Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 March 2009
Issue No. 937
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In the house of millions of years

A lost tomb and a sphinx in Luxor, painted anthropoid coffins in Dahshour and a noble woman's tomb in Saqqara. Nevine El-Aref reports on the most recent discoveries in Egypt

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Clockwise from top: King Amenhotep III's sphinx statue; canopic jars from Sheikh Abdel-Gourna; a relief on Isisnofret's sarcophagus; the lower part of King Amenhotep's statue

It seems that the recent archaeological season has been very successful. Wherever archaeologists have dug, they have come up with amazing and important discoveries.

On Luxor's west bank, major discoveries have been uncovered in the noblemen's necropolis at Sheikh Abdel-Gourna and at Kom Al-Hittan, where the temple of the 18th-Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III is located.

After almost 130 years of exploring the sands of the archaeological hill of Sheikh Abdel-Gourna, the tomb of Amenhotep, a deputy of the overseer of seal-bearers during the reign of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III -- known among Egyptologists as "the lost tomb" -- has been found by a Belgian archaeological mission.

Amenhotep's tomb was previously discovered during the early 1880s by Egyptologist Karl Pieh, who also drew a sketch plan of its interior design. But unfortunately over the span of time it was re- buried in sand and its exact location was subsequently forgotten. In the early 2000s traces of the tomb were revealed during work on the tomb of Sennefer, the overseer of seal-bearers. Excavators found a remarkable sandstone statue dedicated to Amenhotep, and further excavations at the site revealed more about the lost tomb that early this year led to the mission's finding the main entrance to the tomb chapel.

Laurent Bavay, head of the Belgian mission, explained that the tomb was a T-shaped chapel with a transverse gallery oriented north and south and divided by a row of six pillars. Its southern half collapsed in antiquity and the space was entirely filled with debris that partially blocked the entrance and the passage leading into the gallery. The walls of the tomb are painted with the classical geometric motifs well known from the 18th Dynasty, along with bands of hieroglyphic texts showing the name, various titles and genealogy of the tomb's owner. According to these inscriptions, the tombs belonged to Amenhotep, the deputy of the overseer of seal-bearers. His father was Ahmes, director of the cattle of Amun and Neheh, and his wife, who was called Renena, was the daughter of the overseer of seal-bearers Sennefer.

"This is a very important discovery," said Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. He said that determining the exact location of the tomb would provide a better understanding of the Egyptian administration echelon during the reign of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III.

Hawass pointed out that other objects from Amenhotep's tomb were already known in Egyptological literature. The most important was a granite false-door stela found reused in the floor of a chapel added to the north side of the Khonsu Temple at Karnak.

At the site of the funerary temple of another Amenhotep, this time a royal one -- the 18th- Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III -- at Kom Al-Hittan, the European-Egyptian mission unearthed more elements of the temple.

Houring Sourouzian, the head of the mission, told Al-Ahram Weekly that while clearing the rubble accumulated on the façade of the temple's great peristyle court, her team unearthed a broken sandstone architrave along with two gigantic statues of Amenhotep III. The first statue, in black granite, is of Pharaoh Amenhotep III seated, hands flat on his knees, and wearing the nemes headdress and the pleated royal kilt, while the name of the Pharaoh is inscribed on the throne. The statue is very well preserved except for the tip of the nose and the bottom of the beard, which are broken.

"It is of an excellent artistic quality and very smoothly polished," Sourouzian said, adding that early examination revealed that the statue featured the Pharaoh during the early part of his reign as his facial features were shown with slanting eyes, a short nose and a bulging mouth.

Sourouzian said similar seated statues were found long ago in the temple, of which two are now on display in the British Museum and a third in the courtyard of the Mut Temple at Karnak. Others were reused by Ramesside Pharaohs and are dispersed in various museums.

"This newly-discovered statue is up to now the only one in black granite to have remained inside the temple, and it is sure to be one of the highlights of the site where it will attest to the glorious artistic production during Amenhotep III's reign," Sourouzian commented.

The second statue is made of quartzite and shows the Pharaoh in sphinx form with a human head and lion's body. The statue is almost complete except for the forepaws, which are missing, while parts of the nose, chin and chest are broken.

"This sphinx is larger than the three others previously found on the site," Sourouzian said, adding that among these were two headless sphinxes of Amenhotep's wife, Queen Tiye, and one of the Pharaoh himself. "They probably belonged to a processional way leading to the great court of the temple," she suggested.

As for the architrave, she continued, its total length was 4.2 metres but it was found to be broken in several pieces. Both sides are decorated with hieroglyphic inscription in sunken relief, comprising the dedication text of the temple, called "the House of Millions of Years", by Amenhotep III to the god Amun-Re.

At the Dahshour necropolis, south of the Giza Plateau, a Japanese mission from Waseda University came across four painted wooden anthropoid coffins, three wooden canopic jars and two ushabti (cultic figurine) boxes inside an unidentified burial shaft located in the northern area of the Ramesside tomb of Ta.

"Although these coffins are empty now, due to looting by tomb raiders in antiquity, their original features remain intact," Hawass said. He continued that the coffins were divided into two sets, each consisting of multiple coffins covered in black resin and decorated with yellow inscriptions. The two sets belonged to two persons, previously unknown, called Tutpashu and Iriseraa. The first set, Tutpashu's, bears the images of its owner along with various ancient Egyptian deities, while the second is more simple. The names of both persons are also written on the canopic jars and ushabti boxes, which contain at least 38 partly broken wooden statuettes.

The head of the Japanese mission, Sakuji Yoshimura, told the Weekly that a preliminary study of these objects suggested that they could be dated to the Ramesside era or the Late Period.

He pointed out that all the artefacts had been removed to the site galleries for immediate restoration as some of the coffins were extremely fragile and there was a possibility that they could suffer cracks and the bitumen could fall off owing to the change in humidity after they were uncovered from the sand.

Meanwhile, excavation work carried out by the Japanese mission in the northwestern area of the Saqqara necropolis led to the discovery of what is believed to be a previously unknown tomb dating from the 19th Dynasty. It stands on the summit of a rocky, remote outcrop where a monument belonging to Prince Khaemwaset, son of Pharaoh Ramses II, is also located, approximately 1.5 kilometres northwest of the Serapeum at Saqqara. Inside the burial chamber was a limestone sarcophagus of a woman named Isisnofret, along with three human bodies and several fragments of funerary objects.

The tomb chapel consists of a pylon, a colonnaded courtyard, an antechamber with four pilasters terminating in three cult chapels, and the base of a pyramid.

"This pyramid is a typical plan of a New Kingdom freestanding tomb-chapel, especially of the Ramesside Period," Yoshimura said. He continued that the tomb chapel was arranged on a south-north axis, unlike other Memphite New- Kingdom tomb-chapels which were normally arranged on an east-west central axis. The upper portion of the structure was largely missing, leaving only foundations and some of the flooring.

As for the sarcophagus, Yoshimura explained that this was partially broken but its shape was identifiable. It is a fine limestone sarcophagus inscribed in sunken relief and painted in a brilliant blue colour. It has a vaulted lid, and bears the name of its owner, Isisnofret, whose title means "the noble woman".

"This is a title that is very rare in the New Kingdom," Yoshimura said, adding that since Prince Khaemwaset had a daughter named Isisnofret and his monument was located on the same outcrop, then the owner of the sarcophagus could probably be this daughter of the prince.

The Waseda University mission has uncovered a number of tombs, coffins, burials and statues since commencing excavation in this area 15 years ago. Some of these objects are currently on tour in Japan as part of a special exhibition celebrating Waseda University's 40th year of archaeological work in Egypt.

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