Lying due south of Cairo, Memphis was located strategically at the point where the Nile splits into branches forming the river’s delta. In the Old Kingdom, c. 2650-2150 BC, the kings built their pyramid tombs in the desert west of Memphis. For long periods of Egyptian history the town was the country’s capital and served as a royal residence as well as a centre of culture and trade.
Memphis. Ruins of the great temple of the god Ptah. Photo: Janne Klerk
Petrie began his excavation of Memphis in 1908. That same year, the Ny Carlsberg Foundation sponsored Petrie’s Egyptian excavations for the first time. However, when the First World War broke out in 1914 Petrie had to call a temporary halt to his work in Egypt.
The excavations of Memphis were carried out in the wet Nile Valley, where Petrie was faced with considerable challenges. The season comprised a few months per year in the spring, when the area was at its driest. It was necessary to engage a large workforce to pump out the water and remove the mud, and the heavy nature of such work required the teams on the pumps to be changed every quarter of an hour. In addition, Petrie was obliged to battle with the bureaucracy, political considerations and run-of-the-mill problems in order to get concessions to dig.
Petrie’s excavations of Memphis © Petrie Museum, University College London
Petrie succeeded in drawing up a good overall plan of Memphis with temples, palaces, workshops and other, smaller buildings. The Glyptotek received finds from a large temple precinct dedicated to the god Ptah. Ptah was the local creator god and the patron of craftsmen. Other finds came from a palace dating from the time of King Apries
Ruins of the Palace of Apries in Memphis, (c. 589-568 BC). Photo: Janne Klerk