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Discovered at the bottom of a tomb of Saqqara, a mummy too well embalmed for its time

2021-11-07T05:31:16.346Z

ARCHEOLOGY - Buried under the 5th Egyptian Dynasty, the body of the deceased bears witness to the practices of mortuary care which did not become widespread until 1000 years later.



It is one of the most beautiful tombs discovered in Egypt in the past three years. Adorned with sumptuous painted reliefs depicting rich processions of offerings, the burial unearthed in March 2019 south of Cairo, in the Egyptian necropolis of Saqqara, contained a decoration worthy of a prince of Egypt. As well as the well-preserved mummy of the beneficiary of this magnificent tomb. The deceased must have been a high dignitary or a close friend of the king of the 5th dynasty Djedkarê Isési (XXV-XXIV century BC) and of the queen, Setibhor, whose pyramids, although sagging, still overlook the sands. of Saqqara, along with other monuments such as the Step Tomb of Djoser. Khuwy, as well as the funeral cartridges designate the buried individual,was however embalmed using techniques common to the Egyptian New Kingdom. An astonishing detail for a mummy supposed to date from the Old Kingdom, nearly a millennium earlier.

Read alsoA manual of mummification contained in an Egyptian papyrus reveals its lost secrets

Brushed with a rare vegetable resin, covered with very high quality linen strips, the body of the deceased Khuwy had been the subject of a range of mortuary treatments that would swear with embalming - the art of embalming - practiced during the Old Kingdom.

“Until now, we believed that Old Kingdom mummification had remained rudimentary, with simple desiccation - and not always successful - without removal of the brain, and with only occasional removal of internal organs

,” he said.

The Observer

Egyptologist Salima Ikram, from the American University in Cairo.

This mummy is bathed in resins and textiles and gives an entirely different impression of the mummification in use at the time.

In fact, it looks more like the mummies found 1000 years later. ”

How to understand, then, this apparent anachronism?

The mummy which intrigues archaeologists belonged in all likelihood to a high Egyptian dignitary, Khuwy, here represented seated in front of an accumulation of wealth.

MOHAMED EL-SHAHED / AFP

A tomb from the Old Kingdom

Had the deceased Egyptian been the subject of avant-garde care? Perhaps it was not, quite simply, dated to this remote age of ancient Egypt? However, everything suggests that the tomb was indeed built under the Old Kingdom. The remains of pottery discovered by archaeologists, including canopic jars containing part of the deceased's organs, were of a common type for the time. And access to the funerary structure also presented a

"unique"

character

, similar to the design of the underground galleries of the pyramids of the 5th dynasty, as indicated in a press release from the Czech Egyptian Institute, to which the director of Egyptian excavation Mohamed Megahed, Charles University in Prague.

Read alsoPharaonic show for the unprecedented parade of 22 royal mummies in Cairo

The tomb, once a mastaba, dates from the end of the 5th dynasty. However, far from having been miraculously preserved from the work of time and the lust of looters, Khuwy's burial was partly stripped in ancient times. Many limestone blocks - and the decoration engraved on them - were extracted from the galleries closest to the entrance to be reused on other sites. The actual furnishings of the tomb were not spared by the looters. The burial chamber contained only an empty and destroyed sarcophagus. His debris was found in the nearby anteroom, where archaeologists led by Mohamed Megahed found only fragments of ceramics, animal bones and embalmed human remains presumably belonging to theoccupant of the complex.

Cutting of a sacrificed ox. Detail of the painted decoration of the tomb of Khuwy. Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP

No trace of funerary re-use, however, could be observed by Egyptologists.

"There therefore does not seem to be any doubt that the preserved remains and the canopic jars belonged to Khuwy himself"

, conclude researchers Mohamed Megahed and Hana Vymazalová, co-signatories of the preliminary excavation report published in December 2019 in the journal scientist

Prague Egyptological Studies

. If the mummy is indeed the original occupant of this tomb almost 4000 years old, it would testify to a mode of embalming ahead of its time.

"If it is really about Khuwy, it would be a major discovery in the history of ancient Egypt"

, summarizes Mohamed Megahed in one of the last episodes of the series.

The Lost Treasures of the Valley of the Kings

, broadcast on National Geographic.

"It's extraordinary

," says no more and no less Salima Ikram, also interviewed in the documentary.

The only time I saw such a quantity of flax of this quality was during the XXIst dynasty ”

, in the 11th-10th centuries BC.

"This would completely change our understanding of the history of mummification"

, adds the researcher for

The Observer

, by emphasizing that there would also be grounds for reconsidering the extent of the networks of exchanges under the Old Empire.

The reason for this particular mortuary treatment is not yet well understood, but could illustrate a particular moment, an experiment for example, in the development of Egyptian embalming.

Perhaps the secret history of embalming lay shrouded in the sands, in the shadow of the pyramids of Saqqara.

Source: lefigaro

All news articles on 2021-11-07

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