MastaBase preview

Pending further funding opportunities, we have placed a preview online of the MastaBase as it appeared on CD-ROM in 2008. In it you will find the tomb that kickstarted the Leiden Mastaba Project in 1998, the mastaba chapel of Hetepherakhet, once located at Saqqara, now housed in the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden. You can read a little bit more about the mastaba in this article. Also, a legend explaining the main and sub themes employed in our database is provided, and the font used in order to view the transliterations.

So far, the efforts of the Leiden Mastaba Study group, established in 2014, have been fully voluntary. Mehen has provided the first generous donation to start the work of placing the complete database freely available online, but we will need additional funding in order to proceed with this project. For suggestions about funding opportunities, please contact us at

Click here for the preview


Lecture by Massimiliano Nuzzolo

Spatial patterns of tomb location and court society in fifth dynasty Egypt

Date: 8 June 2016
Time: 15:00 – 16:00 hrs
Address: Cleveringaplaats 1, 2311 BD Leiden
Location: Lipsius Building, room 028

saqqara1Massimiliano Nuzzolo (IFAO, Czech Institute of Egyptology) will give a lecture about his research on the topography of Old Kingdom elite tombs at Saqqara, Giza and Abusir during the 5th dynasty.

In light of the centrality of the funerary dimension in Ancient Egypt, the tomb has always represented a key element in the understanding of the cultural and social values of the Egyptian society, and the role of the individual in both the society and the afterlife. Tombs have been thus approached from a textual and visual perspective, by investigating their artistic facets, their architectural layout, and even the funerary equipment with which they were furnished.

However, a weak point of tomb analysis, particularly as far as the Old Kingdom is concerned, is the study of tombs topography. In fact, no complete examination of the placement of the Old Kingdom tombs in their respective necropolis has been attempted, if we exclude the area of Giza, which has been the subject of many studies. The tomb placement seems to be, instead, a fundamental aspect in the Egyptian culture, as evidenced, for example, by the striking differences in the planning of the three main cemeteries of the Memphite necropolis in the Third Millennium BC, i.e. Saqqara, Abusir and Giza. In addition, very few studies have been done on the placement of the tombs in a precise and limited time span.

This lecture will thus address the issue of the formation of court society in Egypt from a different perspective, that is through spatial analysis of the above three cemeteries during the fifth dynasty. By combining analysis of the natural environment with landscape phenomenology (visibility, accessibility, position, interrelation) and the current Egyptological discussion on tomb architecture and decoration, the conference will move to the main methodological and theoretical question:

Can spatial patterns of Old Kingdom elite tombs reveal aspects of the nature of early court society in Egypt that are not accessible through the written and visual sources?



Website launch

Welcome to the website of the MastaBase 2.0

This online platform will contain the improved and updated MastaBase, which is a database of Old Kingdom elite tomb scenes published by dr. René van Walsem from Leiden University in the Netherlands. The initial offline CD-ROM database was released in 2008. It contains the plans, wall schemes, texts and translations of all the scenes in elite tombs (‘mastabas’) of the Memphite area during Egypt’s Old Kingdom (c. 2600-2100 BCE). An extensive statistics module provides the quantitative data with which to test and falsify hypotheses that are often made in Egyptology about the use and meaning of Old Kingdom tomb decoration. The so called ‘scenes of daily life’ provide a wealth of information about the social life of different classes in Ancient Egyptian society. To fully grasp the extent and diversity of this data, MastaBase has been proven to be an indispensable tool.

Over the year 2015-2017, a team of Egyptologists from Leiden University is volunteering their time and skills to update and extend the MastaBase and to make it available online. The Leiden Mastaba Study Group, as they are called, regularly meet to discuss the course of the project and topics of common interest regarding Old Kingdom tomb art. Currently they are trying to assess the possibilities of including GIS data into the database in cooperation with the IFAO, as well as creating an online bibliography of Old Kingdom elite tombs linking to publications that are freely available online (see the Old Kingdom Elite Tomb Iconography Bibliography).

Over time, a preview of the upcoming database will be made available on this website, as well as an up-to-date bibliography and developer’s blog.

For enquiries, please contact