Shunet el-Zebib Documentation and Conservation
Project Directors: David O’Connor and Matthew D. Adams
Project Architect: William C.S. Remsen & Anthony Crosby
Structural engineer: Conor Power
Historic Era: Early Dynastic Period
Project Location: Sohag Governorate
Project Duration: 1999 – 2006 and 2010 – 2012
A huge ancient mudbrick structure dominates the desert landscape of north Abydos. In Egypt today, it is known somewhat enigmatically as the Shunet el-Zebib (“storehouse of raisins”) or the Shuneh, for short. The site of many important archaeological investigations from the nineteenth century to the present, the Shunet el-Zebib’s curious name nonetheless gives no clue to its true identity as one of Egypt’s oldest surviving royal monuments. It was, in fact, built by King Khasekhemwy, the last king of the Second Dynasty almost five thousand years ago, ca. 2700–2680 BCE. Khasekhemwy was also the last early king to be buried in Egypt’s first great royal necropolis at Abydos, in a remote location known today as Umm el-Qa‛ab. Each ruler who built a tomb at Abydos, from King Narmer at the beginning of the First Dynasty to King Khasekhemwy at the end of the Second, also constructed a corresponding funerary temple near the desert edge overlooking the ancient town (1.75 km north of the royal necropolis). Khasekhemwy’s funerary temple, the Shunet el-Zebib, is the only one of these monuments still standing today, making it the sole surviving example of Egypt’s first great tradition of royal funerary architecture. It is among the oldest mudbrick structures in the world. Major elements of Khasekhemwy’s Abydos monument were copied in stone in the funerary complex of his successor, King Djoser, at Saqqara, making it a key component in the evolution of the royal pyramid complex.
Funding from ARCE’s Egyptian Antiquities Project (EAP) between 1999 and 2006 resulted in the complete documentation of the existing condition of the monument; the development of a comprehensive conservation plan; and the implementation of approximately one-third of the needed conservation interventions. Structural instability caused by missing sections of original masonry resulting from human, animal, and insect activity was identified as the greatest threat to the monument. Structural integrity was restored by replacing the missing masonry with newly fabricated mudbricks of the same size and constituent materials as the original mudbricks. Follow-up funding provided under a subsequent USAID grant to ARCE, the Egyptian Antiquities Conservation (EAC) program, enabled the conservation of the enclosure to continue 2010–2012, achieving around two-thirds of the needed conservation work. The urgency and importance of preserving the Shunet el-Zebib was underscored by its inclusion in the World Monuments Fund’s 2008 Watch List of the World’s 100 Most Endangered Sites.
Statement of Responsibility:
The conservation and documentation of King Khasekhemwy’s Funerary Monument at Abydos was implemented by the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University’s North Abydos Project, directed by David O’Connor and Matthew Douglas Adams, in consultation with preservation architects William C.S. Remsen (International Preservation Associates, Inc.) and Anthony Crosby (Architectural Conservation, LLC), and structural engineer Conor Power (Structural Technology, Inc.). Fieldwork was directed by Matthew Adams, and the implementation of conservation solutions was supervised by Anthony Crosby. The conservation program at the Shuneh was made possible by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (formerly the Supreme Council of Antiquities).
This project and its legacy are dedicated to the memory of David O’Connor, 1938—2022, the initial architect of the Shunet el-Zebib’s preservation for the future.
For information about ongoing research and conservation of the Shunet el-Zebib and its archaeological environment, visit the Abydos Archaeology project at abydos.org.
Conservation of the monument was originally funded through the American Research Center in Egypt's Egyptian Antiquities Project (ARCE-EAP) under United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Agreement No. 263-G-00-93-00089-00 (1999-2006) and subsequently funded through ARCE's Egyptian Antiquities Conservation Project (ARCE-EAC) under USAID Agreement No. 263-A-00-04-00018-00 (2010-2012).
See King Khasekhemwy’s funerary monument on Google maps here
- American Research Center in Egypt: Documentation and Conservation of the Funerary Monument of King Khasekhemwy at Abydos
- David O'Connor, Abydos: Egypt's first pharaohs and the cult of Osiris (Thames & Hudson, 2009)
- Abydos Archaeology: What is the Shunet el-Zebib?
- World Monuments Fund: Shunet el-Zebib
- Toby Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt (Routledge, 1999)
- Matthew D. Adams (2019), “The Origins of Sacredness at Abydos,” in Abydos: the Sacred Land at the Western Horizon, ed. Ilona Regulski, pp. 25–70 (British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 8, Peeters, 2019)
- Matthew D. Adams and David O’Connor, “The Shunet el-Zebib at Abydos: Architectural Conservation at One of Egypt’s Oldest Preserved Royal Monuments,” in Offerings to the Discerning Eye, ed. Sue D’Auria, pp. 1–8 (Brill, 2010)
- David O’Connor, Matthew Douglas Adams, William C.S. Remsen, and Anthony Crosby, “The Funerary Cult Enclosure of Khasekhemwy at Abydos,” in Preserving Egypt’s Cultural Heritage: the Conservation Work of the American Research Center in Egypt 1995–2005, ed. Randi Danforth, pp. 11–18. American University in Cairo Press, 2010.
Disclaimer: Various project outputs such as maps, plans, architectural drawings, illustrations, and other materials have been embedded within the project's reports. Users who wish to explore the full scope of the project's outputs and documentation are encouraged to use the "Series" field within the sidebar to find all of the collection's reports