders.
See M. Lehner and W. Wetterstrom (eds),
Giza Reports: The Giza Plateau Mapping Project
, I:
History, Survey, Ceramics, and Main Street and Gallery
ma, 2007); M. Lehner, ‘The
Pyramid Age Settlement of the Southern Mount at Giza’,
39 (2002), 27–74, and the privately published
AERA newsletter
vols 1 (1996) to present: <
> or <
>, accessed 1.10.2008.
Z. Hawass and A. Senussi,
Old Kingdom Pottery from Giza
(Cairo, 2008), 16–17, pls 4–14, plans 1–4;
Hawass, ‘The Tombs of the Pyramids Builders

The Tomb of the Artisan Petety and his Curse’, in G. N.

cemetery revealed more in the way of statuary and other artifacts, but this is perhaps
just an accident of preservation. The settlement area currently under investigation by
Mark Lehner now appears to extend westwards underneath Hawass’s lower cemetery,
thus predating it. Despite the architectural similarities, then, Hawass’s lower cemetery
(Khafre–Menkaure and later) would postdate Reisner’s Wadi Cemetery (pre-Khufu),
assuming Reisner’s stratigraphic interpretations are correct. These are all suggested
interpretations that further excavation in both areas might clarify. It remains to be
seen whether these two remaining minor cemeteries at Giza are anomalous, or just
the tip of a greater mortuary ‘iceberg’ that includes many ridges, cliffs, and plateaux
in and around the site, and not normally taken into account. In addition, similar mud
brick mastabas have been unearthed at Saqqara
and more recently at Dahshur,
inviting further pre-Khufu comparisons as a future line of research.

We may conclude one of two scenarios for the history of the Wadi Cemetery. I have
suggested above that both the lower and upper layers of mastaba constructions, and all
associated objects lying under Reisner’s three stratigraphic levels, might predate the
construction of the Western Cemetery proper under Khufu in the Fourth Dynasty.
Conversely, if some objects should be dated instead to the late Old Kingdom, then
we can posit a much longer interval between the lower and upper layers of Wadi
Cemetery mastabas, with the Nebu lintel, among other objects, post-dating Khufu
to as late as the Sixth Dynasty. The interpretation of the overlaying strata would,
however, have to be reinterpreted, for they would then have to post-date the late Old
Kingdom mastabas beneath them.
As noted above, Reisner was primarily interested in a quick interpretation of the
Wadi Cemetery so that he could begin clearing the Western Cemetery proper, up on
the plateau, and use this northern area for dumping his excavation debris. Although
work continued in the Wadi Cemetery into the fall of 1904, clearance of the Western
Cemetery began as early as 14 January 1904, first on the west side of G
2000 (=
23) and, later, to the east of that tomb. By August 1904, the Wadi Cemetery
tombs were at their most exposed state. Rather than unearth additional tombs, Reisner
felt it was time to move on:
Enough of the wady having been cleared for all practical purposes, and the extent of
its cemetery having been ascertained by digging, the dumpheap of the main excavation
was run as an embankment straight across the wady. Thus a number of graves which
could only have added to the quantity of material obtained were covered up, probably
for the benefit of a future generation of archaeologists.
It should be remembered that Reisner excavated almost none of the burial shafts exposed
in the Wadi Cemetery. These still await exploration and might provide useful parallels
to the skeletal material Hawass has unearthed in his pyramid builders’ cemetery.
The aerial view taken in 1936 (fig. 37) shows the extent to which the Wadi Cemetery
had become reburied three decades later. Some ‘then and now’ comparisons indicate
the changes wrought in the area even more dramatically, as debris from both Reisner’s
and later Junker’s excavations filled the wadi (figs 38–40). Steady progress brought
Reisner’s crew, redeployed in 1905 as the Harvard University–Boston Museum of
Fine Arts Expedition, to the first group of major mastabas east of mastaba G
and past the depression immediately east of G
2000, that was filled with later Old
Kingdom tombs and subsidiary burials.
It may have been around this time that
Reisner began to develop his concept of the ‘nucleus’ or ‘core cemetery’, designating
specific clusters of Khufu-era major mastabas that were clearly laid out as a group,
oriented towards a common design for the evolution of the necropolis. He had already
cleared one nucleus cemetery (1200) and by 1906 was heading towards another
(2100). But back in 1903–1904 these theories were still undeveloped,
and it was
Records of the Past
4, 134.
This area is currently under investigation by Ann Macy Roth for a forthcoming volume of the
Giza Mastabas
series. See W. B. Hafford, ‘Mixed Messages’,
(May/June 2003), 40–5.
No mention is made of nucleus cemeteries in Reisner’s important early summary of the work at Giza: G.
Reisner and C. S. Fisher, ‘Preliminary Report on the Work of the Harvard–Boston Expedition in 1911–13’,
13 (1913), 227–52.
the Wadi Cemetery that provided the first clues to interpreting the mortuary history
of the area. Perhaps Reisner’s stratigraphic and architectural reconstruction can be
confirmed or discarded upon further investigation of its unexcavated burial shafts
and, no doubt, additional tombs. Could the Wadi Cemetery prove to be the best-
preserved Giza cemetery to predate the reign of Khufu (fig. 41)?