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Seminar Mastabas/Old Kingdom elite tombs


Admission requirements

Preferably a full BA degree in Egyptology, but at least Klassiek Egyptisch [Classic Egyptian=Old and Middle Egyptian] (5532VKLEW); Archaeology and Cultural History (5864KEG04), Egyptische Kunstgeschiedenis [Egyptian Art History] (5533KEGK)


Integral treatment of archaeological, art historical and philological aspects of especially iconographic programmes of Old Kingdom elite tombs, with much attention for the theoretical and methodological problems concerning their interpretation.

Course objectives

  1. Continueing on the literature of the courses of Archaeology & Material Culture, Classic Egyptian and Egyptian Art History, the aim is to further increase the knowledge of and insight in specific complex aspects and problems of elite tombs in the Old Kingdom and to further develop the critical view and analysis capacity.
    1. In order to achieve this objective a number of articles need to be studied insensively, together with delivering written and oral commentary in an open public discussion.
    2. Also the MastaBase data base on CD-ROM will be introduced.
    3. Further, provincial elite tombs will be surveyed and analytically described in a standard paper database format.
    4. The final paper consists of a report on these activities and an assignment concerning the practical use of the CD.


Please consult the timetables on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar with possibility to choose a MA thesis topic based on this course.

  • Research

Class attendance is obligatory.

Course Load

Total course load for a course of 5 EC is 140 hours, for 10 EC 280, of which:

5 EC course

  • Seminar attendance 2×8: 16 hours

  • Literature + written commentary: 33 hours

  • Research database 6×6 hours: 36 hours

  • Paper: 55 hours

10 EC course

  • Seminar attendance 2×8= 16 hours

  • Literature + written commentary: 108 hours

  • Research database 6×6: 36 hours

  • Paper: 120 hours

Assessment Method

  • Presentation, discussion, essay [on literature and database research] (20%);

  • Paper based on “case study research” (80%).

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following: the final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.

Re-examination consists of rewriting final paper.



Reading list

Thumb through attentively:

5 and 10 EC courses:

  • Montet, P. 1925. Les scènes de la vie privée dans les tombeaux égyptiens de l’Ancien Empire. Strasbourg

  • Vandier, J. 1964-1978. Manuel d’Archéologie Égyptienne IV-VI. Paris

  • Harpur, Y. 1987. Decoration in Egyptian tombs of the Old Kingdom. Studies in orientation and scene content. London

  • Cherpion, N. 1989. Mastabas et hypogées d’Ancien Empire, Bruxelles

Study and comment:
Common for 5 and 10 EC courses:

  • Weeks, K. 1979. Art, word and the Egyptian world view, in: K. Weeks (ed.), Egypt and the social sciences. Cairo, 59-81.

  • Müller, I. 1974. Die Ausgestaltung der Kultkammern in den Gräbern des Alten Reiches in Giza und Saqqara, Forschungen und Berichte 16, 79-96.

  • Cherpion, N. 1984. De quand date la tombe du nain Seneb?, BIFAO 84, 35-54.

  • Harpur, Y. 1985-1987. The identity and positions of relief fragments in museums and private collections, JEA 71, 27-42; 72, 23-40; 73, 197-200; SAK 13, 107-123

  • Kessler, D. 1987. Zur Bedeutung der Szenen des täglichen Lebens in den Privatgräbern (I): Die Szenen des Schiffbaues und der Schiffahrt, ZÄS 114, 59-88

  • Walsem, R. van, 2005. Iconography of Old Kingdom elite tombs. Analysis & interpretation, theoretical and methodological aspects.

10 EC course:
Additional literature:

  • H. Altenmüller, Licht und Dunkel, Tag und Nacht. Programmtisches aus der Dekoration der Gräber des Alten Reiches, in: S. J. Seidlmayer (ed.), Texte und Denkmäler des ägyptischen Alten Reiches, Berlin 2005, 9-26.

  • H. Altenmüller, Die Nachtfahrt des Grabherrn im Alten Reich. Zur Frage der Schiffe mit Igelkopf, SAK 28 (2000), 1-28.

  • H. Altenmüller, Der Himmelsaufstieg des Grabherrn. Zu den Szenen des zSS wAD in den Gräbern des Alten Reiches, SAK 30 (2002), 1-30.

  • H. Altenmüller, Eine Stiftungsurkunde für die Opferversorgung des Grabherrn? Zum Bild des Grabherrn an der Staffelei, SAK 33 (2005), 29-40.

  • P.A. Bocchi, The enigmatic activity of painting the seasons at an easel: contemplative leisure or preemptive measure? JARCE, 40 (2003), 159-169.

  • D. Vischak, Common ground between Pyramid Texts and Old Kingdom tomb design: the case of Ankhmahor, JARCE, 40 (2003), 133-157.

  • J. Baines, Forerunners of narrative biographies, in: A. leahy, J. Tait (eds.), Studies in ancient Egyptin honour of H.S. Smith, London 1999, 23-37.

  • E. Feucht, Fishing and fowling with the spear and the throw-stick reconsidered, in: U. Luft (ed.), The intellectual heritage of ancient Egypt (Festschrift Kakosy), 1992, 157-169.

  • S. Grunert, Nicht nur sauber, sondern rein. Rituelle Reinigungsanweisungen aus dem Grab des Anchmahor in Saqqara, SAK 30 (2002), 137-151.

  • R. van Walsem, Interpretation of Evidence, Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, 2 (2001), 175-179.

  • R. van Walsem, Sense and Sensibility. On the Analysis and Interpretation of the Iconography programmes of four Old Kingdom Elite tombs, in: M. Fitzenreiter, M. Herb (eds.) Dekorierte Grabanlagen im Alten Reich. Methodik und Interpretation (I[nternet] B[eiträge] zur Ä[gyptologie] und S[udanarchäologie], VI (London 2006), 277-332.

  • D. Vischak, Agency in Old Kingdom Elite Tomb Programs: Traditions, Locations, and variable Meanings, in: id., 255-276.

  • R. van Walsem ‘Meaningful Places’: Pragmatics from Ancient Egypt to Modern Times in: Kitty Zijlmans (ed.), Site-seeing. Places in Culture, Time and Space (Leiden 2006), 111-146.

  • R. van Walsem, Diversification and variation in Old Kingdom funerary iconography as the expression of a need for individuality, JEOL 44 ( 2013), 117-139.

Copies of the literature to be studied are available for consulting at the desk of the NINO library.


Students are required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dhr. Dr. R. van Walsem