Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 January 2004
Issue No. 671
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Mummy in a sealed coffin

By Zahi Hawass

Zahi Hawass I arrived at the West Bank of Luxor after a long trip from Kharga Oasis. I slept during the four-hour journey, dreaming that I was watching the opening of the sealed coffin found by the Spanish mission.

I always dream just before a discovery. I remember the dream I had in Bahariya the night before the discovery of the sarcophagus of the governor of the oasis. But this time my dream was not so clear: I could not see what was inside the sarcophagus. I think that was because I did not make the discovery myself, so it was not part of me.

When archaeologist Mohamed El-Biali met me on my arrival he said it was going to be an exciting morning. We were going to open a 3000- year-old coffin. When I arrived at the site the director of the expedition, Jose Galain, was there to meet me. Some members of his team were excavating the tomb and others restoring various parts, while some were drawing artefacts.

The-18th dynasty tomb of Djhety was found in the 19th century, but it was not well excavated at that time. It is numbered 11 at Sheikh Abdou Al- Korna on the West Bank of Luxor, not far from the Valley of the Kings. The occupier of the tomb lived during the reign of the Queen Hatshepsut (1483- 1505 BC), and he bore the title "overseer of the treasury". So far the excavation had revealed an intact wooden coffin and an anthropoid coffin, both outside the tomb. I looked at the face on the second coffin and saw that it dated to a later period, about 2,500 years ago. I watched as the workmen opened the sealed coffin: the lid was carefully lifted, and inside was a mummy wrapped in linen. It appeared to be that of a woman, the sculpted face in good condition. I suggested that an X-ray would undoubtedly reveal amulets of gold, silver or precious stones within the wrappings.

It is almost unimaginable that the great French scholar Champollion, who first deciphered hieroglyphics, worked in this tomb and did not discover the mummy. He was followed by the German Egyptologist Lepsius, who did not find it either. The sands of Egypt hide many secrets and we never know what they will reveal, or when. These scholars did, however, discover the tomb of an important official named Hry, overseer of the granary of Queen Iahhotep, the mother of the great Pharaoh Ahmose who rid Egypt of the Hyksos who occupied the country for more than 100 years.

Private tombs in the later New Kingdom were topped by pyramidions. Although they were common in that period, this was actually the first time that such a base had been found on an 18th-dynasty tomb. However, Jose Galain had found only the base, which measured about 25 square metres and was made of mud-brick. Also discovered in the debris were pieces of linen that bore the cartouche of Amenhotep II, a powerful and sport-loving Pharaoh.

When I entered the tomb of Djhety, I was delighted by the quality of the decoration. The walls are adorned with unique scenes: social gatherings with music and singing, and the pilgrimage to Abydos, sacred to the god Osiris. Galain told me that in his opinion Djhety had built his tomb in the reign of Queen Hatshepsut, but that he died during the reign of Tuthmosis IV, the "Napoleon of the Past".

I stopped in front of one of scenes in the tomb that captured my interest and stared at it for more than 10 minutes. It was a representation of a seated harpist playing the instrument at a musical performance, a realistic and beautiful portrayal typical of the period. The other scene which interested me showed a wooden table on which was a drawing of royal personages. These were undoubtedly made as models from which the artists could draw on the wall of the tomb. These men were clearly highly skilled professionals. In fact, if we say that the fourth-dynasty pyramids are characteristic the age of the great stone builders, the New Kingdom was the era of great art.

When I returned to my hotel room at the end of an exciting day, I could not get the vision of the mummy and the face of the beautiful woman out of my mind. I did not know her name, but I was in love with her.

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