Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 March - 4 April 2007
Issue No. 838
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Say it with flowers

Pharaonic flowers and funeral vases are the latest news from Luxor, Nevine El-Aref reports

The discovery in 2003 of the tomb of Djehuty, overseer of works at Thebes during Queen Hatshepsut's reign, amazed Egyptologists and historians not only because of its distinguished and uncommon architectural design and decorative scenes, but also for the artefacts found within its corridors -- objects from different dynasties piled in the tomb to form a haphazard treasury. These finds, made at Draa Abul-Nagaa on Luxor's west bank by a Spanish-Egyptian archaeological team, revealed more details about an unusual time in Egypt's ancient history.

This week after six consecutive concessions, the mission has unearthed instruments used at the funeral inside the tomb that add emphasis to the importance of Djehuty's position.

While cleaning the debris in the tomb's open courtyard archaeologists found a 70cm-deep pit containing 42 clay vases and 42 flower bouquets.

"These are probably the remains of Djehuty's funerary [bouquets] that were later thrown inside the tomb," Spanish mission director Jose Galàn said. A contemporary scene carved on the walls in Djehuty's burial chamber showed participants at the funeral bringing in bouquets and vases of flowers. Neighbouring the pit, Galàn continued, an unidentified, Middle-Kingdom wooden coffin was unearthed. Early studies on this reveal that it belonged to a middle-class woman who was buried with just a faience necklace. Preliminary studies on the bones found inside the coffin revealed that it predated the construction of Djehuty's tomb by 500 years.

Excavating another trench at the open courtyard, the mission stumbled upon a six-metre-long wall that was once the tomb's façade. The wall was built with masonry coated with a fine limestone mortar. Mud bricks were used to fill the two-metre thick wall. Two clusters of ceramic vases, mostly bottles, with typical shapes of those fabricated during the reign of Thutmosis III, have also been unearthed.

Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Secretary- General Zahi Hawass said excavation work extended towards the area in front of the tomb, and that this had uncovered two funerary shafts, both hewn at in the 18th to 19th dynasties and were both reused later on and afterwards robbed. The shafts were, therefore, emptied and filled more than once, making it difficult to be precise about the date. One contained up to 16 individual burials from various times, while the second bears some pottery vases that can be dated to the early 18th Dynasty.

The tomb's walls are beautifully decorated with scenes featuring the annual pilgrimage to Abydos, hunting in the desert and in the marshes, and funerary rituals. Culture Minister Farouk Hosni said one of the most interesting scenes showed a harpist with two singers standing behind him; with the lyrics of their song engraved above the figures. This scene shows the onset of the realistic style typical of the period, with the harpist depicted with a round fat belly and haunches.

"Djehuty's tomb is of both historical importance and artistic value," Hosni said.

The excitement generated by the original discovery four years ago resounded all over the necropolis. There was enthusiastic discussion about a painted wooden tablet showing the figures of the deceased nobleman and Pharaoh Thutmosis III enjoying a day's duck hunting, their faces looking forward and not, as was usual in Pharaonic art, in profile.

"This tablet is not the training sketch of an artist that some might think," SCA art consultant Mahmoud Mabrouk argues. "It is an executive drawing used as an artistic model with figures, painted over a grid of 18 squares in order that they can be adjusted to their canonical proportion and then have the correct measurements for cutting the rock and sculpting the statues."

Galàn described Djehuty as an important official who lived in the reign of Hatshepsut, but who died in the reign of Thutmosis III, which would explain why the names of both Pharaohs are written on the tomb wall but the name of Hatshepsut is slightly scratched. Djehuty would appear to have participated in the construction and decoration of most of Hatshepsut's monumental constructions in Thebes. Moreover, as overseer of the treasury and "controller of all the revenues coming from all foreign lands", he would have been responsible for registering all the exotic products, including minerals and spices, brought from the land of Punt as shown on his tomb walls. "He was such an important official that he is even represented carrying out such activities on one of the walls of the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut at Deir Al-Bahari," Galàn said.

During excavation of the tomb, eight mummies of falcons were unearthed, and a demotic graffito relating to them was found on one of the tomb walls. "This means that the tomb of Djehuty was reused in the Graeco- Roman era," Galàn added.

While work was in progress around Djehuty's tomb, another tomb dating from the beginning of the 18th Dynasty was unearthed.

It belongs to a man named Hery who was the supervisor of the Treasury of Queen Iya-Hutep, the mother of Ahmose I, who died in the reign of Amenhotep I. Up to now only a 25-sq-m base of a pyramidion has been found at Hery's tomb, which, he explained was the superstructure of the tomb.

"Both tombs were seen by early archaeologists, the French scholar [Jean-François] Champollion and the German scholar [Carl Richard] Lepsius," Hawass said. "But they were only interested in documenting some of the reliefs without bothering with the funerary collection."

To protect both tombs from urban encroachment, possible flash floods or other unforeseen disaster, a large stone wall has been constructed around the tombs, and the wooden roof, originally built in 1910 to cover the open court of the tomb, has been strengthened and consolidated.

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