Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 - 29 January 2003
Issue No. 622
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Famous lives

The Saqqara tomb of a scribe in Akhenaten's reign and a colossal statue of one of Ramses II's wives at Zagazig have shed more light on two famous Pharaohs, as Nevine El-Aref reports

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The scribe of the treasury, Re-Hatiay, and his wife; parts of the colossal statue of the wife of Ramses II being unearthed; the scribe in a gesture of adoration before Osiris
The lives of the Pharaohs Akhenaten and Ramses II always excite interest -- the former for his worship of the Aten to the exclusion of all other gods, and the latter for his famous battles, large family and the impressive monuments he left. Recent discoveries add a few more clues to their lives.

At the western side of Bubasteion archaeological cliff at Saqqara, a French mission affiliated to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Centre for Scientific Research stumbled upon a rock-hewn tomb of a man called Re-Hatiay, scribe of the treasury of the temple of Aten in Memphis.

He was clearly an important individual. His tomb consists of a courtyard flanked by pillars and columns decorated with inscriptions dedicated to the god Aten. Some of the reliefs, notably on one of the courtyard's walls, which shows the god Osiris and makes mention of other gods, have survived in situ. At the corner of the courtyard two rooms have been cut in the rock; the first is decorated with what Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), describes as "beautiful paintings".

"Some of them are reminiscent of the talatat of Akhenaten's temple remains in Luxor, others of a bigger scale representing the man with his wife and parents, receiving offerings, or undergoing the 'opening of the mouth' ceremony," he says. The second room is supported by two square pillars, partly decorated in typically Amarna style.

At the present state of the work, said Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni, this tomb appears as an essential monument for our knowledge of the Amarna period and Amarna art style.

"Some representations are real masterpieces while others, as in the repetition of the epithets of Aten, show that a large part of the tomb was decorated after the 10th or even the 12th year of Akhnaten's reign," Hosni said. This was after the Pharaoh declared his belief in monotheism in the form of the god Aten.

Alain Zivie, who heads the French mission, said that no material from the New Kingdom had been found so far but said that, as usual, thousands of cat mummies had been found. "They are generally decayed and destroyed because the tomb was reused as part of the cats' catacombs of the Bubasteion in the Late and Ptolemaic periods," he said.

Early studies of the tomb's inscriptions show the deceased had only one epithet and title, "Scribe of the treasury of the temple of Aten in Akhet-Aten ('Horizon of the Aten') in Memphis". His father, Iuty, was director of the goldsmiths of the Pharaoh and his wife was apparently a beautiful woman named Maya.

"Until now we wonder whether this lady Maya may not have been the wet nurse of the boy Pharaoh Tutankhamun, as she was the wife of a man very close to Akhenaten, the father of Tutankhamun," Zivie ventured. "If this was the case," he argued, "it would explain why the wet-nurse of Tutankhamun, also named Maya, which was discovered in 1996 by the French mission, had such a huge and beautiful tomb so close to the tomb of her husband after the Amarna episode, and when her beloved young prince become Pharaoh."

A second discovery took place at Tel Basta in Zagazig, in close proximity to Ramses II's temple, described by the Greek historian Herodotus as one of the most splendid in Egypt. Here a German-Egyptian archaeological mission discovered the lower part of a colossal statue of one of Ramses II's wives, Merit-Amun or Nefertari. Hawass said this discovery showed that the whole statue, of which the upper part was unearthed six months ago, would have been about 11m in height and three metres wide, and would have weighed 100 tons.

Up to now the back part of the statue, on which the name of the queen is inscribed, is still buried and covered with subsoil water. Archaeologists have thus been unable to identify it with certainty, but the style and technique used in sculpting this statue was so similar to the one used in the statue of Merit- Amun now exhibited in the open-air museum at Akhmim in Sohag governorate that there seemed little doubt it was Ramses's wife.

The only difference between the statues is the material used; the one at Akhmim is of limestone while the one at Tel Basta is of red granite.

Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, head of antiquities of Lower Egypt, said the statue featured the queen standing. She holds a lotus flower in her left hand, symbolising the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt. This suggests that she was the queen of both parts of the country. The statue has a hole at the back of the head to which to affix the crown, which was actually discovered beside it.

Hawass speculates that this discovery could lead to other major finds. "Perhaps of a colossal statue of Ramses II and the Tel Basta temple which was built during his reign," he says.

Maqsoud said the statue would be transported from Zagazig to Per-Ramses (House of Ramses) at Qantir, further north. "A number of statues discovered at Tel Basta were in fact originally brought from Qantir," Maqsoud said, adding that this one might possibly have been sculpted in Upper Egypt and then transported to Tel Basta.

The statue is in dire need of restoration; it has been badly affected by the soil in which it lay for so long, and the granite is in a very poor condition. The SCA will undertake the task of brushing off the accumulated salt as a first step. In the meantime excavations will continue.

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