Lecture Review: Dancers, Donkeys, and Dirt: New Discoveries from the Time of the Black Pharaohs from South Asasif, Egypt

Review by Rebecca Kelly

Published on Egyptological, In Brief, on 12th January 2012

Presented by the   Friends of the Egypt Centre, Swansea:
‘Dancers, Donkeys, and Dirt: New Discoveries from the Time of the Black Pharaohs from South Asasif, Egypt’
By Dr Elena Pischikova


Dr Pischikova recently gave a fascinating lecture on the rediscovered Twenty-fifth Dynasty early Kushite tomb of Karakhamun (TT 223) in the South Asasif necropolis, situated in Luxor’s West Bank. The lecture took place on 24th November 2011 in the Friends of the Egypt Centre in Swansea, south Wales (U.K.).

Dr Elena Pischikova and her team of professional Egyptian conservators and international volunteers have been working on the conservation of the largest tomb in the South Asasif necropolis since 2006. The lecture focused on the previous, sixth, season’s work

Dr Pischikova introduced her topic by giving an overview of the modern excavation history of the tomb. The tomb had previously been discovered in the nineteenth century in a very unstable condition and unfortunately has since deteriorated significantly. It was interesting to discover that Karl Lepsius had been one of the earliest Egyptologists to see the tomb and fortunately his descriptions include an image of Karakhamun’s ‘brother’, which has also succumbed to the deterioration of the tomb.

However Lepsius, who was interested in the grid system used by the Egyptian artisans, left pencil markings on some of the fragments allowing the site’s epigraphic member Ken Griffin to reconstruct the scene by finding the pencil-marked fragments. Ken Griffin also recognised a vignette of chapter 72 of the Book of the Dead which belonged to a pilaster in the First Pillared Hall.

Two of the main tasks of the excavation were 1) to remove the rubble and painstakingly find pieces of ceiling plaster, wall decoration and 2) to attempt to reconstruct the pillars by using materials such as limestone from the area of Helwan, near Cairo, ensuring that the reconstructed areas would resemble ancient material as closely as possible. Dr Pischikova’s use of ‘before and after’ photos of the pillars allowed the audience to understand the scope and difficulty of work that had been completed and the importance of continuing work at the tomb. Dr Pischikova also highlighted particular features of the tomb, such as the beautifully carved dog belonging to Karakhamun on the north section of the east wall in the First Pillared Hall as well as the delicate features of the body contours Karakhamun also found on the north wall, which indicate the exquisite carvings which help to date this tomb. The dog is now used as the logo of the South Asasif Conservation Project.

It was a discovery made during the sixth season which was the chief focus of this lecture: a beautifully decorated vestibule with agricultural images on the south wall. Furthermore, the discovery also included scenes of wine making, dancers and musicians, which were found on the north wall. There were scenes of Kharakhamun’s daily life and there is hope of finding more scenes of Karakhamun entering the afterlife under the rubble.

This amazing find has provided an insight into Kushite private art and the revival of Old Kingdom decoration during this period and it will be interesting to see more images uncovered in future excavations. It has strongly reinforced the theory that there was a resurgence of Old Kingdom art, particularly from the fifth dynasty.. Dr Elena Pischikova gave an animated and interesting account of her findings so far, often interjecting humorous accounts of stories of the excavation ensuring a lively talk whilst highlighting the importance of excavations in the South Asasif necropolis. The audience was fascinated with what is establishing itself as a very important tomb worth excavating. There is no doubt that the audience was inspired by the lecture and were given much greater awareness of the importance of the tomb to our understanding of early Kushite tomb art and architecture.

Finally, Dr Pischikova, as well as highlighting the significance of the tomb, also explained the difficulty encountered when attempting to finance such a colossal project. She lamented how many businesses approached, especially those with only a tenuous link with Egyptology, are hesitant to offer financial aid to what they see as a collapsed tomb. Dr Pischikova also discussed the important use of Ground Penetrating Survey and  emphasised the need for this survey work to continue by revealing new information and potential areas to excavate as well as improving accuracy in excavation. This use of technology was effective in allowing the audience to understand the variety of roles and evolving methods in excavation, particularly for those who have limited experience in archaeology. Overall, the clear interest in the lecture may encourage the participation of more volunteers as well as much needed financial aid.

For further information on supporting the South Assasif Conservation Project please visit


Image ‘d’ depicts Karakhamun ‘brother’  with grid system:


Image D Kharakhamun brother

In the above figure, image d depicts Kharakhamun 'brother' with grid system (click to see the bigger image)




Lepsius, K. R (1975) Denkmäler aus Ægypten und Æthiopien Volume III Genève: Éditions de Belles Lettres

Pischikova, Elena  ‘The early Kushite Tombs of South Asasif ‘, BMSAES 12 (2009), 11 -30


Further information

‘South Asasif Conservation Project’ http://southasasif.com/

Friends of the Egypt Centre, Swansea – on Facebook or alternatively on twitter @ FriendsofEC