Theodore Davis’ Dighouse

Davis house; Valley of the Monkeys.

The Davis House in the Valley of the Monkeys
fig. 1 The Davis House in 2008, as photographed by Monika Dolinska

Although inseparably connected to the discovery of Ancient Egypt, Theodore M. Davis is one of the most difficult people to do research on, and so is the house he lived in, of and on , in Luxor.

Most of the information we publish here (as quotes), has been handed over to us by KMT’s own John Adams, who spend the better part of the last five years doing research on Theodore M. Davis, and John Romer, British Egyptologist, historian archaeologist, anchorman of several television series, portraying Ancient Egypt and author of several books; one being Valley of the Kings. The part about the house has been put here as an exact quote.

The rest of the (yet to be checked and thus not published) information was retrieved from interviews with elderly Egyptians in the area and through our own survey of the house.

Alterations to the house, of yet unknown date, still have to be researched. Fortunately, SCA staff as well as local people are more than willing to help in finding the right information.

Hopefully, we will be able to find out the last pieces of information we are looking for in March 2012.

Marcel and Monica Maessen,
‘t Veld, The Netherlands
August 2011

Theodore M. Davis.
fig. 2. Theodore M. Davis

The Davis House as shown in  Theodore Davis's Book "The tombs of Harmhabi and Toutânkhamanou"
fig. 3 The Davis House as shown in Theodore Davis’s Book “The tombs of Harmhabi and Toutânkhamanou”

“Davis House” (to Egyptological missions)
Luxor West Bank, West branch of the valley of the kings
Originally build for:
Theodore M. Davis (1837 – February 23, 1915);
built by Ayrton R. Davis (17 December 1882 – 18 May 1914)
Other Occupants:
  • Edward Ayrton, 1906 – 1908
  • Harold Jones, 1908 – 1911
  • Harry Burton, 1912 – 1914
  • Unknown 1914 – 1917
  • Howard Carter (used the house as store rooms) 1917 – 1925??
  • Unknown 1925 – 1978??
  • John Romer 1978 – 1980
  • Christian and Suzanne Leblanc from ?? – ??
  • Dr. Mohamed Hilal Ghaly (1996)
  • Japanese mission (house used as office)
  • Dr. Jadwiga Lipinska from 1984/85 untill 1996
  • Dr. Mohamed Biyali 1997 – 2003
  • Unknown 2003 – 2008
  • Various SCA Inspectors 2008 – current day

[Quoting John Adams]

The Davis dig house was built during the 1905-1906 season under the direction of Davis’s excavator, Edward Ayrton.  The site they selected was near the entry to the West Valley, off the primary Valley of the Kings path and out of the sight of most of the Valley’s tourist visitors.

The stone and mud structure was originally a four bedroom affair, each bedroom ten feet square.  The building was expanded over the years; a kitchen and guards’ room were added next.  In 1907 a studio with large, north facing windows was added for the work of Harold Jones, who had joined Davis’s staff as an artist.

The Davis house in 1971. almost in ruins, before it was rebuilt by John Romer's  team.
fig. 4 The Davis house in 1971. almost in ruins, before it was rebuilt by John Romer’s  team.

Water was brought to the dig house in jars by donkey.  Since the house was used to store objects found in the Davis excavations, two guards were on the staff as well as a cook and houseboy.

Davis’s archaeologists, visitors to the Valley, and frequently Davis himself lived in the house during digging seasons.  The house was originally built with a “double skin” to keep it as cool as possible.

The Davis House was visited by numerous celebrities, as well as archaeologists working in the Valley:

  • British Consul General Sir Eldon Gorst visited in 1908, when Davis opened jars from the “Tutankhamun Cache” he had discovered, with disappointing results (although Gorst praised Davis’s cook).
  • In 1910 former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt had lunch at Davis House as he toured the Valley.
  • In 1911, J. P. Morgan visited Davis for lunch at the house.
  • On March 9, 1911, Harold Jones (at the time Davis’s excavator) died at the house of tuberculosis.

After Davis quit working in the Valley in 1914, the house was used by Howard Carter as a storage facility.  The building was used for various purposes over the following years, and was sometimes occupied as a residence by archaeologists.

By 1978 the building had seriously deteriorated, and it was excavated and rebuilt by John Romer, who discovered a number of broken glass photographic negatives in the debris.

Early in the 21st century, the Davis House was used by archaeologist Peter Piccione as one of the reference points for his GPS survey of the Valley of the Kings.

A plan for the Davis house. The untinted walls are those of the original house, designed by Ayrton. In 1978-1979 it was enlarged and altered for use of John Romer's  expedition headquarters.
fig.5 A plan for the Davis house during the last phase of its occupation before World War I.
The untinted walls are those of the original house, designed by Ayrton.
In 1978-1979 it was enlarged and altered for use of John Romer’s expedition headquarters.

The house has been significantly altered in the intervening years; still standing and in use as a storage building, the dome now atop the building was not original to the construction in 1905; according to one story, the dome was added when a television documentary film crew used it as a “stand in” for Howard Carter’s house.

Although it could be true, that some parts of the documentary were shot there, most of the inside footage and a large part of the footage, showing the house, was shot at the “De Garis Davies” house, a one minute walk up from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Expedition House.

[Extract From John Romer’s book Valley of the kings]

After Theodore Davis had been excavating in Egypt for a couple of years, the “Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte” decided that there were only two ways, in which Theodore Davis would be allowed to continue his work.

One of these ways included the obligatory employment of a full-time archaeologist. Davis agreed and hired Edward Ayrton, who had been working with Naville.

It was Ayrton who established Davis’ excavations in the Valley as a proper working expedition, rather than simply a gang of men, supervised by the inspectors and visited by Davis.

With Ayrton organizing the day-to-day excavations and so releasing the inspectors for their other duties, he would need accommodation close to the site and after searching for a suitable location, Ayrton and Davis built a small house of stone and mud at the entrance to the West Valley.

Edward Russel Ayrton
fig. 6 Edward Russel Ayrton.

It was an excellent choice. Invisible from the track that took visitors to the Valley, yet only a five minute walk from the excavations, the house was cleverly situated in the shade of a cliff and sited so that the breezes run down the desert valleys blew alongside it. The Roof, slightly pitched and built of timber, was double skinned to keep the ceilings of the house cool during the long hot summers.

At first Ayrton designed a modest affair of four bedrooms, each ten feet square, in a row like monks’ cells, with one small window and a reception room in front of them with Arab-style divans surrounding a central table. A kitchen and guards’ room was added later to one side and the house was subsequently further enlarged as more facilities were needed. Though  lacking water and electricity, the house was clean and very dry.

Davis House or Ayrton House?
Although the house is called “Davis House”, a better name for it would have been “Ayrton House” , since it was Edward Russel Ayrton who really lived in the house, during excavation seasons when he was employed by Davis, while Theodore Davis spent most of his time in Egypt, living on a Dahabyiah, called “The Bedawin”. (You can read some information about Davis’s Dahabyiah at the end of this article)

Theodore Davis standing in front of the house that he built in the West Valley. These fragments of glass negative were recovered from loose mud and plaster in the ruined Davis House during its rebuilding by John Romer’s expedition in 1978.
fig.  7.  Theodore Davis standing in front of the house that he built in the West Valley.
These fragments of glass negative were recovered from loose mud and plaster in the ruined
Davis House during its rebuilding by John Romer’s expedition in 1978.

After Ayrton, Harry Burton lived in the house. Burton turned the house into a home. In one of the small bedrooms he pinned pictures on the walls: photographs he had taken of the Great Sphinx by the Giza Pyramids, which had appeared in the “Illustrated London News”, and others of country houses in the green English landscape.

Small framed mottoes were hung in the house, fine archaeological advice such as “The fellow who does a lot of running around isn’t the one who gets ahead”.

He also had food and photographic equipment sent by rail from Cairo, all the requirements of expedition life and quite luxurious.

When Burton joined the Metropolitan Museum of Art Expedition, he subsequently abandoned the house in the West Valley to join his new team in the Metropolitan House. Supposedly, the house stayed empty for a couple of years, until Lord Carnarvon took over Davis’ concession in the Valley of the Kings and Howard Carter converted the old Davis House into store rooms. It’s interesting to learn that Howard Carter found a roughly drawn excavation map in the desert house, drawn on thick cartridge paper on which Ayrton had drawn the sites that he had excavated for Davis.

Current condition of the house.

Overall, the house is in a good condition. Especially on the outside, it looks like it could still last another 100 years.

However, on the inside, some parts are in need of repair. Wooden beams, holding the roof, are bending downwards and could collapse.

These should be replaced. The bathroom is in dire need of replacement as is the electrical wiring in some parts of the house.

A good thing is, that for the greater part, the outer walls are not made of mud-brick, but of stones stacked one on top of the other and held together by cement.

With some care and attention, restoring the house could prove to be a good investment. If not for history’s sake, then for the sake of the inspectors, living in the house.

Wooden beams, holding the roof, are bending downwards and could collapse.
Wooden beams, holding the roof, are bending downwards and could collapse.
Kent Weeks' Caravan. just a couple of meters away from Davis House.
Kent Weeks’ Caravan. just a couple of meters away from
Davis House.

For now, the Old Theodore Davis house seems to be safe. Out of the way of any monuments and not built over any Pharaonic tombs or temples, it could stay there for years.

Plans have been put forward to turn the house into a visitors centre. The same as they did with Howard Carter’s old house.

Although it’s no substitute: Should SCA inspectors at any given time, have to move from their current home, they can always decide to go and live in Kent Weeks’s old caravan, only a couple of meters away from the Theodore Davis House.

Interesting detail:

The name Dr. Mohamed el Beyali (Former SCA Director for Luxor West bank) is signed on the wooden ceiling with the date 18/06/1999.

photos the name Mohamed el Beyali is signed on the wooden ceiling with the date 18/06/1999
the name Mohamed Biyali is signed on the wooden ceiling with the date 18/06/1999


Whenever possible, we will also try to hear what former residents of a dig house have to say. In this case some memories, shared with us, by Monika Dolínska:

“Professor Lipinska organized the Polish-Egyptian Tuthmosis III Temple Mission in 1978.

I was its member from the beginning. At first we were staying in the Metropolitan House, but after five seasons, when the mission increased (from 4-5 members to 9-10, as conservators joined in), we moved to the Habu Hotel (one horrible season 1983-84) and then to “Wadein” (Davis House) where we stayed from 1984-85 until the end of the mission under the guidance of Prof. Lipinska in 1996.

We cleaned and painted the house, our restorers made fantastic new wooden furniture, including a special table for artists and architects with movable top; we weaved lampshades of palm leaves, Prof. Lipinska arranged a small garden in front of the door, with beautifully blossoming flowers.

Life was very nice and quiet (sometimes even too quiet), we were glad because the house was kept very clean.

The only problem we had, was with the car – at the beginning we had a Gaz, not always ready to cooperate. Pushing a Gaz to make it move was not an easy task…

Later we had Nysa – slightly better – and at the end a Nissan – very good, but sometimes not big enough.

There were times when the only way to get to work at Deir el-Bahri was across the mountain – up and down the cliff.”

More recollections of Monika Dolinska will follow later, accompanied by some photographs from the time.


  • In March 2011, SCA inspectors where living in the house. It’s future is uncertain.
  • More information will be added, after our visit in March 2012.
  • Hopefully, even more info will be added after the release of John Romer’s publication about the tomb of Ramesses XI


  • John Romer
  • John Adams
  • Monika Dolinska
  • Mohamed Hatem (SCA)
  • Yasser Abdel Razzak (SCA)

Photographic copyright:

fig. 1
Courtesy of Mrs. Monika Dolinska
fig. 2
fig. 3
From Theodore Davis’s Book “The tombs of Harmhabi and Toutânkhamanou” (Harry Burton?)
fig. 4
from “Graffiti de la montagne thébaine”, I, 2, Le Caire, 1971, plate CXL (thanks to Mr. Alban-Brice Pimpaud)
fig. 5
Courtesy of Mr. John Romer
fig. 6
fig 7.
Courtesy of Mr. John Romer
Flash video
Images copyright Abla el Bahrawy

A special “Thank you” to John Adams for his information and the article about “The Bedawin”, Abla el Bahrawy for taking (and translating) notes, during our interviews with Mohamed Hatem and Yasser abdel Razzak.

Should I have forgotten to mention anyone: My apologies!

Status of historical research
Status of article

The Bedawin (By John Adams)

When Theodore M. Davis decided he would spend every winter in Egypt in 1896, he ordered the construction (in Egypt) of a dahabiyeh, a unique type of sail – powered houseboat designed for sailing up and down the Nile.  Davis’s boat, named the Beduin (the spelling varies from time to time but on the boat’s stationary and in his mistress’s journal it is always “Beduin”), had two masts and was one of the most luxurious boats on the River; it featured a grand piano in the salon, a crystal chandelier in the dining room, a library, four bedrooms and bathrooms with tubs.  The furnishings were the finest money could buy, and a large United States flag always flew from the stern.  On U.S. holidays, the Beduin was always decorated with additional flags and bunting.

When he picked up the boat on January 9, 1897, Davis covered the large upper deck with carpets and placed brown, hooded wicker chairs along with easy chairs there.  The crew of around twenty included sailors and kitchen staff; all the crew wore white turbans and brown cardigans with the name of the boat stitched in blue across the chest.  Usually as it travelled the river the boat pulled a floating poultry cage behind it, the birds providing eggs and main dishes for the five course dinners Davis and his guests dined on.  Davis and Emma Andrews (his mistress) usually brought company with them on their voyages, and Davis’s English butler and Emma’s French maid rounded out the group.  The boat would tie up every evening on the banks of the Nile, the crewmen pounding large pilings into the shore and securing the boat with strong ropes.  During his excavating seasons in the Valley of the Kings, the boat tied up to the west bank of the river, and Davis would travel to the Valley on a donkey or, on special occasions, in a carriage.

The boat served as Davis’s social headquarters in Egypt; Emma’s journal is crammed with details of lunches, teas and dinners when the most prominent Egyptologists and travelers of the day (including J.P. Morgan and the Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s third son) joined them.  On several important occasions (after the discovery of the tomb of Yuya and Thuyu and the “Gold Tomb,” for example) the Beduin hauled the most precious and fragile antiquities to Cairo for deposit in the Museum.  During the majority of the year, when Davis was not in Egypt, the boat’s captain lived on it in Cairo.  By 1905 technology had moved past the “golden age” for sailing dahabiyehs, and Davis frequently was forced to rent a steamer to tow the yacht when winds were uncooperative

Davis’s last trip to Egypt ended in early 1914.  After his death in 1915, while a contentious legal battle raged over his estate, Howard Carter wrote to Emma and asked what disposition was to be made for the boat.  Emma replied that it was her property (being far from the reach of American lawsuits), and Carter negotiated a sale of the Beduin to Davis’s old friend, the Egyptologist Percy Newberry.

(Courtesty of


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