Walter Bryan Emery
Egyptologist Walter Bryan Emery was born in Liverpool on July 2, 1903.
Before his career in Egyptology started he had been addressed by his parents
to the Marine Engineering, where he learnt the principles of draughtsmanship
which will be brilliantly exploited into the line drawings illustrations
of his books plates. In 1923 he participated to the EES excavation campaign
at Amarna as student assistant thanks to a recommendation by T.E. Peet.
In 1924 he was already Field Director of sir Robert Mond's Excavations
at Thebes for the Liverpool University.
He made several clearings, restorations and protective operations into
a score of tombs at Sheikh Abd el-Gurnah and in the following years, a
22 years old boy, he was directing four hundred men for the clearance
and restoration of the wonderful tomb of the Town Governor and Visir Ramose
(TT 55); few years later he also drew the fac-simile of Ramose's tomb
reliefs which easied the task for Davies' publication.
In 1927-28 he worked, still for R. Mond, at Armant where he discovered
the Buchis bulls catacombs: it was Emery's first animal necropolis before
the long series he'll excavate at Saqqara in the last ten years of his
The following season he joined H. Frankfort in the excavations at Armant
where Emery was accompained by his wife Molly, married in 1928. In the
six following years they were together in Nubia for five campaigns of
rescue of sites and monuments after the construction of the new Aswan
dam. The most amazing and difficult task proved to be the research (1931)
on the Tumuli of Ballana and Qustul, which it was still doubt whether
they were natural formations or artificial mounds. The IV-VIth century
A.D. X-Group kings who ruled Lower Nubia after the fall of Meroe had been
buried beneath those mounds with their wooden chests, weapons, glass vessels,
furniture, silver harnessed horses and camels, sacrificed servants and
wives (The Royal Tombs of Ballana and Qustul, 1938).
The Nubian survey ended up in 1934 and in the following year his presence
was requested at Saqqara where he was asked to continue the excavation
of the archaic cemetery interrupted four years before on C.M. Firth's
At Saqqara Emery started in 1935 from tomb FS 3035, which Firth had only
partially cleared (cf. the plan in Reisner, Tomb Development); for the
first time it was shown that, unlike most of the 2nd and 3rd Dynasty mastabas
dug by J. E. Quibell before the war, the First Dynasty tombs contained
magazines even in their superstructure: FS3035 had 45, and many still
contained part of their original provisions (cf. Saqqara).
Emery estabilished with P. Lacau that, after the recording of the loose
tombs which Firth had commenced to dig, "only the systematic clearance
of the whole site square by square" could do justice to such an important
More tombs excavated or re-excavated in 1937-39 were published by Emery
only after the Second World war (GT I, 1949): S3036, 3111, 3038, 3120,
3121, 3338, X (also cf. GT III, 1958, 1-2).
In 1938 he had also discovered S3357, the oldest tomb known at Saqqara,
which was soon published in the next year (Hor Aha, 1939); this publication
opened the famous dispute between those who thought that the Early Dynastic
kings were buried just in those tombs at Saqqara (the Abydos tombs being
regarded as mere cenotaphs) and those who instead still shared Petrie's
view maintaining that Abydos was the royal cemetery (see the page of Saqqara).
The last find/excavation before the war was S3471, which contained an
incredible quantity of copper (cf. Saqqara page).
After the war, Emery found (in 1946) the mastabas S3500 and 3503; in the
following 7 years the works were stopped.
For a short period Emery dedicated to the diplomatic career; then he obtained
the Chair of Egyptology at University College, London in 1951 and he was
appointed Field Director of the EES in 1952; in 1953 the fieldwork at
Saqqara were started once again.
In this period he excavated S3503 (discovered in 1946), and found four
new tombs: S3504, S3505, S3506 and S3507 (published in GT II/III, 1954,
1958). S3507 was the last mastaba of the 1st Dynasty excavated on the
eastern ridge of the North Saqqara plateau; in the last 7 years of his
life Emery worked on the other side of the plateau (see below).
Unfortunately the whole complex of 'minor' tombs, e.g. the smaller ones
of First Dynasty date and those of the Second and Third Dynasty, which
Emery had worked at during the 1933-1939 / 1945-1947 seasons, have never
been published at all (see Archaic Egypt, 158-164, figs. 94-97).
From 1956 to 1964 he was in Nubia for the salvage campaigns (7 seasons)
of the sites and monuments threatened by the High Dam of Aswan. It was
in these years that he published two divulgative and interpretative books:
Archaic Egypt (1961) and Egypt in Nubia (1965); in 1962 he published a
small report on the Second Dynasty tomb 3477 in which an intact funerary
repast had been found (A Funerary repast, 1962).
He was finally back to North Saqqara in October 1964; he found some Third
Dynasty mastabas on the western part of the Northern plateau, where he
discovered the tomb of Hetepka (published by Martin in 1979) and the Ibis
galleries; in these years he began to think that there could have been
a relation between these animals necropoleis and the Third Dynasty mastabas,
perhaps a possible indication that the seat of the tomb of Imhotep
should have been very near; in 1967 Emery was operated but forty days
later he was already beginning a new work season; in 1968/9 he cleared
and planned a large (m 52x19) 3rd Dynasty twin Mastaba (S3518, Djoser's
reign) and the Baboons necropolis; next year the catacombs of the falcons
and those of the cows, the Mothers of Apis bulls, together with large
amounts of late period objects were brought to light; in 1970-71 it was
the turn of a new Ibis catacomb and more nearby tombs of the Third Dynasty:
S3050, S3519 (cf. Emery's reports in JEA 51-57; Martin, Smith, Jeffreys
in JEA 60, 63); but in the last five years his health conditions had often
been difficult and only his character strength allowed him to pursue day
by day in the work which he had loved for all his life. Few days before
the end of the 1970-71 season he lost consciousness after the morning
work and died four days later in the night of March 11, 1971 (H.S.
Smith, in: JEA 57, 1971, 190-201); Emery was the most important figure
working and walking through the North Saqqara plateau in the middle of
the last century, his contribute to the knowledge of the Early Dynastic
period was perhaps second only to J.P. Lauer's, whose name was still more
indissolubly tied to the necropolis of Saqqara; both these men shared
a profound affective attachment to this site, an indefatigable will to
tear the past out of the its sands and an undoubt professionality in undertaking
their work and documenting it with very high standards of publication.
The EES works at North Saqqara were prosecuted for some years by G.T.
Martin and H.S. Smith; in 1976, when the excavations were definitively
closed, the EES declared that (apud J. D. Ray, WA 10:2, 1978, 151) the
"mummified zoo" which Emery and co. had discovered amounted
to 4 million mummified ibises, 500.000 hawks, 500 baboons, 20 cows, 4000
dedicatory statues, about 1000 documents in demotic and other texts in
Greek, Aramaic, Coptic, Carian, Arabic and an unknown language using the
Greek alphabet; not to count the terraced temples and the tombs.
But for us the most precious inheritance he's left is certainly the series
of sixteen First Dynasty tombs wonderfully published in five books, twenty
years of professional excavations at North Saqqara East (1936-1956), a
number of articles and reports (esp. in JEA, ASAE and The Illustrated
London News), the first synthesis of the Archaic Egypt culture and a clear
example of full dedition to the passion of a life by one of the greatest
names of Egyptology ever.
[Full Bibliography in the Saqqara page]