Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Finding buried treasure

Various expeditions have been unearthing treasure troves in Abusir, Saqqara and Matariya during the autumn season, reports Nevine El-Aref

#Pyramidion of Queen Ankhnespepy II # Toes of King Psamtik
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Archaeologists and their teams working through the autumn excavation season from September through November have made important discoveries at sites around the Abusir necropolis, Saqqara and the Matariya archaeological site.

At the Abusir necropolis, 30km south of the Giza Plateau, a mission from the Czech Institute of Egyptology at the Charles University in Prague has stumbled upon what is believed to be the remains of a Ramses II temple including the foundations of its sanctuary, pillar hall, a pylon as well as relief fragments engraved with scenes connected to the cult of the solar deities.

The temple was uncovered at the eastern edge of the north side of Abusir in an area that forms a natural transition between a terrace of the Nile and the floodplain.

“It is a unique discovery,” director of the Czech mission Miroslav Bárta told Al-Ahram Weekly. He added that uncovering a temple of Ramses II in an Old Kingdom necropolis provided unique evidence of the building and religious activities of the Pharaoh in the Memphis area and the permanent status of the cult of the sun god Ra. The latter was venerated in Abusir from the Fifth Dynasty to the New Kingdom when Ramses II reigned.

“This could easily change the history of such a necropolis, as it sheds more light on the importance of Abusir for religion and ideology during the New Kingdom,” Bárta said.

Deputy to the mission director Mohamed Megahed said that the temple remains measured 32×51m in ground plan and could be entered through a large mud-brick pylon. Behind this was a large forecourt that leads directly into the stone court and into two identical long storage buildings that originally enclosed the right and left sides of the temple.

Early examinations had revealed that parts of the walls were originally painted blue.

At the rear end of the court, Megahed said, there was a ramp or staircase giving access to an elevated stone sanctuary whose back was divided into three parallel rooms. The remains of this building, the core of the complex, were covered with deposits of sand and stone, among them fragments of polychrome reliefs.

“These finds are a priceless source not only for the reconstruction of the sanctuary decoration style, but also for the function and dating of the entire complex,” Megahed said.

Ramses II and his royal titles are attested among the relief fragments as well as the names of solar deities such as Ra, Amun and Nekhbet. The temple itself fits both the state ideology of Ramses II and local traditions stressing the cult of the sun.

The Czech mission has worked in Abusir since 2012, and earlier discoveries led them to the discovery of this temple. Abusir is the Arabic name for the Greek Busiris, which in turn is a rendering of the ancient Egyptian name Per-Usir, which means “the House of Osiris”, the god of the dead and resurrection.

The royal interest in Abusir began with the reign of Userkaf, the founder of the Fifth Dynasty, who chose the site to build a remarkable solar temple. Some of his successors also built their own burial and solar temples there, the last solar temple being built by Menkauhor at the end of the dynasty.

An important necropolis for the Memphite aristocracy has also been found, as well as tombs dating from the 26th and 27th dynasties, showing that Abusir remained an important funerary site until the end of the Pharaonic era.

At the Saqqara necropolis, a French-Swiss mission from the University of Geneva has discovered two important Old Kingdom remains that may be the first evidence of a long-lost satellite pyramid and a funerary temple of the Sixth Dynasty queen Ankhnespepy II.

The mission uncovered the pyramidion, the uppermost part of a pyramid, and the upper part of an obelisk, both belonging to Ankhnespepy II, the influential wife of Pepy I. She was also the mother of Pepy II and ruled as regent until he came of age.

“She is probably the first queen to have pyramid texts inscribed into her pyramid, explaining her influence during that time,” Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mustafa Waziri told the Weekly. “Before her, such inscriptions were only carved on the pyramids of kings. After Ankhnespepy II, some wives of Pepy II did the same.”

He said that her burial chamber had been discovered in 1963 and her pyramid uncovered in 1998, but archaeologists were still searching for evidence of the smaller satellite pyramids normally built nearby. “The discovery of the pyramidion confirms the existence of the satellite pyramid,” Waziri said.

Philippe Collombert, head of the archaeological mission, said the pyramidion was found at the northern side of Pepy I’s pyramid and measured 1.3m high and 1.1m wide on its sides. Its upper part has been partly destroyed, but it was originally covered by metal foil, either gold or copper, a technique used to make the top of the structure glint in the sun.

Of the obelisk, Collombert said that it was carved of red granite and was the largest obelisk fragment from the Old Kingdom ever discovered at 2.5m tall. “We can estimate the original full size of the obelisk at around 5m high,” he said.

He added that the top of the obelisk had a small deflection indicating that it could have been covered with metal slabs, probably of copper or golden foil, to make the obelisk glint in the sun.

Waziri said the obelisk was unearthed at the eastern side of the queen’s pyramid and funerary complex, confirming that it was removed from its original location at the entrance of her funerary temple.

“Queens of the Sixth Dynasty usually had two small obelisks at the entrance to their funerary temple, but this obelisk was found further away from the entrance of the complex of Ankhnespepy II,” Waziri said, suggesting that it may have been dragged away.

The mission started its excavations in 1963 when French Egyptologist Jean-Philippe Lauer started the first archaeological concession there, followed by Jean Leclant in his attempts to study the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts. Starting in 1987, the mission excavated the queen’s necropolis in the area around the Pepy I pyramid complex.

In the Souk Al-Khamis area of the Matariya archaeological site in Cairo where the torso of a statue of Psamtik I was uncovered in March, an Egyptian-German mission stumbled upon several parts of the same colossus. The mission is composed of archaeologists from the Egyptian ministry of antiquities, the Georg Steidorff Egyptian Museum at the University of Leipzig and the University for Applied Sciences in Mainz.

Head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department at the ministry and leader of the Egyptian team Ayman Ashmawi told the Weekly that around 1,920 quartzite blocks comprising the lower part of the Psamtik I colossus had been unearthed, with early studies indicating that they are parts of the king’s kilt, legs and toes.

“They also suggest that the colossus was constructed in a standing position, not a seated one,” he said.

Dietrich Raue, head of the German archaeological team, said the excavations had focused on the location in which the upper body of Psamtik’s colossus had been found, and the evidence suggested that the sculpture had been destroyed at an uncertain date and its fragments scattered around a 20-metre area.

He said that the team had also uncovered numerous granite blocks that belonged to other statues, including one of Ramses II, the god Rahurakhti, and others that had yet to be identified. Among the most prominent parts of the uncovered section, Raue said, was the rest of the colossus back pillar engraved with the sacred Horus-name of Psamtik I.

“This confirms that the colossus is of Psamtik I, and not Ramses II as some have suggested,” he said. Upon its initial discovery in March, some archaeologists believed that the statue may have belonged to Ramses II, but the engravings on its back dispelled that hypothesis.

Ashmawi noted that the mission would continue to uncover more of the colossus during the next archaeological season. The coming finds could reveal a total of 2,000 fragments and blocks, he said.

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