Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1380, (8 - 14 February 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1380, (8 - 14 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Priestess tomb uncovered

The luxurious tomb of a priestess of the goddess Hathor uncovered in the Giza Western Cemetery has had Egyptologists wondering about her rank, writes Nevine El-Aref.

El-Enany on the way to the new tomb

Giza’s Western Cemetery was buzzing last Saturday as visitors crossed the long sandy streets lined with mastaba tombs to catch a glimpse of the luxurious and newly discovered Fifth-Dynasty tomb of Hetpet, a priestess of the goddess Hathor

Although the tomb has a simple superstructure made of mud-brick covered with mortar, its inner walls are painted with rare scenes depicting monkeys in different positions. 

Monkeys were domestic animals in ancient Egypt, and the first scene shows a monkey picking fruit while the second displays a monkey dancing in front of an orchestra. 

Similar scenes can be found in other tombs, among them on the walls of the 12th-Dynasty tomb of Khnoum Hetep II in Beni Hassan in the Minya governorate and in the Old Kingdom tomb of Ka-Iber in Saqqara, which shows a monkey dancing to a guitar. 

The smelting of ore, the fabrication of leather and papyri boats, and music and dancing performances are also shown on the Hetpet tomb walls.

“It was unusual for a woman in ancient Egypt to be buried alone without her husband or children. Only queens and princesses of the ruling family had their own tombs,” Egyptologist Zahi Hawass told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Although Hetpet was not a very important lady, her tomb is very significant and shows that she could have been the lover of a top-ranking official in the Fifth Dynasty. This explains why she has such a vast painted tomb,” he said.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities who led the excavation, described the discovery as “important” because it revealed more secrets of the Western Cemetery which houses more than 2,000 tombs of Old Kingdom officials.

The cemetery has been excavated by archaeological missions since 1843. “It is a very promising area, and it is expected that more tombs will be found,” Waziri told the Weekly, adding that the newly discovered tomb was not Hetpet’s main burial where she was supposed to rest for all eternity. 

He believes that Hetpet had another tomb in the cemetery that could be a few metres from the newly discovered one. “Work will continue to uncover the expected tomb,” Waziri said.

“This is the first discovery to be announced in 2018,” Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said, adding that four painted blocks of the tomb, as well as parts of its false doors, had been unearthed in 1909 and sent to the Berlin Museum and the Liebieghaus Museum in Frankfurt in Germany. 

he tomb discovery at its western cemetery photos: Khaled El-Fiqi

He said the paintings showed scenes depicting the tomb’s owner sitting or following farmers harvesting or on a boat crossing the Nile. The false doors depicted images of Hetpet’s children holding offerings and her parents, El-Enany said.

“Hetpet’s tomb was not fully uncovered until October 2017 when the Egyptian mission started excavations in the Giza Western Cemetery,” El-Enany said. He added that it showed the architectural style and decorative elements of the Fifth Dynasty, with an entrance leading to an L-shaped shrine with a purification basin. 

At its western rear end there is a rectangular arcade lined with incense and offering holders. There is also a niche with a missing statue of the tomb’s owner. The tomb has wall paintings in a very good state of conservation depicting Hetpet in different hunting and fishing scenes or sitting before an offering table receiving offerings from her children. 

The Giza Western Cemetery is tucked into a hill alongside causeways, and the tombs are arrayed in neat rows around the Pyramids in a grid pattern. Only a few of the tombs are open to the public.

he tomb discovery at its western cemetery photos: Ahmed Roumeh

Among these are 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.

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 daily life, agriculture and craftsmanship. A clarinet player is shown with the details of his posture, playing technique and fingering.

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

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 in the tomb.

The tomb contains scenes showing scribes registering the harvest, a man throwing grain into a vat, and cattle being dragged for counting while donations are recorded in registers. 

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 shown on one of the tomb’s walls.

The taxpayer’s agonised face peers out in warning to those who dared to fight the system at the time.

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