“Village of the Monastery,” a site located on the eastern bank of the Nile River in Upper Egypt (26°22′N, 31°54′E). The site stretches for approximately 2 kilometers (1.5 miles) along the gebel (mountains) from the Coptic monastery (deir in Arabic) and modern village, after which the site is named, to the area known as Sheikh Farag after the tomb of a local Islamic holy man. The site primarily consists of a series of cemeteries that contain thousands of burials dating from early Predynastic (c.3800 BCE) to Coptic times (after 400 CE). Inscriptions from dynastic-era tombs associate individuals buried at Naga ed-Deir with the ancient town of Thinis (also Tjeni or This), the most important town of the eighth Upper Egyptian nome.
Archaeological work began at the site with the 1901–1904 excavations of the Phoebe A. Hearst Egyptian Expedition of the University of California, under the direction of the American Egyptologist George A. Reisner. Albert Lythgoe, Arthur C. Mace, and Frederick W. Green worked with Reisner at that time. The Hearst expedition numbered cemeteries 100 to 3500 between wadis 1 and 3 at the southern end of the site, cemeteries 9000 and 10,000 to the north, and the Coptic deir to the south. For a few seasons after 1910, and again in 1923, Reisner or his associates returned to the site, this time under the auspices of the joint Museum of Fine Arts, Boston—Harvard University Expedition. At that time, Reisner was assisted by Alan Rowe, Clarence S. Fisher, and Dows Dunham. The MFA—Harvard expedition worked in some of the same areas as the Hearst expedition and also identified cemeteries in the area of Sheikh Farag. Since that time, Naga ed-Deir has been visited briefly by various archaeologists and others, but no major excavations have occurred at the site. Artifacts from the site are found in museums throughout the world, but the largest collections outside of Egypt are at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the University of California at Berkeley. Egyptologists and anthropologists continue to work on the Naga ed-Deir material.
Naga ed-Deir is best known for remains dating to the Predynastic (c.3800–3200 BCE), the late Old Kingdom, and the First Intermediate Period (c.2300–2061 BCE), although the full time span for the recovered materials is much broader. The preservation of perishable materials in Predynastic cemetery 7000 was remarkably good, so clothing, wood, and basketry, as well as human hair, skin, and even internal organs were recovered. Examination of the best-preserved bodies by anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith revealed no trace of the practice of clitoridectomy (female circumcision) during this period, although evidence of male circumcision was documented. The transitional late Old Kingdom/First Intermediate Period at Naga ed-Deir, particularly at cemetery 3500, has become famous for the large series of painted limestone stelae (grave stones) of local dignitaries, both male and female.
Other remains date from the Early Dynastic period and the Old Kingdom. Early Dynastic finds (c.3050–2700 BCE), primarily from cemeteries 1500 and 3500, included large flint knives, metal tools and weapons, cylinder seals, and gold jewelry. The published Old Kingdom (c.2687–2206 BCE) remains from cemeteries 500–900 included mud-brick mastaba tombs, some of large size, as well as tombs of more ordinary people. Reisner excavated mud-brick beehive tombs at Naga ed-Deir that were similar to those found in the Old Kingdom workmen's cemeteries near the Giza pyramids.
Large portions of the remains recovered from Naga ed-Deir are unpublished. With the exception of some rare papyri, which document construction and dockside activities, Middle Kingdom (c.2061–1665 BCE) materials, including coffins, jewelry, stone vessels, ceramics, and funerary masks from cemeteries 400, 1500, 200, SF 500, and elsewhere at the site remain virtually unknown. Although less numerous than graves of the earlier periods, burials of the Second Intermediate Period and the New Kingdom (c.1569–1081 BCE), which contained pottery, coffins, furniture, scribal palettes, uninscribed funerary cones, and more, were recovered. Burials from the Third Intermediate Period, the Late period, and from Greco-Roman times (c.1081 BCE–400 CE) were uncommon at Naga ed-Deir. Those found contained mostly ceramics, were not grouped but scattered throughout the site, and had often reused earlier tombs. Large numbers of Coptic burials, some that were dated into recent times, were also found throughout the site. They illustrate the changing burial customs of the local Christians.
Naga ed-Deir is important today not only for its artifactual, architectural, and human remains, which span more than six thousand years, but also for the quality of the documentation produced early in the twentieth century, the time of its excavation. Reisner was a pioneer in the use of photography in archaeology (more than seven thousand Hearst photographs of the site exist), and he, along with his assistants, took notes and made sketches of almost every tomb encountered. The existence of this documentation almost one hundred years after the excavations makes it possible to study the cemeteries, which today have been seriously affected by local population growth and development. The books, scholarly theses, and articles written about Naga ed-Deir have focused on only a portion of the material obtained from this site.
- Dunham, Dows. Naga-ed-Dêr Stelae of the First Intermediate Period. Boston, 1937. Illustrated compendium of known stela from Naga ed-Deir; includes translations of text and other information.
- Lythgoe, Albert M. Edited by Dows Dunham. The Predynastic Cemetery N 7000. Naga-ed Dêr, Part IV. University of California Publications, Egyptian Archaeology, 7. Berkeley, 1965. Illustrated publication of Lythgoe's field notes and Elliot Smith's anatomical comments.
- Mace, Arthur C. The Early Dynastic Cemeteries of Naga-ed Dêr, Part II. University of California Publications, Egyptian Archaeology, 3. Leipzig, 1909. Illustrated publication of the Early Dynastic tombs from cemeteries 3000 and 3500; a few First Intermediate Period materials are also illustrated; includes some analysis and discussion of the significance and historic context of the remains.
- Podzorski, Patricia V. Their Bones Shall Not Perish: An Examination of Predynastic Skeletal Remains from Naga-ed-Dêr in Egypt. New Malden, England, 1990. Compilation and analysis of information available from the specimens, field notes, and photographs, as well as other published and unpublished sources on the human remains from cemetery 7000. Includes a discussion of topics, such as Predynastic health, mortality, and skeletal pathologies. Hard to find outside of the British Museum, London.
- Reisner, George A. A Provincial Cemetery of the Pyramid Age. Naga-ed-Dêr Part III. University of California Publications, Egyptian Archaeology, 6. Oxford, 1932. Illustrated publication of the Old Kingdom tombs from cemeteries 500 to 900; includes analysis and some discussion of the significance of the materials and historic context.
- Reisner, George A. The Early Dynastic Cemeteries of Naga-ed-Dêr, Part I. University of California Publications, Egyptian Archaeology, 2. Leipzig, 1908. Illustrated publication of the Early Dynastic tombs from cemetery 1500, with some analysis and discussion of significance and historic context.
- Simpson, William K. Papyrus Reisner I: The Records of a Building Project in the Reign of Sesostris I. Boston, 1963. Transliteration and translation of this Middle Kingdom (Dynasty 12) papyrus from Naga ed-Deir tomb 408; includes commentaries on grammar, syntax, and meaning, as well as photographs of the text.
- Simpson, William K. Papyrus Reisner II: Accounts of the Dockyard Workshop at This in the Reign of Sesostrisr I. Boston, 1965. Similar in format to volume 1, with additional materials presented.
Patricia V. Podzorski