Centre or Periphery?

The cemetery of Turah in the creative tension of state formation at the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC in Egypt


Turah-South, excavation of H. Junker 1910

Our knowledge of the Egyptian culture is based to an extraordinary degree on the provisions, architecture and décors of tombs. On the one hand this is due to the exceptional conditions of the Egyptian climate that allows for the very good preservation of burial goods, and on the other hand the ancient Egyptian understanding of the hereafter lead to abundant cemeteries located in the desert preventing their over-building by settlements as well as their opulent equipment with burial goods. Due to the sheer abundance of excavated objects in Egypt, it is more the exception than the rule that all discovered tombs were fully excavated and that each one was comprehensively published.

One of these exceptions is the cemetery of Turah, located in the suburbs of modern Cairo and excavated in 1910 by Hermann Junker who produced a formidable publication in 1912. Even more exceptional is the fact that nearly all of the objects were brought to Vienna and only a small part was distributed to other collections in Europe. This allows for easy access and a restudy of the objects on the basis of modern methods and research questions. Mainly based on group photographs and a few drawings, the existing publication makes comparisons with objects from other sites dating to the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC rather unsatisfactorily. It is also rather complex to get an idea of the tomb provisions and their chronological development on the basis of the tomb list.

Turah, burial

By default, each tomb will be illustrated with its respective content in drawings, photographs and detailed descriptions. As a new approach, all data will be presented in an online database and the results will be published in a printed book. Only rarely used yet, the objects will be analysed with modern scientific methods, such as petrography and neutron-activation-analysis providing information on the origin of diverse pottery vessels or lead-isotopic analysis for metal objects. These analyses will give answers to questions such as ‘Were the tombs of this cemetery provided with local goods or have products been acquired from other parts of Egypt?’, ‘Do the tombs differ from other tombs of the same period or was there a homogenous group of burial goods all over the country?’ or ‘What can we tell about the religious conception of the buried? Are there differences between the tombs based on religion or the social status of the buried?’ And finally: ‘What was the role of this site in state formation?’