Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 February 2007
Issue No. 833
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Buried treasure

New finds have revealed more secrets of the Saqqara necropolis, reports Nevine El-Aref

Click to view caption
Wooden statues of the tomb's owner and the wooden inscribed panel

The Saqqara necropolis has always drawn world attention, not only for the unique archaeological treasures on its surface but for the unexpected finds that come to light from time to time in the sand.

Over the month of February, Saqqara has caught press headlines with the finds of ancient Egyptian funerary collections in different areas of the necropolis.

A Japanese mission from Wasida University working to the west of the Serapeum has unexpectedly come upon five hitherto unknown Middle Kingdom shaft-tombs, one of which contains four splendid painted wooden sarcophagi. The first of these is a "black type" anthropoid sarcophagus with yellow lines on the head and a scene featuring the four sons of Horus decorating both sides. The other three are typical Middle Kingdom rectangular painted sarcophagi with eye-panels and false doors.

Further into the necropolis, exactly east of the tomb of Meryneith, the lector priest of the god Neith, a mission from Leiden Museum and University has discovered the tomb of Pathemwia, seal-bearer of Pharaoh Akhenaten. The tomb contains some unique wall paintings showing agricultural scenes, Ptahemwia in different positions and actions, and a vivid depiction of two pet monkeys frolicking under the chair of the tomb owner's wife.

Then two days ago an Australian mission from Macquarie University working at the northwest corner of the Fifth-Dynasty pyramid of King Teti unearthed a tomb, also dating from the Fifth-Dynasty, of a top official named Kahai who was "the scribe of the divine records house".

This mud-brick tomb has a corridor-style chapel and four niches; the two northern niches belonging to the tomb's owner wife, Seperiankh, and the two on the south, which are larger and more imposing, to Kahai. On opening the tomb the archaeologists found five wooden statues of the tomb owner and his wife. Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) told Al-Ahram Weekly that the most interesting of these was a seated pair statue of Kahai and his wife. "Egyptologists consider this unique," Hawass said, adding that such statues are usually made of stone and rarely of wood.

Mission head Naguib Kanawati pointed out that another tomb, unlike the one with four niches, had an inscribed wooden panel embedded into the central courtyard. "This records the offering formula mentioning the king and the god Anubis," he said. "It is an extended offering list and ends with the standing figurines of Kahai and Seperiankh facing each others." An offering basin inscribed with the name and titles of the deceased was found before each of the main niches, along with two offering tables.

"It is a very important discovery," Hawass said, adding that like most Fifth-dynasty tombs, Kahai's tomb was not rich in its architectural features but held a precious funerary record that would enrich Egyptologists' knowledge of the people who were buried at Saqqara during the Old Kingdom.

The Australian mission at the Saqqara necropolis has been working at the northwest corner of King Teti's cemetery since the early 1970s uncovering 26 shafts in all, most of them narrow and shallow. No complete objects have been found although there were some potsherds, a number of model dishes and parts of human and animal remains.

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