Friday,16 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)
Friday,16 November, 2018
Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Highlights at Saqqara

Archaeological highlights this week included the inspection of the tomb of Djoser and the opening of the tombs of Old Kingdom officials Mehu and Ti at Saqqara, reports Nevine El-Aref

 

Highlights at Saqqara

Journalists, diplomats and cultural attachés journeyed to the Saqqara Necropolis near Cairo on Saturday to be joined by Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany, Minister of Immigration Nabila Makram and Egyptologist Zahi Hawass in the area south of the Djoser Pyramid Complex to witness the opening of the mastaba tomb of the Old Kingdom official Mehu, which has never been opened since its discovery almost 80 years ago.

They also inspected the restoration carried out on Djoser’s southern tomb and the mastaba tomb of Ti, the overseer of the Fifth Dynasty royal pyramids.

 “It is a very important tour because the three tombs have great aesthetic and architectural significance in addition to their historical and archaeological value,” El-Enany told Al-Ahram Weekly. He added that it was the first time that Mehu’s mastaba tomb had been opened to the public since its discovery by an Egyptian mission in 1940. 

Mehu, chief justice and vizier in the Sixth Dynasty, had a vast tomb built displaying lavish wall paintings and scenes depicting baking bread, brewing beer, and preparing meals. Cultivation, hunting and offering scenes are also shown on the walls.


Highlights at Saqqara

“The reliefs in Mehu’s tomb are beautifully preserved and have unusual colours. Among the most striking is the one depicting the marriage of crocodiles in the presence of a turtle,” El-Enany pointed out.

The tomb does not only belong to Mehu, but also to his son Mery Re Ankh and grandson Hetep Ka II. It is located six metres to the south of the southern wall of Djoser’s Pyramid Complex and has a long narrow corridor with a courtyard and four chambers. Inside Mehu’s burial chamber, a sarcophagus with a lid has been uncovered.

Mehu lived during the reign of the Pharaoh Pepi I, and he held 48 titles, some of them inscribed on the walls of his burial chamber. Among these titles are the “scribe of the royal documents”, the “vizier”, and “head of the juries”. Mery Re Ankh has 23 titles inscribed on the walls of his burial chamber. Mehu’s grandson lived during the reign of Pepi II. He held 10 titles, among them “director of the palace”.

Every inch of the tomb is painted with scenes showing the skills of the Egyptian artisans at that time. There are scenes of trapping birds with nets, mending nets, and preparing food for birds. Others depict the deceased in hunting and fishing scenes, along with scenes illustrating fishing with nets, ships and sailing boats, and metalworkers beating, smelting and weighing their materials.


Highlights at Saqqara

Offerings scenes are also illustrated on the walls. They show people offering a bull, oryx and gazelles to the deceased as well as baskets of fruit. Many more offerings are depicted around the walls of a smaller chamber, together with scenes of musicians, including four harpists and dancers.

“These are some of the beautifully coloured pictures in the tomb,” said Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who explained that the most important are those on a false door at the western end. This has an unusual style of decoration in which the limestone of the stela shows through dark red paint highlighting the hieroglyphic text in yellow and resulting in a superbly detailed piece of craftsmanship.

The blue-grey colour of the walls in Mehu’s chapel forms an unusual background for colourful reliefs depicting many more offerings, especially of birds, with images of priests and offering lists. The deceased is shown seated before a table to receive them.

At the opening, Zahi Hawass said he was happy to witness the inauguration as he had studied the tomb and assisted in its restoration. The ministry has restored the different scenes in the tomb by consolidating the paintings, strengthening the colours, and developing the lighting system.

Hawass described the opening as helping to promote Egypt and its antiquities, showing how Egypt was working to protect and preserve its heritage.


Highlights at Saqqara

DJOSER’S SOUTHERN TOMB: After the tomb opening, El-Enany along with 15 foreign ambassadors to Egypt, including the Brazilian, Belgium, Cyprus, European Union, Mexico and French envoys, embarked on a tour to inspect work carried out at the southern tomb of king Djoser in Saqqara.

The tomb is expected to open after the completion of the restoration of the king’s Funerary Complex.

El-Enany said the southern tomb was one of the most important structures in the complex. It was discovered by French Egyptologist August Mariette and is located in the south-western side of the complex. Waziri said that the conservation work carried out inside the tomb had included the consolidation of the faience tiles that once decorated the inner arches as well as the floors, walls and ceiling.


Highlights at Saqqara

Adel Okasha, head of Cairo and Giza Antiquities at the Ministry of Antiquities, explained that the tomb had an entrance from the southern side leading to a sloping staircase towards a 28-metre shaft where a small granite burial chamber is found. The chamber is 1.6 metres long, with corridors whose walls are decorated with scenes depicting Djoser. The king is featured twice, once wearing the white crown and the second wearing the red crown symbolising that he was the king of Upper and Lower Egypt. 

Waziri said the tomb was similar in some elements to a step pyramid but on a reduced scale and different in its arrangement. The burial chamber is located at the bottom of the shaft, and it had the same dimensions as the one under a pyramid, he added.

“The function of this tomb has perplexed Egyptologists,” Waziri said, adding that some had suggested it was a symbolic tomb for Djoser as the king of Upper Egypt, while others said it could have been a place to preserve the king’s canopic jars. A third group believes that it could have been the beginning of the construction of the side pyramids of other predecessor kings.


Highlights at Saqqara

RESTORATION OF TI’S TOMB: El-Enany and the group also visited Ti’s tomb in Saqqara, which is now being restored. The conservation work will be completed within days, and it is scheduled to open soon.

Ti was the supervisor of the Fifth Dynasty royal pyramids. Though he was not vizier, he was still able to construct a large tomb in the Saqqara Necropolis. The tomb was discovered by French archaeologist August Mariette in 1865 and is considered one of the most beautiful in Saqqara. It is well-known for its coloured inscriptions and reliefs depicting scenes of baking bread and brewing beer.

Waziri said that since its discovery, no restoration work had been carried out at the tomb until an Egyptian-Czech mission in collaboration with the Saqqara conservators started cleaning and conservation work on its walls.

“The tomb not only has superb reliefs, but the variety of subjects in them also makes it very interesting,” El-Enany said, adding that the scenes showed Ti during his daily life.


El-Enany inspecting the tomb

The entrance is via a portico leading into a large columned courtyard with square pillars and a burial shaft in the centre. A narrow decorated corridor leads to two rooms and the false door of Ti’s wife, Neferhetpes, a priestess of the gods Neith and Hathor, is on the right of the passage along with a long narrow chamber decorated with painted reliefs of food preparation, including cooking and brewing, as well as scribes recording their activities.

At the end of the corridor is an offering hall with a roof supported by two square pillars that has the most beautiful reliefs in the tomb.

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