the modern name of an archaeological site located in a desert valley, on the western bank of the Nile River, opposite Luxor (25°44′N, 32°36′E). The site is chiefly known for the remains of a settlement that was founded in the early eighteenth dynasty (second half of the sixteenth century BCE), to house the workmen who constructed and decorated the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings and in the Valley of the Queens. The settlement was inhabited by the necropolis workmen and their families until the end of the twentieth dynasty (shortly after 1100 BCE). During the Ramessid era, the number of workmen was normally between forty and seventy. The lower parts of the stone walls of the houses in the village were well preserved, and the cemeteries to the west and northwest of the settlement include some of the finest decorated private tombs of Thebes. From that same period are the remains of the small temples (dedicated to the goddess Hathor, the deified King Amenhotpe I, and Queen Ahmose-Nefertari) and the minor cult chapels to the north of the ancient village, as well as a group of huts that were on the mountain pass, between Deir el-Medina and the Valley of the Kings.
Excavations of Deir el-Medina have been carried out since the beginning of the twentieth century by Ernesto Schiaparelli (Egyptian Museum, Turin), Georg Möller (Berlin Museum), and Émile Baraize (Egyptian Antiquities Organization); they were followed by the extensive site-clearing expeditions (of the settlement, cemeteries, and chapels) of Bernard Bruyère (French Institute, Cairo) from 1922 to 1940 and from 1945 to 1951. A wealth of objects and inscriptions was found among the remains of the village and its surroundings (including the Valley of the Kings). The most important find comprises several thousand Hieratic texts—written on pottery, on limestone fragments (ostraca) and on papyrus; these include letters, lists, accounts, reports on work and deliveries, and legal records, as well as a large number of literary and magical texts. Together, they constitute the most important source of information about the social, economic and legal history of the New Kingdom. They provide information on all aspects of the daily life of the inhabitants and on the organization of the necropolis workforce. Many publications have been devoted to the houses, tombs, and chapels; to the objects found in them (statues, stelae, offering tables, burial equipment, and objects of daily use); and to the texts (hieroglyphic inscriptions, Hieratic ostraca and papyri, and graffiti). The publication and study of the vast corpus of nonliterary texts relating to the necropolis workmen was the lifework of Jaroslav Černý. Because of the vast amount of material, however, Černý was unable to complete his work before his death in 1970 and many texts remain unpublished to this day.
In the Late period, Deir el-Medina was used as a cemetery. Ptolemy IV and later kings built a temple, dedicated to the goddess Hathor, to the north of the village, on the site formerly occupied by the Ramessid temples and chapels. Among the remains of one of the houses next to the temple, Schiaparelli found two jars, containing fifty-three Greek and Demotic papyri from the second century BCE that were related to a family of priests officiating in the Hathor temple. Other archaeological remains in the vicinity are a Middle Kingdom tomb, the tombs of the Saite princesses Ankhnesneferibre and Nitokris, and the Coptic monastery (built within the Ptolemaic temple precinct) that gave the site its present name.
See also THEBAN NECROPOLIS.
- Bierbrier, Morris. The Tomb-builders of the Pharaohs. London, 1982. General introduction to the life and work of the people living in Deir el-Medina during the Ramessid period, with a chapter on the later history and rediscovery of the site.
- Černý, Jaroslav. A Community of Workmen at Thebes in the Ramesside Period. Bibliothèque d'Étude, 50. Cairo, 1973. Standard work on the royal necropolis as an institution and its personnel.
- Haring, Ben. “A Systematic Bibliography on Deir el-Medîna.” In Village Voices: Proceedings of the Symposium “Texts from Deir el-Medîna and their Interpretation”: Leiden, May 31–June 1, 1991, edited by R. J. Demarée and A. Egberts, pp. 111–140. CNWS Publications, 13. Leiden, 1992. An updated bibliography and a database of nonliterary texts from Deir el-Medina are being prepared by the Deir el-Medina Database project (Leiden University). Available in a preliminary form on the World Wide Web (www.leidenuniv.nl/nino/dmd/dmd.html).
- Porter, Bertha, and Rosalind L. B. Moss. Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings, vol. 1, The Theban Necropolis, part II: Royal Tombs and Smaller Cemeteries. 2d ed. Oxford, 1964. Brief description and bibliography of the archaeological remains at Deir el-Medina from all periods, in chapter 9, pp. 685–749.
- Montserrat, D., and L. Meskell. “Mortuary Archaeology and Religious Landscape at Graeco-Roman Deir el-Medina.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 83 (1997), 179–197.
- Valbelle, Dominique. “Les ouvriers de la Tombe”: Deir el-Médineh à l'époque ramesside. Bibliothèque d'Étude, 96. Cairo, 1985. Standard work dealing with various aspects of the workmen's settlement and its documentation.
- Zonhoven, L. J. “A Systematic Bibliography on Deir el-Medina.” In Gleanings from Deir el-Medîna, edited by R. J. Demarée and Jac. J. Janssen, pp. 245–298. Egyptologische Uitgaven, 1. Leiden, 1982.