Monday, 7 March 2011

Deir el-Medina - Ancient Egyptian Workmen's Village

The climate of Egypt has ensured that many amazing artefacts and ancient buildings and monuments have been preserved.  One of the most fascinating of these fantastically preserved archaeological sites is the ancient workmen's village at Deir el-Medina. Deir el-Medina is set in an arid curve in the cliffs on the West Bank of the Nile at what was then known as Thebes, and is now modern Luxor. The excavation of Deir el-Medina was undertaken over many years of the 20th century, first by Ernesto Schiaparelli and then by Bernard Bruy√®re.

These excavations uncovered an amazingly preserved village comprising of four-room dwellings built of mud-brick set on rubble foundations, that opened out onto a main street that bis-sected the small town. The general plan of the houses comprised an entrance hall, a living area with raised platforms for sitting and sleeping, some smaller rooms for storage and sleeping and an open courtyard that was used for cooking meals and grinding grain into flour for bread.

The inhabitants of this unique village were the workmen who dug, carved and painted the amazing royal tombs of the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings.  They worked long hours in physically difficult conditions, so that their pharaoh could journey safely into the afterlife after his death, but still these were prized jobs that were passed down from father to son.  It should be stressed that these workers were free citizens, and not slaves, and enjoyed a better education and quality of life than many other ordinary Ancient Egyptians.

But what makes Deir el-Medina so very fascinating, is the amount of information that we have learned about the lives of these ordinary Ancient Egyptian families.  Thousands of ostraca, or large flakes of limestone, have been recovered from the site, along with papyri, that have written on them lists, work records, letters, notes and daily gossip, which have provided a wondeful picture of those who lived in the village at Deir el-Medina.  Names, family relationships, jobs, who was arguing with who, or was having a relationship with who, is all known due to these amazing ancient records.

Deir el-Medina is now open to tourists and is well worth a visit, especially the exquisitely painted tombs that the workers dug and decorated for themselves and their families.

Deir el-Medina