Monday,22 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1374, (21 December 2017 - 3 January 2018)
Monday,22 April, 2019
Issue 1374, (21 December 2017 - 3 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A year of many discoveries

Egyptian and foreign Egyptologists excavating at archaeological sites across Egypt have made more than 30 discoveries this year, reports Nevine El-Aref

photo: Khaled El-Fiqi

Coincidence has always played a major role in making new discoveries. Among the most famous examples are the uncovering of the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamun on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, the funerary collection of the Pharaoh Khufu’s mother Hetepheres, the Pyramids Builders’ Cemetery on the Giza Plateau, and the Valley of the Golden Mummies in the Bahareya Oasis.

This year, coincidence led to the discovery of more than 30 treasures, something which made the Ministry of Antiquities describe 2017 as “the year of discoveries”.

“It seems that our ancient Egyptian ancestors are bestowing their blessings on Egypt’s economy, as these discoveries are good for the country and its tourism industry,” Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He said that many new discoveries had been made. In the Gabal Al-Selsela area in Aswan, 20 tombs were discovered by a team from Lund University in Sweden, for example, while in Luxor an Egyptian-Japanese mission discovered the tomb of a royal scribe. 

An Egyptian-German mission in Matareya outside Cairo made international headlines when it discovered fragments of a colossal statue of the Pharaoh Psamtick I.

An Egyptian mission from the Ministry of Antiquities discovered the inner parts of a pyramid from the 13th Dynasty, as well as the remains of a burial that would once have been inside the pyramid.

At the Tuna Al-Gabal archaeological site in Minya, a mission from Cairo University stumbled upon a cachette of non-royal mummies of men, women and children buried in catacombs eight metres below ground level in the desert neighbouring the local bird and animal necropolis.

“This discovery has changed our understanding of the Tuna Al-Gabal site,” El-Enany told the Weekly, adding that in Luxor several other important discoveries had been made. An Egyptian-European mission working at the Colossi of Memnon and the funerary temple of Amenhotep III had uncovered 136 statues of the goddess Sekhmet, most of which are life-size, as well as a beautiful alabaster statue of queen Tiye, wife of Amenhotep, carved on the side of a colossal statue of the king. 

A team from Jaen University in Spain also discovered the tomb of an official in Aswan. A Spanish mission in western Thebes discovered the remains of a funerary garden, a first in the area’s history.

A mission from the Ministry of Antiquities stumbled upon the almost-intact funerary collections of Amenemhat, the goldsmith of the god Amun-Re, and of Userhat, chancellor of Thebes during the 18th Dynasty, in the Draa Abul-Naga Necropolis at Luxor. The mission also uncovered two yet-unidentified tombs that are particularly rich in their funerary collections.

“These finds are not only a matter of luck, but are the result of the hard work of archaeologists across the country working in sometimes very difficult conditions,” El-Enany said. “Antiquities are the soft power that distinguishes Egypt,” he added, remarking that news of new discoveries always catches the headlines and the attention of the whole world.


TOMB DISCOVERIES: Among these discoveries were the three major ones made by the Egyptian mission in the Draa Abul-Nagaa Necropolis on Luxor’s west bank, which provide a better understanding of the history of the Necropolis and the lives of the tomb-owners.

The tomb of Userhat housed a collection of ten well-preserved painted wooden coffins and eight mummies in various states of preservation, for example. A collection of more than 1,000 ushabti figurines and wooden masks were also uncovered alongside with skeletons, wooden anthropoid masks, figurines in faience, terracotta and wood and various clay pots.

Archaeologist Sherine Shawki, a specialist in osteology, told the Weekly that early studies carried out on the mummies and skulls had revealed that one of the individuals had been anaemic and probably suffered severe toothache while a second had undergone primitive surgery.

The tomb of the goldsmith houses a collection of stone-and-wood ushabti figurines of different types and sizes, mummies, painted and anthropoid wooden sarcophagi, and jewellery made of precious and semi-precious stones.

the cachette of mummies in Minya

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the tomb had come to light when the mission stumbled upon it through a hole located at the end of one of the other tomb’s chambers.

In the courtyard of the goldsmith’s tomb, a Middle Kingdom burial shaft was found with the family burial of a woman and her two children. Also unearthed were the limestone remains of an offering table, four wooden sarcophagi that were partly damaged and decorated with hieroglyphic texts and scenes of different ancient Egyptian deities, and a sandstone dual statue of a trader in the temple of the Pharaoh Thutmose III named Mah. 

A collection of 150 ushabti figurines carved in faience, wood, burned clay, limestone and mud brick was also unearthed, as well as a collection of 50 funerary cones, 40 of which are evidence of the presence of other tombs belonging to four officials. 

Early studies of the mummies have shown that the woman died at the age of 50 and during her life had suffered from cavities in her teeth that had led to an abscess in her jaws and a bacterial disease in her bones. Studies on the mummies of her two children, Waziri said, had shown that they belonged to two adult males between 20 and 30 years old. Both mummies are in very good condition.

“This woman probably was in considerable pain as the size of her bones is abnormally enlarged,” Shawki, who has studied the bones, told the Weekly. Inside the coffin, the head-rest of the deceased woman was found, as well as a group of pottery vessels.

One of the male mummies shows that he was also suffering from teeth cavities during his lifetime, while the second one was probably put later in the same coffin because the bones are bare.

skulls cachette in Luxor

This tomb led to discovery of two other yet-unidentified tombs that could be dated to the period between the reign of Amenhotep II and Thutmose IV. Both contain wall paintings that show part of the deceased’s life and death, a collection of 450 ushabti figurines, 100 funerary cones, painted statuettes, painted funerary masks, and a sarcophagus decorated with hieroglyphic texts.

At the Tuna Al-Gabal site in Minya, an Egyptian mission from Cairo University uncovered a cachette of mummies containing 32 human mummies, 17 of which were in very good condition, this year.

Salah Al-Kholi, head of the mission, said the cachette was found by chance in a radar survey carried out in collaboration with experts from the University’s Faculty of Science in early 2016 that had revealed deep, hollow ground. 

A collection of eight limestone sarcophagi, two of which were carved in clay and with anthropoid lids, was found. Two baboon coffins, fragments of wooden sarcophagi decorated with funerary inscriptions, clay amphora, two papyri written in demotic ancient Egyptian, and the remains of a gilded funerary mask were also found, as well as a golden decoration shaped like feathers.


PYRAMID DISCOVERY: With the help of state-of-the-art non-invasive technology including muon and infra-red scanning, a French, Canadian, Japanese and Egyptian team succeeded in locating “a giant void space” above the Grand Gallery of the Great Pyramid on the Giza Plateau as a further step towards deciphering its unique architecture.

Although there is not yet any architectural interpretation of the space, and the role and purpose of its construction are unknown, it is fairly certain that it is a void space filled with air and not with small or larger stones or funerary collections as some have claimed.

Meanwhile, at Dahshur an Egyptian mission uncovered the remains of 13th-Dynasty pyramid. This structure is composed of a corridor leading to the inside of the pyramid and a hall that leads to a southern ramp, as well as a room at the western end.

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

Director of the Czech mission Miroslav Bárta described the discovery as important because 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 the Necropolis, as it sheds more light on the importance of Abusir for religion and ideology during the New Kingdom,” Bárta said.

At the Saqqara Necropolis, a French-Swiss mission from the University of Geneva 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 influential wife of Pepy I. 

She was the mother of Pepy II and ruled as regent until he came of age. The mission uncovered a pyramidion, the uppermost part of a pyramid, and the upper part of an obelisk.

painted sarcophagi

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.

Also this year, at the Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai restorers of the library have stumbled upon a sixth-century CE copy of a medical recipe originally written by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates.

The manuscript is written on leather. It also contains three other medical recipes written by an anonymous scribe, one of which contains drawings of medicinal herbs. The second layer of writing found on the manuscript is a text from the Bible.

In Alexandria, Roman shipwrecks and a votive bark of the god Osiris were found submerged on the seabed. A crystal Roman head probably depicting the Roman commander Mark Antony, the lover of Cleopatra, and gold coins from the reign of the emperor Augustus were also found.

Restorers working at the Monastery of St Bishoi in the Wadi Al-Natroun area uncovered a number of mediaeval-era wall-paintings and architectural elements while removing a modern layer of mortar from the walls of the Monastery’s old church this year. The paintings date from between the ninth and 13th centuries CE, and they will help archaeologists to determine the original architectural style of the church and the dates of its construction.

A cachette of embalming materials in Luxor, a lintel of the Pharaoh Sesostris II in Ihnasya, and 10 Late Period tombs in Aswan were also found this year.

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

The discovery not only highlights the mummification methods and materials used for Middle Kingdom elites, but it also adds significantly to the 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.

The year ended with three discoveries in the Kom Ombo and Aswan areas. A Swedish-Egyptian mission working in the Gabal Al-Selsela area near Aswan uncovered four intact burials of children, while an Austrian mission in Kom Ombo discovered a large segment of a First Intermediate Period cemetery.

An Egyptian-Swiss mission working in the old town of Aswan also unearthed a small incomplete statue that probably depicts the ancient Greek goddess Artemis, the goddess of hunting, procreation, virginity and fertility, combined with the Egyptian goddesses Isis and Bastet.  

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