Nicole Alexanian (1965 -2016)
Many people do not know the name of Nicole Alexanian, one of the most important Egyptologists of our time who died on 28 April this year. Nicole was an intelligent scholar and excavator and a very decent human being. I was abroad when my former student Mohamed Ismail, now director of Foreign Archaeological Missions at the Ministry of State for Antiquities, called me and told me the sad news of her death, adding that Nicole’s illness had never been enough to stop her from working.
I used to see Nicole twice a year or so when she would come to my office with her husband Stephan Seidlmayer, director of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo, another great Egyptologist. He and Nicole used to work hard offering fellowships to young Egyptian archaeologists, and they would review the articles in German in the publications of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. I will never forget Nicole’s beautiful smile that used to cheer everyone, and on hearing of her passing I immediately contacted Stephan, knowing that he would sorely miss his beautiful wife, the love of his life.
Nicole Alexanian was born in January 1965 and studied Egyptology, art history and German at Heidelberg University in Germany. Her PhD thesis was on “Die provinziellen Mastabagräber und Friedhöfe im Alten Reich” (Provincial Mastaba Tombs and Cemeteries in the Old Kingdom), which she was awarded in 2001.
While still at school, she joined excavations in Egypt, working from 1988 at Dahshur and serving as project director there after 2005. Dahshur and the archaeology of Old Kingdom funerary culture remained the focus of her scholarly work. Her book on the monumental mastaba of Netjer-Aperef at Dahshur and her articles on the archaeological traces of funerary rituals earned her international recognition. Throughout her life, she devoted much effort to caring for others, whether site workers, students, or colleagues. Living in Egypt and working for Egyptian archaeology was for her the most important thing in life.
What really made me respect Nicole was her work at Dahshur. This is a very important archaeological site, originally excavated by the great Ahmed Fakhry who discovered the valley temple of the Dahshur Pyramid, blocks of which are stored in Giza. The antiquities department gave Nicole permission to study these.
I remember on one occasion when Nicole was with me in my office with Stephan and we were discussing the famous Bent Pyramid at Dahshur. I told him that Fakhry had gone up into the chambers of the Pyramid, finding a current of cold air that had led him to believe that the actual burial chamber of the Pyramid had yet to be found. I told Nicole that I myself had visited the chambers and had felt the cold air he had described.
The causeway is located on the south-west corner of the valley temple discovered by Fakhry. The walls of the temple are decorated with scenes of a procession of personified funerary estates. On the east wall there are scenes of Upper Egypt and the lower funerary estates show female bearers.
Nicole carried on Fakhry’s work and was able to locate the causeway of the pyramid to 140m away. She also worked on the cemetery located to the east of the Red Pyramid and found the tombs of the priests who had served under the pharaoh. She carried out an important study of the bones found inside the tomb, the most important being her study of the skeleton of a man of 30 to 40 years old found in a shaft. She also found the workmen’s area. I now plan to go to Dahshur to see this work for myself.
Nicole Alexanian will be greatly missed by all those working in the field of Egyptology. This has lost one of its most important scholars who dedicated her life to the revival of the mysteries of the early Fourth Dynasty.