Saturday,25 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)
Saturday,25 May, 2019
Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A rich archaeological season

A cachet of embalming materials in Luxor, a lintel of the Pharaoh Sesostris II in Ihnasya, and 10 Late Period tombs in Aswan are among recent discoveries made in Egypt, reports Nevine El-Aref

#A jar filled with embalming materials # A gilded mummy mask
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Coincidence has long played a major role in making new discoveries. Over the past archaeological season that ended in early May, it led to four important new discoveries that could rewrite the history of certain archaeological sites and provide a better understanding of others.  

On the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, a cachet of embalming materials used for the Middle Kingdom Theban vizier Ipi was rediscovered by a Spanish archaeological mission from the University of Alcalé within the framework of the Middle Kingdom Theban Project at Al-Deir Al-Bahari.

The cachet was uncovered in a shaft inside an auxiliary chamber in the northeast corner of the upper courtyard of Ipi’s tomb, where a collection of 56 large clay jars and almost 300 packets of natron and other materials used in the embalming process were found.

Ipi’s tomb is located on the northern hill of the necropolis in front of the now-destroyed temple of the 11th-Dynasty Pharaoh Mentuhotep II. He was a high advisor of the 12th-Dynasty Pharaoh Amenemhat I and the overseer of ancient Thebes.

The tomb was first explored in 1921-1922 by American Egyptologist Herbert Winlock of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, who found the mummification materials inside 67 jars during the excavation work.

Winlock removed 11 of the jars to the Metropolitan Museum and left the others in situ without cleaning or documenting them. Winlock never returned to the site, and time took its toll on the courtyard of Ipi’s tomb, reburying it in sand before it was uncovered by the Spanish mission.

“The discovery not only highlights the mummification methods and materials used for Middle Kingdom elites, but it also adds significantly to our understanding of the kind of embalming techniques, tools, textiles, chemicals and balms used when the mummification procedures started to take on their most efficient form, reaching a peak in the New Kingdom,” Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector at the Ministry of Antiquities, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He said that amphorae were used to hold equipment such as bandages, oils and salts used by embalmers in mummification. There were also jars, bowls, scrapers, and a mummification board decorated with ankh-signs.

“The identification of these materials is of great importance for understanding the mummification techniques used in the early Middle Kingdom and the assessment of the kinds of items, tools, and substances involved in the process of embalming,” head of the Spanish mission Antonio Morales told the Weekly.

He said that the cachet of the mummification materials used for Ipi included jars with marks and other types of inscriptions, various shrouds and four-metre linen sheets, shawls, and rolls of bandages. There were also other types of cloth, rags, and pieces of wrapping designed to cover fingers, toes, and other parts of the corpse.

Team specialist Salima Ikram has identified what seems to be the mummified heart of Ipi, an uncommon practice that no doubt deserves more investigation. Morales explained that the deposit also contained around 300 sacks of natron salt, oils, sand, and other substances, as well as jar stoppers and a scraper.

“Among the most outstanding pieces of the collection are the Nile clay jars, some with marks and hieratic writing, various large bandages six metres in length, as well as a shroud used for covering the body of Ipi and a fringed shawl 10 metres in length,” he said.

There are also natron bags that were deposited in the inner parts of the vizier’s body, twisted bandages used as mummy packing, and small pieces of bandages for the upper and lower extremities.

Morales said that the newly discovered embalming materials were stored by the ancient Egyptians inside an auxiliary chamber and not in the burial chamber along with the sarcophagus because these materials were impure as they had been used in the embalming process. Scientific studies would assess the biological remains, including bloodstains and clots on the bandages.

The collection should provide members of the Middle Kingdom Theban Project with an excellent opportunity for the scientific analysis of the substances, components, textiles, and human remains found in the embalming cache, as well as the technical procedures and religious rituals used in the mummification of a high official in the early Middle Kingdom.

Ezzeddin Al-Noubi, director of Al-Qurna Antiquities, said that the main purpose of the Middle Kingdom Theban Project was the archaeological study of the tombs of Henenu (TT 313) and Ipi (TT 315) and of the funerary chamber and sarcophagus of Harhotep (CG28023), as well as the conservation and detailed publication of information from these monuments and others located at Thebes.

Meanwhile, south of Luxor an American mission from Yale University has discovered a new rock inscription site near the village of Al-Khawy, approximately 7km north of the ancient city of Elkab and 60km south of Luxor. These new inscriptions were previously unrecorded by any expedition and are of significance in the history of ancient Egyptian writing systems.

The discovery came during the second portion of the third field season of the Elkab Desert Survey Project.

Professor John Coleman Darnell, director of the project, said that the rock inscriptions could help us to understand the development of a system of graphic communication that set the stage for the appearance of hieroglyphic writing in Upper Egypt in around 3250 BC.

“The newly discovered rock art site preserves some of the earliest and largest signs from the formative stages of the hieroglyphic script and provides evidence on how the ancient Egyptians invented their unique writing system,” he said.

At Al-Khawy on high rock faces overlooking the modern railway are several panels of rock art and inscriptions ranging in date from the early Pre-Dynastic Period (Naqada I) to the late Old Kingdom. The earlier inscriptions at Al-Khawy are animal images, especially a herd of large elephants, some of which develop into symbols of political power for late Pre-Dynastic rulers. The most important inscription at the northern end of the site dates to the final phase of the Pre-Dynastic Period (Naqada III/Dynasty 0).

Darnell said that by the last phase of the Pre-Dynastic Period, rock art and other objects from the Nile Valley could use images to express concepts, such as the saddle bill stork with a serpent beneath its beak meaning “victory”.

These symbols appear to provide the intellectual background for moving from depictions of the natural world to hieroglyphs that wrote the sounds of the ancient Egyptian language. “The newly discovered inscriptions at Al-Khawy provide another example of this important transitional phase. They are among the earliest forms of writing in Egypt,” Darell asserted, adding that at nearly a metre in height these were among the largest inscriptions yet discovered from Dynasty 0 and the first “monumental” proto-hieroglyphs.


BENI SWEIF: At the Herakleopolis Magna archaeological site in Ihnasya Al-Medina in the Beni Sweif governorate, a Spanish archaeological mission from the Madrid Antiquities Museum has stumbled upon what is believed to be the lintel of the Middle Kingdom Pharaoh Sesostris II.

The lintel is carved in red granite and was found in the Heryshef Temple.

Maria Carmen Perez-Die, director of the mission, described the discovery as “very important” because the lintel is engraved with two cartouches containing the name of the Pharaoh Sesostris II (c 1895-1889 BC), who built the Lahun Pyramid located 10km away from Ihnasya.

She said that the presence of the lintel at the Heryshef Temple proved the interest of Sesostris II in this site and in Fayoum in general. The mission has also uncovered several constructions levels dating to the early 18th Dynasty, which concluded with the reign of Thutmosis III (c 1479-1425 BC), and another to that of Ramses II (c 1279-1213 BC).

Perez-Die pointed out that the mission had uncovered in its previous archaeological seasons remnants of Roman pottery, including plenty of common pottery, cups and storage vessels such as amphorae, or jars, as well as some forms of ceramic tableware, plates and bowls made in the tradition of Terra Sigillata (Egyptian and African Red Slip pottery).

A platform of mud bricks that could have been the enclosure or temenos wall of the Temple was found, along with slabs of the floor that perhaps belonged to the foundations.

In order to protect the archaeological structures found in the temple with a view to developing it into an open-air museum, the mission has constructed some mastabas where the most important blocks, inscriptions and sculpture were installed. Among them are the six architraves of the portico, one of the triads that had earlier been found by archaeologist Flinders Petrie, one big block depicting Heryshef and Hahtor, a small block with inscriptions, and a seated statue of Ramses II.

“The excavations at the Heryshef Temple have provided mostly late Roman material that came from heavily relocated surface positions due to the previous archaeological work of Flinders Petrie and others early in the last century,” Perez-Die said. For this reason the mission decided to create a general site corpus of vessel types in the temple, and thus to critically select and draw only the most diagnostic material to this end.

Exceptions were made for crucial deposits, such as material from the sounding below the colossal seated statue of the king, or material from the stratified deposits on the western side of the temple in the rear part.

The material below the statue is entirely late Roman, providing evidence that it is currently not in its original position. The trench at the west-side of the temple produced a ground-breaking discovery since in the lowermost part in an intact position only one shred of material was discovered, and this dates to the late Middle Kingdom or the Second Intermediate Period.

Whilst this does not date the building of the wall, it provides the first firm evidence since Petrie that a late Middle Kingdom phase existed before the New Kingdom


ASWAN: During excavation work in the area neighbouring the Aga Khan Mausoleum on Aswan’s west bank, an Egyptian mission from the Ministry of Antiquities has uncovered 10 rock-hewn Late Period tombs.

Early studies have revealed that the site is probably an extension of the Aswan Necropolis on the west bank, where a collection of tombs belonging to overseers from the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms is found.

Nasr Salama, director-general of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities, said that the tombs had similar architectural designs composed of sliding steps leading to the entrance of the tomb and a small burial chamber where a collection of stone sarcophagi, mummies and funerary collections of the deceased were found.

Salama said that during the next archaeological season, which starts in September, the mission would continue the excavations and begin study and restoration work on the funerary collections that had been uncovered in order to learn more about who the tombs contain.

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