Archaeological Missions

Wadi Bairiya

Wadi Bairiya (Theban western wadis – Egypt)

Directors of the mission: Piers Litherland (New Kingdom Research Foundation), Geoffrey Martin and Judith Bunbury (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research – University of Cambridge)

To find out more about the mission, see P. Litherland, The Western Wadis of the Theban Necropolis, NKRF, 2015. 


About the site

The Wadi Bairiya (WB1) shaft tombs, where the majority of the wooden objects studied come from, are situated in the modern desert to the west of the main Theban massif on the West Bank at Luxor in Upper Egypt. They lie on the western side of the Wadi Bairiya, separated from the Theban hills by the cutting of that wadi. All the other XVIIIth dynasty burials in the western region are hidden in wadis which descend from the main Theban mountain. The WB1 shaft tombs are cut into rising ground at the point where the wadi broadens out into a floodplain.

Wood study

Since 2019, G. Eschenbrenner Diemer has undertaken a comprehensive study of the wooden funerary equipment from the Western Wadis in Thebes in order to better understand the nature of the objects found in the royal burials there and to identify the woods used for their manufacture. The analysis of each imported species is conducted in order to identify the possible economic networks linked to them. Black woods, which are particularly abundant in the funerary material of the wadis, are the subject of particular attention.

Let us take the example of grenadilla wood, called “ebony of the pharaohs”. This black, matte, hardwood, which belongs to the family Leguminosae and comes from trees growing in the Horn of Africa, does not belong to the ebony family. True ebony would come from the black, dense brown-veined wood from Diospyros ebenum, found in India, or from Diospyros crassiflora which grows in Central Africa. Could contacts with these distant countries be envisaged? The first step towards answering this question will be to carry out a systematic analysis of the complete and fragmentary objects found in the royal burials of the Western Wadis that are made from this black wood. A corpus of more than 50 such examples has been set aside. Among these, a particularly dense, brown-veined black stick arouses my curiosity. Is it genuine ebony? If so, does it come from Central Africa or India? Direct contacts between the Indus basin and Egypt are unknown before Roman times. Nevertheless, the recent discovery of traces of vanilla in pots found in Megiddo dated to the Middle Bronze Age testifies to the existence of these exchanges between South Asia and the Levant at an early date.

In spring 2022, Anna Giulia De Marco and Lisa Sartini will join the project to help expand the study of this important collection of 18th Dynasty wooden objects. Comparative fieldwork in Egypt and in various international museum collections will also be undertaken in order gain a better insight into the artisanal and economic context of wood production and use in the Theban region during the 18th Dynasty.

Medjehu team members involved: 

Gersande Eschenbrenner Diemer, Egyptologist/Wood anatomist
Anna Giulia De Marco, Egyptologist
Lisa Sartini, Egyptologist

Connected projects:

Western Wadis Woods Project