Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1321, (24 - 30 November 2016)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1321, (24 - 30 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

New discoveries in Upper Egypt

Three major discoveries were recently made in Sohag, Luxor and Aswan in Upper Egypt, reports Nevine El-Aref

cartonnage mummy mask
cartonnage mummy mask
Al-Ahram Weekly

As the winter archaeological season reaches completion, foreign and Egyptian missions working at different archaeological sites across Egypt have started to reveal their discoveries. The most recent were found in Upper Egypt in Abydos near Sohag, Luxor and Elephantine Island in Aswan.

In Abydos, almost 400 km south of the temple of the New Kingdom pharaoh Seti I, Egyptian excavators uncovered a complete Early Dynastic Period necropolis and a settlement that could belong to top officials or architects responsible for the construction of the tombs and funerary walls of the pharaohs of the First Dynasty.

Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Ministry of Antiquities, described the discovery as “very important” because it adds new information that could change understandings of the history of ancient Abydos.

The mission had uncovered 15 mudbrick tombs in different architectural styles, he said. The tombs are huge and the surface area of each could reach 70 metres, larger than that of a First Dynasty royal tomb.

“This size reflects the position of the tombs’ owners, as well as their importance and social level within the community of the period,” Afifi said. He added that a group of mudbrick huts had also been found within the settlement as well as a collection of instruments from daily life, the remains of a large number of clay vessels, and stone tools used in land cultivation, which suggest that the huts could have belonged to workers supplying the settlement with provisions.

Yasser Mahmoud, the mission field director, said that the uncovered tombs had a distinguished architectural design with one or more mastaba, a form only known for pharaohs from the First and Third Dynasties at the Saqqara Necropolis. “This new discovery shows that the mastaba tombs were first used in Abydos for pharaohs from the First Dynasty,” Mahmoud said.

At Thutmose III’s Temple of Millions of Years in Luxor, a joint Spanish-Egyptian mission stumbled upon the tomb of a servant of the royal house called Amenrenef. The tomb was uncovered at the southern enclosure wall of the Temple and is in very good condition.

A deteriorated wooden coffin was found inside the tomb, where a beautiful and well-preserved mummy cartonnage was also found. Preliminary study has determined the date of the tomb as possibly from the Third Intermediate Period (1070-712 BCE).

Mission field director Myriam Seco Álvarez said the cartonnage preserved almost its complete polychrome painted decoration and inscriptions with some of the most characteristic symbols and elements of the ancient Egyptian religion, such as solar symbols, the protective goddesses Isis and Nephtys with spread wings, hawks and the four sons of Horus.

These elements were executed in artisanal quality of the highest order on what was an extraordinary mummy cartonnage, she said.

In Aswan, a British-Egyptian mission from Birmingham University in the UK and the Egypt Exploration Society Research Project at Qubbet Al-Hawa, uncovered a causeway leading to the tomb of Sarenput I, the first Middle Kingdom nomarch (provincial governor) of Aswan’s Elephantine Island.

Afifi described the discovery as important because it could change the known topography of the Qubbet Al-Hawa region. He said the causeway was the longest ever found on the west bank of the Nile at Aswan, stretching for 133 metres to connect the tomb of Sarenput I to the Nile.

Mission field director Martin Bommas said that a relief was found on the eastern face of the northern wall of the causeway depicting a funerary scene in raised relief that was the southernmost example of funerary relief art from the early Middle Kingdom ever found.

“It is made of blue sandstone, a building material only available in the area of Shat Al-Saba near Kom Ombo, which was used at the mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II at Deir Al-Bahari and the Temple of Satet on the Island of Elephantine,” he said.

Essam Nagi, co-director of the mission and representative of the Society in Cairo, reported that the survey, long overdue, had uncovered an archaeological site that had never been worked on or published despite the fact that excavations had been started in 1885 by British archaeologists.

A dig within the vicinity of the causeway had yielded pots tumbled within a pit, he said. Eman Khalifa, director of the pottery project of the mission, added that the pots, with shallow lids, were in use during the Late Period.

“Similar examples are known from the embalmer’s cachette discovered in Saqqara,” she said, adding that the pots included the remains of their contents. Nagi said that further chemical analysis would be carried out to identify the materials, shedding light on the substances used for embalming and preserving the bodies of the ancient Egyptians.

He added that the recent find was part of the ninth season of the team’s excavations, mainly consisting of Egyptian academics and scholars. It confirms the hypothesis that Sarenput I built a causeway close to the borders of the River Nile.

With a length of 133 metres, this is the longest causeway ever built on the west bank of the Nile at Aswan, and it was used to access the tomb and ritually bury Sarenput I, the first governor of the area at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom.

The decoration of the causeway was already underway in year 10 of the reign of Senwosret I (1910 BCE). As the pottery shows, the causeway was in use for almost 600 years as a place of memory and ritual activities.

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