The Islamic medieval village in the oasis of Dakhla – lies Qila al-Dabba, Balat’s ancient necropolis.
Qila el-Dab’a, the necropolis associated with the Old Kingdom settlement at Ain Asil, is located about 1.5km to the west of the ancient town. The site was investigated in 1970s by Egyptian archaeologist Ahmad Fakhry who uncovered four large mudbrick mastabas probably belonging to governors of the oasis.
Since 1986 the IFAO have been excavating at Qila el-Dab’a and they have found at least six or seven mastabas, including one containing the mummy of a Dynasty VI ruler.
The mastaba field at Qila el-Dab’a is surrounded by many smaller graves from the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period. These graves are simple oval pits with a descending staircase. Other tombs have been found dug into the rock and covered by mudbrick vaulted roofs.
The mastabas were constructed in steps from mudbricks and dressed with slabs of limestone. When found, the tombs were in various stages of ruin, but basically followed the plan of a large brick enclosure surrounding a courtyard in which the mastaba stood. The tombs had niched façades like others of the Old Kingdom and a funerary stela at the entrance identified the occupant.
Stela and jambs from the tomb of governor Ima-Pepi can be seen in the Kharga Heritage Museum.
The mastaba tombs show important differences in their construction. The first type had a substructure containing several burial chambers for family members and superstructures built over vast excavations in the open air.
Examples of this type are the mastabas of Ima-Pepi I (reign of Pepi I) and Khentika (reign of Pepi II). The second construction type contained only one burial chamber, an antechamber and store rooms built from stone and mudbrick. This was the type favoured Ima-Pepi II (reign of Pepi II) and Medunefer (reign of Pepi II) and they are generally smaller structures.
Inside the tombs there are sometimes a number of rooms, antechambers and burial chambers with barrel-vaulted roofs. The first to be identified was the tomb of the governor Medunefer who served during the reign of Pepi II and which contained funerary goods including gold jewellery. In the mastaba of Khentikau-Pepi, over 100 pottery vessels were found in fragments beneath the fallen masonry in the underground chambers.
Other governors who built mastabas at Qila el-Dab’a include Khentika, also from the reign of Pepi II whose painted subterranean chambers have been restored, and Ima-Pepi, whose later tomb shows an improvement in construction techniques.
The most recent reconstruction is the burial chamber of an individual called Bitsu, which contains vivid painted scenes depicting the official and his family, as well as part of a star-painted ceiling which is suspended above.
The mastabas of the wealthy governors were found to contain rich burial equipment with wooden or ceramic coffins, but further cemeteries containing more modest burials have been found to the south and east of the mastabas. These poorer members of the community were often buried in simple pits and wrapped only in layers of matting. Many skeletons have been found in the necropolis and have been studied by the IFAO, while some of the pottery and other artefacts from the site are on display in the Kharga Heritage Museum and in Cairo.
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