Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Reopening the tombs

Two tombs belonging to the priests of the Pharaoh Khufu were inaugurated on Monday on the Giza Plateau, reports Nevine El-Aref

Ptah’s statue
Ptah’s statue
Al-Ahram Weekly

Although a heat wave hit Cairo on Monday, hundreds of foreign and Egyptian journalists, photographers, TV presenters and government officials flocked to the Giza Plateau to witness the official reopening of two Old Kingdom tombs belonging to the high priest Imery and his eldest son Nefer Bau Ptah, a superintendent of the royal palace during the Fifth Dynasty reign of the Pharaoh Khufu.

The tombs are located in the south-western corner of the Giza western cemetery to the west of Khufu’s Great Pyramid. Imery’s tomb is one of the most exquisitely decorated in the cemetery. Built of limestone and divided into three sections consisting of an entrance hall, a corridor and an offering hall, it is decorated with vividly coloured mural paintings.

These depict the offerings made to the deceased by his followers, as well as scenes of ancient Egyptian daily life, agriculture and craftsmanship. A clarinet player is also shown with details of his posture, playing technique and fingering.

In the burial chamber there is a distinguished scene featuring details of wine production. Scenes showing fruit harvests, fishing, planting, acrobatics, banqueting, hunting and offering sacrifices to the gods are also shown.

“The tomb is well known among scholars as ‘the tomb of the trades,’” said Mahmoud Afifi, head of the ancient Egyptian department at the Ministry of Culture. Imery had served as the high priest responsible for a cult, a scribe of the archives, and a steward of a great estate responsible for gathering whatever was necessary to maintain the cult, he added.

The tomb of Nefer Bau Ptah, first uncovered in 1925 by Egyptologist George Reisner, is a large rock-hewn tomb adjacent to Imery’s and includes five rooms and a crypt on its southern side.

The entrance hall features a life-sized image of the deceased carved out of the limestone wall. A corridor leading to two offering rooms displaying scenes of people offering gifts to the deceased is also contained in the tomb.

It contains scenes showing scribes registering seeds, a man throwing grain into a vat, and cattle being dragged for counting while scribes record donations in registers. Regretfully time has taken its toll on the paintings, as most of them have faded.

One scene featuring a tax collector holding a man by the scruff of the neck and beating him to force him to dig deeper into his loincloth to produce money is also shown on one of the tomb’s walls. The taxpayer’s agonised face peers out in warning to those who dared fight the system.

Kamal Wahid, head of the Central Administration of Cairo and Giza Monuments, said the tombs were closed to visitors in 2007, but the actual work of restoration only started in 2010, stopping in the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution and starting again six months ago.

“Architectural restoration was carried out in both tombs,” Wahid said, adding that the walls were consolidated, the paintings strengthened and faded colours fixed. Modern graffiti left by visitors on the tombs’ walls were removed, and new wooden floors to facilitate the visitors’ path was installed in both tombs as well as new lighting and ventilation systems.

At the opening ceremony minister of antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty described the event as important because it not only added a new attraction to the Giza Plateau, but also highlighted two of the most distinguished tombs in the necropolis.

He said the tombs contained exquisite paintings that would enrich visitors’ knowledge of ancient Egyptian daily life. Some 50 tombs could now be visited, and in future more tombs out of the 600 on the plateau would be opened to the public after restoration, he said.

Private burials at Giza were laid out in rows or streets of mastaba tombs divided to the east and west of the Great Pyramid. They include the tombs of high officials and nobles of the Old Kingdom who were rich or privileged enough to be buried close to the royal tombs.

There are also cemeteries grouped around the Khafre and Menkawre Pyramids and to the south of Khafre’s causeway.

During the ceremony to reopen the tombs Eldamaty announced that the police had succeeded in catching criminals who had broken into the Mustafa Kamel Gallery in Alexandria and stolen 47 artefacts including 31 bronze coins, 15 small clay pots and a double granite statue.  

“All the items were returned and the eight criminals are now under investigation,” Eldamaty said, adding that one of the criminals had been one of the gallery guards who had facilitated the robbery.

Eldamaty told the Weekly that to stop further thefts the ministry intended to open a central storehouse in June at the National Museum for Egyptian Civilisation. This would house artefacts from less well-guarded storehouses such as those in Mit-Rahina at Saqqara and in the Delta and Giza.

In an attempt to tighten security measures for all artefacts whether stored or displayed in museums, Eldamaty said that a new database was being developed. A new security system was installed last month at the Luxor Temple, he said, intended to tighten security measures around the Temple and operating after closing hours.

“The Luxor Temple is now totally safeguarded from the inside and the outside for the first time,” Eldamaty said, adding that it was constantly monitored by fixed and mobile cameras.

He also said that after five years of discussion with the Alexandria governorate an agreement had been signed to grant the land behind the Graeco-Roman Museum in the city to the Ministry of Antiquities. This would be used as an extension of the museum to enlarge its display area, Eldamaty said.

“The LE10 million restoration project for the Graeco-Roman Museum is to be finally restarted after five years of delays,” Eldamaty said, adding that the funds had been provided by the Italian government.

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