Show Less
Open access

In the Shadow of Djoser’s Pyramid

Research of Polish Archaeologists in Saqqara

Series:

Karol Jan Myśliwiec

The book presents the discoveries made by the Polish archaeological mission in Saqqara, the central part of the largest ancient Egyptian royal necropolis. The area adjacent to the Pyramid of King Djoser on the monument’s west side, so far neglected by archaeologists, turned out to be an important burial place of the Egyptian nobility from two periods of Pharaonic history: the Old Kingdom (the late third millennium BC) and the Ptolemaic Period (the late first millennium BC). The earlier, lower cemetery yielded rock-hewn tombs with splendid wall decoration in relief and painting. The book also describes methods of conservation applied to the discovered artefacts and episodes from the mission’s life.

Show Summary Details
Open access

Chapter 6. In the realm of Osiris

←170 | 171→

Chapter 6. In the realm of Osiris

Abstract: The “forest” of burial shafts. A sanctuary of Osiris in the middle of the cemetery? A unique harpoon and wild animal deposit. The dead in reed coffins imitating the dismembered god.

Keywords: burial shaft, burial chamber, coffin, sarcophagus, inscriptions.

At the head of the enormous pantheon of deities, who the ancient Egyptians entrusted with the eternity of the afterworld, stood Osiris and Anubis. The first of these, anthropomorphic and mummy-form, was a symbol of rebirth. The other, almost always depicted with a jackal’s head or that of an animal from the canine family (Figs. 172173), was responsible for the mummification process. The inscriptions written, engraved or painted onto the walls of the tombs, as well as on the various funerary equipment items, usually began with certain formulas, such as: “The offering the king gives to Anubis, Master-of-the-Divine-Cabin, who-is-in-the-place-of-embalmment, who-is-on-his-hill, the Lord of the Holy Land and [Lord of] Sepa, so that [the tomb owner] can be buried in the necropolis in the Western Desert, when he has grown old, in peace …” or “Honoured by Osiris …,” “Honoured by Anubis …,”etc.1 Of course, the king appears here in a symbolic role as an intermediary between the dead and the gods, as a protector of the tomb owner. Nothing may happen without the will of the pharaoh as it is thanks to his grace that a courtier receives a place for his grave, preferably near the ruler’s pyramid.

This was also the case in the necropolis situated west of Djoser’s pyramid enclosure. We excavated the cemetery in stages after having discovered Merefnebef’s tomb, which later turned out to be the oldest mastaba preserved to this day within the area of the former quarry.2 However, this was not the burial of someone linked to Djoser. Merefnebef lived over 300 years later, at the beginning of the Sixth Dynasty, marking the end of the so-called Old Kingdom. What had gone on with this area during the rule of the three previous dynasties? Our research made it possible to state that the entire ←171 | 172→area, extending from the recessed wall encircling the ‘step pyramid’ to the so-called ‘Dry Moat,’ had been an enormous quarry during the construction of the first royal pyramid (Fig. 3).3 An extensive surface layer of the rock had at that time been cut off and used as building material. Rock terraces gradually descending westward remained, reaching the gigantic moat encircling the pyramid and seemingly also being also a remnant of the quarry. The unimaginable mass of stone used for the construction of both Djoser’s tomb and the adjacent structures, including the huge wall, rectangularly enclosing the holy complex (Fig. 61), is of local origin, as indicated by the geological research conducted by our team. The highest dignitaries from Djoser’s entourage constructed their monumental tombs in the area adjacent to the pyramid temenos from the north. The terraces left behind by the quarry neighbouring the complex from the west were used for sepulchral purposes only a few hundred years later. Thus, people who had never had anything to do with this ruler were buried in the shadows of Djoser’s pyramid.

Why then did this area become their ‘house of eternity’? It is enough to cast a glance at a map of Saqqara (Il. 2) to see that the necropolis we have been excavating is situated between the pyramid of Unas, the last ruler of the Fifth Dynasty, and the pyramid of Teti, the first king of the subsequent dynasty. These two monuments neighbour Imhotep’s masterpiece, i.e. the ‘step pyramid,’ diagonally, south-west/north-east, and the latter had for a long time functioned as an object of special cult. To be buried in the vicinity of Djoser’s tomb must have been considered a great distinction, even though it was practically a must due to the lack of space in the direct neighbourhood of the two above-mentioned pyramids. The highest noblemen from the courts of both rulers had already found their place of eternal rest there. The middle class was left with the quarry. This might have been the only location that was available. Of course, Merefnebef also belonged to this social stratum, before gold, in the form of the vizierate, ‘rained down’ on him towards the end of his life. The éminence grise from Teti’s times reached a deal with the very suspect, ephemeral man named Userkare ignored by his contemporaries, most probably by making use of his harem connections and confidential information to which he had access as secretary.4 The necropolis that later became the subject of our research developed around the tomb of the vizier-upstart (Il. 6). The type of burials indicates that it was used ←172 | 173→continuously up until the so-called First Intermediate Period (Dynasties VII–X), i.e. until the turn of the third and the second millennia BC.

←173 | 174→

We investigated this necropolis in a strip of land about thirty metres wide in the area between Merefnebef’s place of rest and the pyramid, and also about twenty metres between the vizier’s tomb and the ‘Dry Moat’.5 The most serious obstacle was the state of preservation of the mastabas, i.e. the aboveground parts of the tombs (Fig. 62 and 86–87, Il. 6). The majority of the brick walls had been destroyed already in antiquity, while the substance that had filled the brick wall structures had dissolved or fallen away.6

←174 | 175→

The preserved brickwork attests to the cramped circumstances in the necropolis. Some of the tombs were expanded by adding new elements to them so that further burials could be taken in; new walls were sometimes placed on top of the destroyed part of old ones. In this way, a conglomerate was created of very diversified graves in terms of their size, architecture and décor. Establishing their chronological sequence, and thus determining the direction in which the necropolis developed in relation to the changing political, economic and social situation, was an exceptionally difficult task, requiring a synthesis of very diverse premises. This was undertaken by Dr Kamil Kuraszkiewicz. His research resulted in a monograph published in 2013 in English as the fifth volume of the publishing series entitled “Saqqara”.7 Another equally important function performed by Dr Kuraszkiewicz at the excavations in Saqqara involved drawing the bas reliefs ←175 | 176→and paintings preserved on the tomb walls. This task was all the more difficult as copying the inscriptions and scenes on the foil adhering to the brittle surface of the walls could result in the disintegration of large parts of the decoration. To this purpose, the ingenious epigrapher constructed an original device, a type of metal stand with a rectangular frame stabilising the foil at a minimal distance from the wall, enabling the copying of all the details of the bas reliefs in a scale of 1:1 without touching them. The device, based on the Egyptologist’s idea, was made in a workshop owned by friends in his hometown of Świdnica in Poland.

The underground part of the Old Kingdom tombs revealed themselves to the archaeologists as a conglomeration of shafts with a rectangular horizontal cross section (Il. 7 and 8).8 Each of them had once been covered by a brick mastaba. In principle, each of the mastabas had at least two shafts. One of them, the deeper one, was the proper grave, the posthumous abode of the tomb owner. It was located in the northern part of the mastaba and was sometimes even over a dozen metres deep. Its horizontal section was slightly larger than the dimensions of the coffin or sarcophagus, which was supposed to be let down to the bottom of the shaft, from where it would be moved to the interior of the chamber.

The size of the other shaft, usually located in the southern part of the mastaba, was significantly smaller. It did not have a chamber and only contained the equipment used during the funeral ceremony, including large amounts of pottery, usually vessels with their surface painted red.9 These last items were what was left after the ceremony of “breaking the red vessels,” which played an important role in the funerary ritual. Such a deposit was preserved in full in a tiny shaft located in the south-east corner of Merefnebef’s mastaba. The pottery found there confirmed the dating of the grave deduced from the inscriptions sculpted on the walls of the funerary chapel.10

The tradition of such ‘ritual storage areas’ in or next to the graves of noblemen goes back to a period almost 1000 years earlier, i.e. to the times of the forming of Egyptian statehood. Caves containing utensils used in funerary rituals in the necropolis from this period were discovered by Polish archaeologists in the Lower Egyptian settlement now bearing the name Tell el-Farkha.11 This place has already been discussed in chapter two.

←176 | 177→ ←177 | 178→

But some tombs at the necropolis we were excavating contain more than two tomb shafts (Il. 7). Based on their shape and size, it can be observed that they were added to the already existing mastabas with subsequent members of the family in mind. Over a few generations, such a maze of tomb shafts and chambers was developed that the owners of new mastabas and the stonemasons working there often became disoriented as to the location, depth and shape of the structures dug earlier. It happened frequently that as they went lower down they would encounter older structures, which forced them to change the size and shape of the planned rooms. As they moved deeper into the rock, they had to cope with its variable consistence: hard stone would sometimes transition into limestone with a shale texture or even something like rock aggregate, underneath which compact and hard rock would once again appear. This would also foil their plans. The walls of most of the shafts are neither vertical nor smooth, while their width at times changes quite abruptly.12 Some of the shafts and chambers partly overlap, creating irregular openings through which one can enter the interior of the neighbouring tomb (Il. 10–11).

To descend to the burial chamber was in antiquity a feat requiring almost acrobatic skills. In the two adjacent walls of the shaft, a vertical sequence of small hollows was hewn the size of human feet.13 Holding onto ropes, the stonemasons, sculptors and people responsible for the funerary ceremony could go down even as deep as twenty metres using these steps. Archaeologists observe today’s workers using this ancient ‘ladder’ with some awe. They make their way to the bottom of the shaft with incredible speed, frequently without even using the hollows, clinging to the rough rock surface with their feet. Nowadays, archaeologists usually go down the deep shafts using a machine called a tambour from French. At the crown of the shaft, a floor is constructed using boards with an opening in the middle. A wooden barrel is installed on top of it, turned manually by the workers. A rope unwinds from the drum, at the end of which a rubber basket or one made from natural palm fibre is attached. As he or she holds the rope, the passenger of the ‘Netherworld vehicle’ stands with one leg in the basket and ←178 | 179→the other serves as the rudder. This same vehicle transports rubble from the excavations in the shaft and burial chamber in the opposite direction.

The mutual relation between the shaft and the chamber is by no means random. The architects of the tombs had to consider a variety of dangers lurking in wait for the deceased underground. The state of the preservation of the bodies and various items belonging to their funerary outfit, as well as the cracked surface of the thick layer of clay covering the floor in some chambers, clearly indicate that the water flowing from the direction of the pyramid in the rainy season was a great threat. The area of the former quarry, descending in the western direction, must have changed into the bottom of a turbulent stream during such periods, flowing partly into the underground parts of the tombs and further, as far as the ‘Dry Moat,’ displacing a significant part of the mastaba’s ritual furnishings along the way. In order to prevent the devastation of the tombs and the dampness that would later linger long inside the chambers, the architects resorted to various ideas, among which the most effective turned out to be locating the burial chambers not at the bottom of the shaft, but rather in one of the walls, slightly above the floor.14 In this way, the water flowing in through the top into the underground part of the mastaba gathered in a ‘container,’ formed by the lower part of the shaft, thus not flowing into the chamber itself. Apparently, the ‘false bottoms’ found in some of the shafts might have also performed a protective function (Il. 8–9). When, at a considerable depth, we touch a horizontal rock surface and do not ascertain the entrance to a burial chamber, ready to consider this to be an unfinished or ritual shaft, suddenly a large opening leading deeper into the shaft appears in this ‘floor,’ and directly beneath it either the entrance to a burial chamber or the lower part of the shaft with the chamber located even lower down.15 Such a solution implied, of course, the form of the burial, as no coffin would have fit through the irregular opening in the pseudo-floor, and this is all the more true of an enormous sarcophagus made from stone. In some shafts, triangular rock projections left behind by the stonemasons in one or more corners of the shaft constitute a reduced version of ceiling-floors.

The forms of the burials are also diversified. Only the very few, most important and richest courtiers could afford to have their bodies placed in a huge stone sarcophagus weighing even as much as over a dozen tonnes (Figs. 6364).16 At the cemetery we were excavating, we discovered only a few such burials and ←179 | 180→none of them contained a finished sarcophagus. Even the Vizier Merefnebef’s sarcophagus had irregular, rough walls with an unsmoothed surface, lacking any sort of decoration. A sarcophagus found in an anonymous tomb, which had clearly never been used as a place of eternal rest, turned out to be especially interesting for studies on the stone working technique used on stone blocks and the way in which the work was organised when such a huge mass of stone was being placed in the funerary chamber. Thanks to the fact that this sarcophagus was abandoned in a relatively early phase of the stone working, it was possible to reconstruct its path from the quarry to the grave chamber. Primarily, it became clear that it was not a ready sarcophagus that was lowered down into the deep funerary shaft from the surface, but rather a heavy block of stone similar to a rectangular cuboid in shape.17 It was lowered down using rope, after an amortising material in the form of sand had been placed along the bottom of the shaft. For the workers, who had to manoeuvre this colossus in a very cramped space, small hollows were dug into the shaft’s rock walls bordering the chamber, which must have saved them on many an occasion from death as a result of the mistakes made by one of the two teams, i.e. the one working on the ground and the one retrieving the ‘goods.’ The appropriate height and angle of the ceiling in the entrance to the chamber was planned in advance in such a way so the huge stone block could squeeze through. To avoid any severe jolts, stone and clay diagonal ramps were constructed, along which the ‘sarcophagus’ was moved until it reached the western wall of the chamber, i.e. the place of destination. Small fragments of the ramp remained preserved in the chamber we studied.

←180 | 181→ ←181 | 182→

At that point, the stone working could begin. First, the enormous block was cut horizontally into two parts. The upper, smaller one, was to be the lid of the sarcophagus. But where was it placed during the crafting of the inside that would become the case for the body of the deceased? To this aim, a hollow similar to a drawer was carved into the west wall of the burial chamber, i.e. at the place where the sarcophagus adhered to the wall, and this was where the lid was temporarily inserted. This is precisely where the sarcophagus cover was still lying in the chamber we had explored. In order to move it back when the decedent was put inside the trunk, wooden rollers were installed underneath the lid. They had also been preserved in the anonymous tomb. But the lid had remained forever in its provisional location. The crafting of the interior of the trunk had barely been commenced, the work had been interrupted. There is nothing allowing us to guess the reasons behind it being abandoned. In these stormy times, which we have already taken a closer look at based on the example of the vizier’s tomb, anything was possible. Perhaps the wealthy courtier had fallen from the king’s grace and lost the right to a burial corresponding to his social position, or perhaps he had run out of the financial means necessary to complete the monumental ‘house of eternity.’ On the coarse surface of the unfinished trunk, there are traces of stonemasons’ chisels of various calibres, but not a single inscription was sculpted.

As at the majority of the Old Kingdom tombs at the Memphite necropolis, similarly as in the described case, the stone sarcophagi remained unfinished, it did not seem to us that we had made a unique discovery (Figs. 63–64). It was not until an account of the newest research done by our mission was published in one of the most popular Polish newspapers that there was an uproar in academic circles. It turned out that our publication was the first attempt at such a precise reconstruction of the toilsome work preceding the placement of the body of a deceased Egyptian in his ‘house of eternity.’ Information about this also made its way to the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation, which demanded an immediate explanation in writing why – against binding regulations – it had not been informed first about such a grand ‘discovery.’ We had simply not noticed the discovery. We were not the first to do so, as even in archaeology too many truths are considered to be ‘obvious.’

←182 | 183→ ←183 | 184→ ←185 | 186→

A burial in a stone sarcophagus was a luxury only a very few could afford. Frugality forced many noblemen, even of the highest ranks, to find alternative solutions. We discovered one of them in the burial chamber of Ni-ankh-Nefertum, the vizier’s closest posthumous neighbour. The sarcophagus was replaced by a rectangular cuboidal hollow dug into the floor of the room, covered by a stone lid so gigantic that it imitated a sarcophagus lowered into the ground.18 In the middle of the frontal wall of the lid, a barely visible inscription made using black ink has been preserved. It contained only the tomb owner’s sobriquet, Temi, written in hieratic script, which was a simplified form of the hieroglyphs. We will return to the owner of this pseudo-sarcophagus in subsequent chapters.

Similar hollows in the floor of burial chambers sometimes had walls lined with stone plates. In exceptional cases, wooden cuboid coffins, tightly fitted to the walls, were placed inside these hollows. On one of these coffins, a ‘list of offerings’ was engraved, such as is usually present on the walls of cult chapels and funerary chambers.19 However, the wooden coffins were usually placed directly on the floors of the burial chambers. Even simpler burials did not have any type of container at all, with the body placed in the chamber on the bottom surface. The deceased was sometimes wrapped in a linen shroud, and in exceptional cases – in a gypsum casing. In one of the discovered tombs, the fragments of a plaster mask have been preserved that belonged to a young woman, whose skull bears a large rectangular opening attesting to a conducted trepanation. It seems that the operation did not help her much, even though the ideally preserved set of teeth of the woman in her twenties is reminiscent of a broad smile (Figs. 201–203).20 In another tomb, we found over 100 fragments of the plaster crust that had covered the entire body, next to the skeleton of an older man (Figs. 199–200). Some of the details of the face, e.g. the eyes, were additionally accentuated using black paint, which emphasised, perhaps intentionally, the effect of naturalistic plasticity.

Among the coffins, the most numerous group consists of containers woven from Nile reed (Il. 1215; Figs. 6568).21 In these terms, the necropolis that was the subject of our research differs from other cemeteries dating ←186 | 187→from the same period. At least every fourth ‘inhabitant’ was buried in a cuboidal chest made from long rush sheaves, thickets of which were the dominant element of the boggy landscape of the Nile Delta. Among this raw material, it is possible to find also papyrus stalks, so strongly associated with northern Egypt that they became the heraldic plant symbolising this part of the Two Lands. Hunting for wild birds and fishing in papyrus thickets belonged to the favoured forms of entertainment among the Egyptians, and they were frequently represented on the walls of the funerary chapels belonging to the highest dignitaries. One of the most beautiful images of this type is the previously described scene in the tomb belonging to Vizier Merefnebef.

←187 | 188→ ←188 | 189→ ←189 | 190→ ←190 | 191→

The construction of coffins woven from rushes indicates that they were only made after the raw material had reached the burial chamber. If things had turned otherwise, the readymade chest would have been destroyed in the bend of the narrow passageway from the shaft to the chamber. In fact, the size of the latter did not make any sort of manoeuvring possible with such delicate containers. The best-preserved reed coffin stood in a room made from clay and small stone blocks, with a low ceiling of identical material, no doubt made only when the container with the body of the deceased had already been covered with the reed lid woven using the same technique as in the case of the trunk (Figs. 6566).22 The coffin filled the burial chamber ←191 | 192→almost completely, and it was only possible to reach it through the narrow shaft, which like a chimney clung to the shorter side of the room.

The constructors of these coffins showed a lot of mastery in working with this pliable material. All of the chests were made up of a few dozen stalk sheaves placed horizontally in a vertical sequence and connected many times over with loops from thin rope or even twisted plant material (Il. 15; Fig. 67).23 Each of the sheaves was a length equal to one long wall and the adjoining short wall, bent in such a way so as to form one of the coffin’s corners. Thus, the cuboidal container was formed from connecting vertical walls of reeds, which in turn were made from horizontal segments of a thickness sometimes amounting to as much as ten centimetres. The more sheaves there were, the more solid and compact the entire structure. The bottom of the coffin and its lid constituted a type of flat mat woven using the same technique. The edges of the wall were frequently fortified with additional sheaves or thicker stalks stabilising the delicate structure. This was especially used in the case of the two opposite corners, in which the two ‘prefabricated’ reed walls came together.

Of course, the quality of the execution of these chests is quite varied, which probably points to the difference in the technical level of those making them, or else the tomb owner’s social position, and thus – his economic status, and finally – the burial customs corresponding to the spirit of the times, and which were usually an expression of the society’s affluence.24 The most primitive burials in reed coffins more reminiscent of mats than of a cuboidal chest were found… on the roof of Vizier Merefnebef’s funerary chapel. The brick ruin was an ideal place of burial for the poor. It was enough to take a few bricks out of the rubble in order to form a small hollow simultaneously imitating a shaft and burial chamber. The only architectural element of these tombs was a small wall arranged around the body usually made from re-used bricks, and reed matting. Even though they were anonymous, these burials can with certainty be dated to the final phase of the Old Kingdom (the end of the Sixth Dynasty) or even to the First Intermediate Period, when various circumstances, including violent climate change, led to the impoverishment of society and the first political collapse of the pharaonic State in history. The vizier’s tomb was already then a historical ruin, while the beautiful paintings on the walls of his cult chapel had been hidden behind the curtain of debris in the form of a brick pile. No one even felt like digging out of a slightly deeper hollow to bury the dead. At this once fashionable ←192 | 193→necropolis, bodies were buried wherever, preferably just below the surface of the ground, and without any funerary equipment.25

These symptoms of social differentiation also have a huge significance for the interpretation of burials in reed coffins. Despite the popular hypothesis, it turns out that they do not characterise just the burial customs of the poorest layers of society, who could not afford wooden coffins, not to mention stone sarcophagi. The size and form, as well as the location of the tombs with such containers, clearly indicate the middle class, who were the main users of this cemetery during the Sixth Dynasty. This is confirmed by numerous stone stelae of the ‘false-door’ type, frequently found outside their original context, but on which hieroglyphic inscriptions have been preserved, enabling the identification of both the names and the social rank of the tomb owners. As already mentioned, these were usually courtiers performing various administrative and religious functions, e.g. secretaries, priests and the artisans’ superiors, but also highborn ladies belonging to the large group of priestesses of the Goddess Hathor.

Why were the dead buried so willingly in reed coffins at this particular necropolis? It is amazing that French archaeologists, who almost 100 years ago conducted excavations in an extensive cemetery from the same period, located in south Saqqara, at a distance of only a few kilometres from the necropolis under discussion, did not record a single burial in a chest made of a similar material.26 It cannot be excluded that the reed coffins had been destroyed to such an extent during subsequent phases of looting that any potential remains were not identified as such by the researchers. However, in one of the tombs from that necropolis, a wooden coffin was found, used – as indicated by the inscriptions carved into its surface – at least twice, with its bas-relief decoration imitating a reed chest. The external face of its walls looks therefore like an imitation of a plaiting reminiscent of wickerwork, which clearly indicates the symbolic meaning of this material.27

←193 | 194→ ←194 | 195→

It seems that the exceptionally high frequency of reed coffins in the necropolis we were studying in Saqqara resulted from certain specific reasons. In the direct vicinity of the tombs containing such burials, we discovered an underground fragment of a structure with a mysterious ritual function, hewn out into the rock (Il. 6 and 16; Figs. 6975). Nothing had foretold yet another mystery, when a rectangular opening leading further into the rock appeared in the wall of the ‘Dry Moat,’ bordering this deep trough from the east, just underneath the architrave, which was its upper edge. We thought that it was the entrance to yet another tomb, all the more so as we had uncovered some funerary shafts right in front of the ‘Dry Moat’s’ façade in this same spot. However, this turned out to be a strange structure. We had to bend over double to get inside. The entries to the funerary chapels from the Old Kingdom sometimes tended to be very narrow (e.g. sixty centimetres wide in Merefnebef’s tomb). But their height usually allowed one to remain upright. Here, in turn, one had to bend over more the deeper one went forward inside the long, relatively wide corridor running behind the entrance straight in the direction of Djoser’s pyramid.28 From the beginning, we saw that the corridor was exceptionally long, as it was not filled with sand and brick rubble up to the ceiling. We could discern a distant abyss above the surface of the sand. At one point, we even had the idea that the corridor might run as far as the underground part of the ‘step pyramid,’ which would have caused quite a stir in archaeological circles. We explored the fill very meticulously so as to not miss even the smallest of artefacts.

←195 | 196→

The flooring of the corridor was yet another surprise. Paved with irregularly-shaped stone plates, it ascended towards the east. The thickness of the layers of blocks covering the floor increased, while the width of the corridor decreased. We began to wonder whether this was meant to make it easier or more difficult to reach the destination. Or perhaps both purposes at the same time. After twenty metres of our slow exploration of the backfill, we arrived at a rock wall. Similarly as in the case of the lateral corridor walls, it was not smoothened or overlaid with pugging, plaster or stone plates, as was frequently the case in other tombs. Its rough surface exposed subsequent layers of local rock, in turn hard and very brittle, also varied in terms of its colour. A veritable geological sandwich.

←196 | 197→ ←197 | 198→

But the underground structure did not end at the wall closing off the corridor from the east. In its north-eastern corner, there was a narrow irregular entrance to a rectangular room that continued on in an eastern direction, i.e. towards the pyramid. It soon turned out that it was only a few metres long and was in fact the last in this strange sequence of underground rooms. At the time, we had the idea that this was the tomb’s cult chapel with an unusual shape, perhaps concealing the entrance to a funerary shaft containing a chamber with the burial of a nobleman. Yet we soon had to bid farewell to this hypothesis as well.

It was already food for thought that a room with such a regular rectangular shape was not located on the axis of the corridor, but was intentionally ‘displaced’ a few dozen centimetres nortward (Il. 16).29 It is further difficult to understand why the room is not linked to the corridor by a regularly-shaped entrance, but rather by an opening in the corner of the room, suggesting that it was possibly the work of later looters than of the Old Kingdom architects of this necropolis. What is more, the entrance was fenced off to a certain height with blocks that continued the slope of the corridor floor. Everything seemed to indicate that the creators of this unique structure were interested in concealing the contents of the barely accessible chamber. What was in there?

←198 | 199→

We soon spotted the first surprise on the surface of the backfill. It was an extensive deposit of wild animal bones (Fig. 71):30 from the skeletons of huge catfish to beautiful antelope antlers, preserved along with their callous crust. Salima Ikram, our mission’s paleozoologist, was awestruck. The professor of the American University in Cairo had to record this agglomerate of bones, crawling into the small crevice left between the ceiling of the room and the surface of the backfill on her belly. “This is incredible,” “there has never been anything like this,” she would shout out from time to time from behind the white mask covering her respiratory tract. Yet again in her academic career she could make use of her slim and nimble figure of the first dancer during the soirées in the Cairo Egyptological milieu, which would be hard to guess when she arrives at the excavation field wearing the Pakistani national attire.

The zoological deposit remained a mystery to us for a long time. It was not until an item was found a few dozen centimetres deeper, almost at the bottom of the backfill, that we arrived closer to understanding the religious symbolism of the animal skeletons. This item was an enormous wooden harpoon (Fig. 75).31 It was lying deposited at the southern wall of the chamber, placed inside a cylindrical sheath made from identical material. The size and weight of this object indicated that it could not have been a genuine weapon used at any time by the pharaoh or his acolytes to hunt hippos, as can frequently be seen in the reliefs decorating the walls in the funerary chapels of the highest dignitaries and in the funerary temples near the Fifth- and Sixth-Dynasty royal pyramids.32 Such hunting also took part in papyrus thickets, where the hunters moved around in light reed-woven boats. In their upraised hands, they held the thin spar of a harpoon, to which a mobile rope was attached, ending in a metal or bone blade, aimed at the animal’s trunk. Such scenes find their place among the masterpieces of the sculpting and painting art from this period, as they are full of dynamism expressed by the arrangement of the bodies and tension of their muscles. The god Horus was also portrayed in a similar way, attacking his mortal enemy, the god Seth, represented as a hippopotamus.

←199 | 200→

From the moment our mission discovered the largest harpoon ever found in Egypt, there was not even the slightest doubt that this was not a utility item. Two robust people are needed in order to simply pick it up. It is 260 centimetres long, while its wooden container twenty centimetres longer. The spindle-like shape of the artefact differs from the light, relatively short pole, known from Egyptian bas reliefs, down which a rope equipped with a blade slid. Such a harpoon was found, for example, in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, younger by 1000 years. The sophisticatedly crafted surface of the Saqqara harpoon, similarly as its relief, clearly indicates that this was a cult object with a purely ritual function, symbolising the victory of the pharaoh – as the incarnation of the god Horus – over his enemies. In the front part of the staff, a snake poised ready to attack, with his tongue sticking out, is depicted twice in a sophisticated half-relief/mezzo-relievo (Fig. 75).33

We immediately wanted to find out during whose reign this unique object had been crafted. Unfortunately, this magnificent harpoon is currently anepigraphic. There are no inscriptions either on the item itself or on its wooden etui. It cannot be excluded that at least the sheath had initially had the name of the pharaoh written or painted on it. However, traces of polychromy have only been preserved on the round stopper used to close the container in the front. They are best visible in places in which its walls meet. It is possible to discern the remains of white, yellow and red paint. One element of the painted decorations might have been the unpreserved name of the pharaoh.

In order to establish the approximate date of the item, an archaeologist resorts in such situations to stylistic criteria. By a lucky coincidence, over ten years earlier, Egyptian archaeologists under the leadership of Professor Zahi Hawass, at the time the director of the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation, had been conducting excavations within the funerary temple by the pyramid of one of the wives of Pharaoh Teti, the first ruler of the Sixth Dynasty. This building is located not far from the north-eastern corner of the Djoser pyramid complex, at a distance of only a few hundred metres from where we had our excavations. They noted that the flooring in this temple was arranged, among others, from secondarily-used architectural elements originating from cult buildings belonging to the temenos of the ‘step pyramid.’ Some of them are decorated with bas reliefs containing inscriptions with Djoser’s name. One of these elements is a type of cuboid pillar made from snow-white limestone, bearing a unique representation sculpted in a very flat ←200 | 201→relief: two attacking snakes have been depicted on its opposite walls, with identical iconography to what can be found on the surface of the discussed harpoon (Fig. 75).34

The style of both bas reliefs also betrays their artistic kinship, even though they were sculpted in different material – wood and a very soft type of limestone. The identical plasticity of the scales on the animal’s skin is especially striking. It can be assumed with a high degree of probability that the harpoon had also been made during Djoser’s reign and was a richly symbolic ritual object, perhaps initially located in one of the sacral buildings belonging to this ruler’s funerary complex. In later times, probably in the first half of the Sixth Dynasty, it would have been transferred from its original spot to the underground crypt we had discovered. Such a dating of its secondary usage is indicated by a small but very homogeneous pottery deposit found under the harpoon, in the thin layer of clay that separated it from the room’s floor. This pottery has been dated to the Sixth Dynasty.35

However, it cannot be excluded that the harpoon was located in the underground crypt from the very beginning, i.e. from the moment it was made. This was in fact a room hewn into the eastern wall of the ‘Dry Moat,’ a structure belonging to the remains of the quarry from which material had been taken for the construction of Djoser’s pyramid and the surrounding recessed wall. There can be no doubt that – similarly as in the case of many other quarries throughout Egypt – immediately after the stone exploration had been completed, the area was used either for sacral or sepulchral purposes. It is probably also no coincidence that the underground corridor ends at exactly the same spot where the rock threshold is found on the surface of the ground, separating two subsequent terraces located on different levels, also remnants of the quarry.36

The higher of these terraces, situated closer to the pyramid, is lined with very weathered mud brick, while there is a sequence of irregularly-shaped limestone blocks on its surface. These might be the remnants of a building of a cult nature, which formed a whole with the underground crypt containing the harpoon and deposit of wild animal remains. In this way, the sacral character of the area directly adjacent to the pyramid would have been enriched by the content expressed in the sanctuary located just beyond the enclosure wall. In the final phase of the Old Kingdom (the Sixth Dynasty), certain architectural retouches might have been made to this structure, or it might ←201 | 202→only have been slightly modified to correspond to the spirit of the time. Such a chronology of events would be indicated by the pottery deposit found underneath the harpoon.

A more precise analysis of the animal skeletons, conducted by a paleozoologist, enabled stating that only the front parts of the animals were located there. The rear fragments of their trunks were completely missing.37 For an Egyptologist, this evokes associations with a certain philological phenomenon attested from this same period. It is linked to the writing of some hieroglyphic signs in the Pyramid Texts, portraying dangerous animals, primarily reptiles, especially snakes. Shocking modifications in these hieroglyphs were introduced during the reign of the first ruler of the Sixth Dynasty, Teti. Instead of depicting the whole animal, the sign portrayed its half or the body hacked to pieces.38 It is difficult today to establish the reasons behind this astonishing zoophobia. It might have resulted from magical grounds, linked to theology, or perhaps simply from normal human fear of the dangers lurking in wait for a person in the animal kingdom. In later times, this phobia led to the creation of numerous magical texts, written down on objects with apotropaic properties, e.g. on stelae, or even stone ‘healing’ statues. Especially abundant numbers of this type of artefacts have been preserved from the first millennium BC.39

The dismemberment of the bodies of wild animals in the deposit lying on the surface of the backfill in the crypt we had discovered might be an expression of this same phenomenon. However, in the context of the ritual harpoon, they take on an additional religious and political significance. The harpoon expressed Horus’s victory, and thereby that of the pharaoh identified with him, over his enemy. This last was Seth, ‘god of confusion,’ usually associated with the wild animal kingdom.40 The comparison of these two symbols brings us into the domain of Old Egyptian mythology, in which the conflict between Horus and Seth was one of the most popular founding ←202 | 203→topoi of pharaonic Egypt, with countless variants present in Egyptian literature of all periods.41 Many motifs, very mature in form, found their way into the Pyramid Texts, the oldest text in Egyptian literature, even though this compendium of the theological wisdom of that time did not contain a systematic exposé of any single myth. One such exemplary thread is the homosexual episode, depicting Seth anally raping Horus as an act of vengeance – a subject that was frequently revisited, even in humorous form, in subsequent versions of the myth.42

The continuous struggle between the god symbolising harmony and order (Horus) and his impetuous adversary, inclined to violence (Seth) constituted only part of the myth, in which the main hero was in fact Osiris. It was him who was underhandedly cut up into pieces by his own younger brother, Seth, while the individual fragments of his body were in the imagination of the Egyptians attributed as relics to the most important religious centres located in various parts of the country. It has already been noted earlier that, for example, Osiris’s heart was the relic of the Lower Egyptian city of Athribis, and on this basis their rich local theology developed. The Goddess Isis gathered the scattered limbs and hid them in the rushes in a reed-woven basket. The reborn Osiris fathered a son by her, Horus, who decided to exact revenge on the evildoer. Harendotes (‘Horus, avenger of his father’) was one of his most popular mythological hypostases.

Even though Seth appears in Osiris’s myth as a murderer, his reputation was nonetheless not definitely negative. His cunning and energy led him to sometimes bask in the glory of a hero’s fame, e.g. as the defender of the sun god from enemies. Some pharaohs were just as willing to be associated with Seth as with Horus. As early as during the Second Dynasty, this dualism characterised a ruler named Peribsen, who is attributed with a political conflict with the Memphite centre of power, an expression of which would have been his burial in the Upper Egyptian Abydos, and not, in according with earlier tradition, at the Saqqara necropolis. This pharaoh first bore the name Sekhemib, which he later changed to Peribsen. As a result of mysterious political events (a revolution?), he moved from Memphis to Abydos, while changing the form of his name. Initially, it included the images of the ←203 | 204→animals symbolising both gods, Horus (a falcon) and Seth (a jackal?), while later only the latter was retained.43

The militant deity enjoyed particular popularity during the reign of the Ramesses (the Nineteenth and the Twentieth Dynasties, the end of the second millennium BC). Two rulers from the Nineteenth Dynasty bore the name Seti, derived from the name of the god. The first of these was the father of the greatest warrior in the history of Egypt, the famous Ramesses II (sometimes referred to as Ramesses the Great), on which Alexander of Macedon modelled himself.44 Even more distinct is the political and religious manifesto contained in the name of the first king from the next dynasty, Setnakht (“Seth is mighty”). A form of expressing esteem for both mythological adversaries can be seen in the division in political theology of the whole of Egypt between the two, attributing Horus with the fertile Nile Delta and Seth with the barren Upper Egypt, i.e. the southern part of the country, and foreign lands. When a pharaoh was called “The Lord of the Two Lands,” he was being identified with both Horus and Seth.45 This dualism was reflected in the even more universal philosophical and cosmological concepts of the Egyptians. They believed that every harmonious whole should consist of two contrasting concepts, which in the plastic arts was usually expressed through the antithetic composition of opposing elements. These representations also had their colour aspects: Horus was associated with the colour white or yellow, while Seth – with red.46 Were the Egyptians not closer to the philosophical truth about the cosmos, including the psychological truth of the ←204 | 205→human being, than the authors of the later concepts dividing the world into ‘black’ and ‘white’?

The main character of the founding myth, Osiris, made his career as god of the dead. He was one of the most universal and timeless Egyptian deities, the symbol of rebirth. In ancient Egyptian art, his body was mummy-form, while eschatological texts hand the dead over into his care. During the Old Kingdom, the deceased pharaoh was the embodiment of Osiris, which ensured the latter would be resurrected and spend his eternal life among the gods. This dogma was the fundamental theological message contained in the Pyramid Texts.47 Of course, the remaining characters in the Osiris myth also appear in the Texts, primarily Horus and Seth. They also, especially Horus, are associated with the pharaoh. The landscape in which they move are primarily the swampy shrubs of the Nile Delta. One of the elements of this scenery are the floating islands, probably similar to the ones inhabited today by the residents of Lake Titicaca in South America. Repeatedly, the terms “the marshes of Horus” and “the marshes of Seth” are mentioned next to each other.48

However, the snippets of the Osiris myth included in the Pyramid Texts also contain reminiscences of the rituals forming part of the pharaoh’s posthumous cult. Some of them commemorate the victory of Horus over Seth, an element of which is the killing of an animal associated with the latter.49 The harpoon is mentioned in this context as Horus’s weapon. These allusions reverberate like echoes of a celebration that could have taken place in the sacral building erected above the crypt containing the harpoon and the wild animal bones, i.e. symbols of the mythological adversaries. Almost nothing has been preserved of the sanctuary that once stood on the surface of the ground, while its underground crypt has remained intact.

The arrangement of the crypt must have been finalised in the first half of the Sixth Dynasty; however, it cannot be excluded that the chamber was hewn into the rock much earlier, even towards the end of Djoser’s reign. One thing is sure: from the beginning it had a strictly sacral character, not sepulchral, as there was no funerary shaft and there are no traces of ‘false doors’ on its western wall.

←205 | 206→

If our reconstruction of its function is correct, this place was associated primarily with Osiris as the father of Horus, and indirectly with the deceased pharaoh. The genesis of the sanctuary should perhaps even be linked with a specific ruler. Only a few hundred metres separate it from the pyramid of Unas, the oldest one in which the Pyramid Texts were sculpted in stone, and not much more from Teti’s pyramid, where the new, unusual notation of zoomorphic hieroglyphs first appeared, reminiscent of the intentional mutilation of the animals in the above-described deposit. The presence of Djoser’s pyramid, which had been constructed 300 years earlier and revered as the work of the deified Imhotep, between the tombs of these two pharaohs, in and of itself sanctified any place located in its direct neighbourhood, especially on its western side, making it ideal for the erection of an architectural structure linked to the posthumous cult of the pharaoh as Osiris.

Who would not want to be buried near such a sanctuary and be merged posthumously into the Osiris doctrine constituting a philosophy of resurrection? The neighbouring noblemen’s necropolis abounds in proof of the continuous reuse of mastabas and the constructing of new ones on the ruins of old ones, up until the fall of the Old Kingdom, and even during the First Intermediate Period. The burying of the dead in this place afterwards ceases for almost 2000 years, to be reborn with similar intensity during the times of Alexander the Great.50 Did the necropolis at that time also owe its attractiveness to its exceptional neighbourhood? We will return to this question in one of the subsequent chapters.

The place of Osiris’s cult at the royal necropolis must have been associated with the reed container into which Isis gathered and thus saved the god’s corpse. In the Pyramid Texts, a “reed kiosk” is mentioned as the seat of the deceased. By burying the dead in reed coffins, woven from fresh wicker, the Egyptians identified them with Osiris, and thus expressed hope that the person would be resurrected. It seems that this is how the exceptional popularity of plaited ‘baskets’ at the necropolis located between Djoser’s pyramid and the ‘Dry Moat’ should be interpreted.

Not only men had hopes that they would be resurrected but also women and children. In a group of 92 burials from the Old Kingdom discovered by our mission up until 2012, while the majority were in fact the remains of men’s bodies (45 individuals), the skeletons of 30 women were identified, as well as 5 children of unidentified sex, and 12 adults whose sex and age it was not possible to establish.51 The higher proportion of men over women ←206 | 207→might be ostensible as the bones of the female sex, which are more delicate, are more easily damaged or subject to decompose (Figs. 201–203). Most certainly, the number of children’s skeletons who died between the age of 2 and 10 does not reflect their percentage in the population. We know from other sources that half of the Egyptians born in those days died before the age of five.52 They were decimated by epidemics and infections. It was widespread practice to bury small children in places other than the cemeteries for adults and adolescents. The small number of children’s burials (Figs. 196198) might also result from the particular impermanence of their bone material.

Interesting conclusions can be reached by determining the age of the deceased people based on the osseous material we discovered. While 11 men and 16 women died at the age of between 18 and 35, 19 male and 4 female individuals belonging to the next age group (35–50 years old) departed from this world.53 Among the people who were over 50 years old, there were 3 men and 6 women. Despite their natural immunity to the hardships of life, women usually died earlier than men, while the main reason behind these deaths at a young age were childbirth-related complications. In turn, the skeletons of men, especially their spines and limbs, indicate more broken bones and injuries caused by aggressive behaviour, including those linked to war, as well as hard physical labour. The average lifespan for a person buried at the Old Kingdom necropolis amounted to almost 38 years for men and 32.5 for women.54

Only 27.2 % of the unearthed bodies, i.e. 28 individuals, had been preserved in their anatomical arrangement. It seems that these burials had not been devastated by looters.55 In the remaining cases, the bones were displaced, sometimes mixed with the remains of the skeletons of other people. A few skeletons were lying in an unusual position, i.e. on their stomachs with their heads facing downwards. Unwanted visitors had doubtless tipped them out along with all the contents in the coffins, although the bodies had been of least interest to them. In all probability, at the moment of these ‘visits’ this had been almost exclusively already a skeleton. None of the burials from this period found by us in Saqqara bore traces of any sort of embalmment. In turn, on some of the intact corpses, the remains of a linen shroud ←207 | 208→were preserved, in which the deceased had been wrapped, or at least with which he had been covered at the time of the funeral.56 One of these sheets, bearing traces of torn pieces having been sewn together, had been preserved almost fully intact, perhaps because the unwanted visitors had rolled it into a ball and left it behind in the burial chamber.57 The remnants of some textile, carefully arranged in pleats, was lying on one woman’s skeleton.58 In a few cases, the shroud had been substituted by a reed mat.

In turn, we found fragments of gypsum masks with plastically shaped surfaces next to two skeletons (Figs. 199203). As already mentioned, one of them had initially covered the head of a young woman, hiding a large rectangular opening in the side of her skull, left after a trepanation that had probably not been successful in attaining the results hoped for (Figs. 201-203). The serious expression of the face moulded in the plaster paradoxically contrasts with the smile the woman’s ideally preserved dentition have settled into, even though she probably had a painful death. The second mask, stylised almost into a portrait with individualised facial features, was the upper part of a plaster case that had covered a dead man’s body from head to toe (Figs. 199-200). It was possible to reconstruct almost the entire casing from hundreds of smaller and larger fragments scattered around the skeleton. It can easily be guessed who had smashed the gypsum shell and to what purpose.

The majority of the intact burials contain the remains of bodies arranged in a side position, with the limbs bent at the knees and elbows.59 They are commonly lying on their left side so that the deceased person, with the head on the northern side, could gaze eastward, i.e. in the direction of Djoser’s pyramid and the rising sun. However, there are some bodies arranged on the other side, while some are lying on their back with hands crossed on their chests or laid unbent at their sides. All intermediate forms, e.g. varied arrangements of the individual limbs, have also been attested.60 A lot depended on the place of burial, its geographical orientation, and – finally – on the space available in the burial chamber and coffin. As the necropolis grew, new shafts were dug out in the tombs, as were burial chambers hewn at various levels of the shaft. Due to ←208 | 209→lack of space, subsequent bodies were even added to earlier burials.61 A comfortable ‘home’ in the land of Osiris was becoming more and more of a luxury.

The Egyptians believed that the dead live in the afterworld, for all eternity, as long as his body is not destroyed, and neither are his representations and his names engraved into the walls of the tomb. The entire structure of the tomb was frequently referred to as per-djet, i.e. house of eternity . Some Egyptologists even think that the shape of many tombs, including the courtyard leading to the cult chapel and the deep shaft within it, was supposed to be similar to the hieroglyphic notation of this concept. Nonetheless, this life, eternal in spe, was governed by its own rules. Primarily, one had to secure imperishable food and the equipment necessary to fulfil the fundamental functions of life. Due to the lack of space, the burials were equipped with symbolic miniatures made from material sometimes more durable than the originals. As looters were not interested in such items, the remains of original funerary equipment were frequently preserved in the backfill covering the coffin. We discovered the most complete such set of artefacts in the tomb of a dignitary from the final phase of the Sixth Dynasty, probably the reign of the second pharaoh bearing the name Pepi (Figs. 7682).62

How do we know that Ni-Pepi was living at that time and not during the reign of his namesake almost 100 years earlier? Even though the hieroglyphic inscriptions engraved onto this tomb’s stone architectural fragments have been preserved, i.e. on its ‘false doors’ and their casing in the form of an architrave and one out of two jambs,63 we would not have had this certainty if wooden figurines depicting a naked man, most probably the owner of the tomb,64 had not been preserved in the burial chamber (Figs. 7678). Such figurines hold a special place in the sepulchral art characteristic for the final phase of the Old Kingdom. In accordance with the rules of the so-called second style in Old Kingdom art, identified and wonderfully documented some decades ago by Edna Ann R. Russmann, an American researcher specialised in the history of Egyptian art,65 these statuettes have unusually, almost unnaturally elongated limbs, a very narrow waist, naturalistically modelled facial features, as well as a characteristically tilted torso.

←209 | 210→

These features have their closest analogies in the figurines found in another Saqqara tomb, much better preserved than Ni-Pepi’s, and as a result dated with precision to Pepi II’s reign.66 With a high level of probability, it can be assumed that the equipment deposited in both tombs was the work of the same workshop. Even though each of the three representations of Ni-Pepi has very individual facial features, they are similar in their naturalism connected to a stylistic mannerism frequently encountered in the art from this period. The depiction of the naked tomb owner is not an exception in Old Kingdom sepulchral art. Nudity was one of the most common symbols of the rebirth of the dead, though it should be noted that all ←210 | 211→the wooden figurines of women found by our mission in the Saqqara tombs portray them wearing ankle-length robes, while their breasts are emphasised by two shoulder straps, which could perhaps be seen as the archetype of today’s bra.67

Other miniatures from Ni-Pepi’s grave include a set of copper vessels and tools (Figs. 7981).68 The tiny vessels have a variety of shapes, typical for the repertoire of ceramic dishes. They include a set of two containers, a bowl and a jug with a funnel, primarily used for the ritual washing of the hands. However, the most original feature of these small vessels is that an inscription was carved out on the walls of almost every piece: “major-domo of the royal palace, Ni-Pepi.” Apparently, the dignitary thought of his function as his ‘visiting card,’ enabling him to stand out among other contemporary courtiers. The title of major-domo also appears among the other distinctions listed in the above-mentioned inscriptions that any person could read on the ‘false door’ upon visiting the aboveground part of the tomb.

←211 | 212→ ←212 | 213→

Even though they are rarely attested in the tombs we have discovered, metal vessels were frequently used in ancient Egypt.69 Before the Bronze Age, they were made primarily from copper. Generally, ritual vessels were usually metal, while the fact that disproportionally a lot less such vessels have been preserved than, for example, ceramic ones, results from them having been frequently remelted into raw material, from which other artefacts were made. These were not only utility items but also works of arts, e.g. statues and figurines, of which very few from the early pharaonic period have been preserved to our times. Special attention is due the deposits of miniature copper vessels and tools found in the tombs of court doctors. One such tomb, dated to the final phase of the Fifth Dynasty, was recently discovered by Egyptian archaeologists at the necropolis adjacent to the pyramid of Pharaoh Unas from the west,70 and thus neighbouring the area we are studying.

←213 | 214→ ←214 | 215→

The miniatures of many other items, also found at the necropolis neighbouring the ‘step pyramid’ from the west, were made using limestone (Fig. 82).71 They include models depicting doors, querns, an oven with loaves of bread, baskets, vessels for brewing beer and pitchers to drink this beverage, so exceptionally popular in Egypt. As evidence of the mass consumption of beer may serve a miniature set we found, consisting of 10 such containers arranged on a flat base with small vertical walls along its three edges.

The remains of necklaces made from a wide variety of material have been especially frequently attested, both in the graves of men and women.72 Kauri-type shells are often encountered among the various faience and stone ←215 | 216→elements. There were probably also golden objects or ones coated in gold foil. However, scant traces remain of adornments made from this precious metal, usually in the form of leaves of thin gold foil. It was precisely this noble metal that was the most sought-after goal of the thieving expeditions into tomb interiors. Robbing the ‘wards’ of Osiris has never actually ceased. As already mentioned, looters were capable of making a mockery of the dead and – nolens volens – of archaeologists. On the surface of the huge secondary backfill occupying the entire chapel in a rock-hewn tomb on the western side of the ‘Dry Moat,’ as a farewell gift they left behind one of their most valuable tools: an oil lamp from the twelfth century AD.73

One surprising, though quite frequent find in the mixed backfills of the funerary chambers, shafts and chapels are fragments of faience tiles covered with blue enamel used at the beginning of the Third Dynasty to decorate some underground chambers of the Djoser funerary complex.74 Even if we were to assume that they made their way into the noblemen’s tombs younger by over 300 years along with a secondary backfill, it would be difficult to imagine that they had all been torn out of their original context, i.e. from the underground areas of the ‘step pyramid,’ and lugged here by thieves. A more probable theory is that somewhere close to our excavation area or just above it, there used to be a workshop which mass-produced such artefacts, located here at the beginnings of the Third Dynasty. This location seems to be very much logical if we consider that the raw material for the production of ‘Egyptian faience’ is pure sand, the closest source of which was the nearby desert. The quarry located on the western side of the ‘step pyramid’ was the ideal spot for a logistics base, as the frontal representative face of the temenos, including the entrance to the holy complex, was situated on its opposite, i.e. eastern side.

Even the smallest, seemingly most insignificant items found during excavations within the archaeological material must be carefully recorded, because they might suddenly turn out to be a prime historical source in the context of other unearthed artefacts. The exact spot where it was found must be registered, while the artefact itself must be measured, described, drawn and photographed, following which analogies and interpretations of similar items in earlier scholarly literature should be established. It is also necessary to immediately begin the conservation process, so that the material – weathered, corroded or penetrated by pests and fungi – does not fall apart into little pieces or disintegrate into ashes.

←216 | 217→

Our archaeologists and restorers prefer to work in underground spaces, i.e. in one of the rock-hewn, but undecorated and never used funerary chapels (Figs. 174 and 181182). There the artefacts can ‘breathe’ in the dampness and temperature similar to the conditions in which they had survived thousands of years. In turn, the anthropologists organised a workshop in the fresh air, in front of the entrance to the small, previously-mentioned storehouse, once constructed by the Egyptian authorities at the top of the embankment adjoining the recessed wall of Djoser’s pyramid from the west. There they lay out all the preserved bones and reconstruct the original shape of the whole skeleton, on the basis of which they can identify not only the dead person’s age, his or her appearance and probable cause of death, but also their culinary habits, lifestyle, health, etc. Frequently, the sounds of anthropological enthrallment reach us from this workshop, e.g. “Ah, what wonderful rheumatism” or “My God, prostate cancer did a number on all his bones.” An archaeologist translates this immediately into his own language, “How they must have all suffered.”

←217 | 218→

1 For example, in Merefnebef and Nyankhenefertem’s tombs in the necropolis under discussion: Myśliwiec et al., The Tomb, pp. 70–73, 83–84, 95–96, 104, 124, 135; K. Myśliwiec, K.O. Kuraszkiewicz, The Funerary Complex of Nyankhnefertem (Saqqara IV), Warsaw 2010, pp. 135, 139, 163, 166, 186, 190, etc.

2 K. O. Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture and Development of the Necropolis (Saqqara V, Part 1), Warsaw 2013, pp. 275–279.

3 F. Welc, J. Trzciński, “Geology of the Site,” in: K. Myśliwiec (ed.), Old Kingdom Structures between the Step Pyramid Complex and the Dry Moat (Saqqara V, Part 2), Warsaw 2013, pp. 333–336.

4 K. Myśliwiec, “Dating the Tombs,” pp. 655–660.

5 Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, photograph on the cover and pp. 21–26, fig. 2.

6 Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, pp. 224–245.

7 See footnote 2.

8 Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, pp. 246–271.

9 T. I. Rzeuska, “The Necropolis at West Saqqara: The Late Old Kingdom Shafts with no Burial Chamber. Were they False, Dummy, Unfinished or Intentional?,” Archív Orientální 70/3 (2002), pp. 377–402.

10 T. I. Rzeuska, “The Pottery,” in: Myśliwiec et al., The Tomb, pp. 207–208.

11 J. Dębowska-Ludwin, “The Cemetery,” in: M. Chłodnicki, K. M. Ciałowicz, A. Mączyńska (eds.), Tell el-Farkha I. Excavations 1998–2011, Poznań–Kraków 2012, pp. 56–57.

12 For example, the shafts published in: Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, pp. 30, 35, 50, 53, 63, 77, 80, 106, 114, 129, 134, 140.

13 Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, pp. 249–250.

14 Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, p. 252, fig. 115 (nos. 88, 113, 50, 32, 22).

15 Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, pp. 251–253.

16 A. Kowalska, “Sarcophagi and Coffins,” in: K. Myśliwiec (ed.), Old Kingdom Structures between the Step Pyramid Complex and the Dry Moat (Saqqara V, Part 2), pp. 423–424.

17 F. Welc, “Installing a Stone Sarcophagus in the Burial Chamber of an Old Kingdom Shaft,” Études et Travaux 23 (2010), pp. 179–207.

18 K. Myśliwiec, K. O. Kuraszkiewicz, The Funerary Complex of Nyankhnefertem (Saqqara IV), Warsaw 2010, pp. 88–89, fig. 32.

19 Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, p. 64 (shaft 73); Kowalska, “Sarcophagi and Coffins,” pp. 425–427.

20 The photograph on the cover of Saqqara V, Part 2.

21 A. Kowalska, “Reed Coffins,” in: Old Kingdom Structures, p. 433, Shaft 41; K. Myśliwiec, “Old Kingdom Coffins Made of Cyperus Papyrus,” in: V. G. Callender et al. (eds.), Times, Signs and Pyramids. Studies in Honour of Miroslav Verner, Prague 2011, pp. 300–304; K. Myśliwiec, “The Dead in the Marshes – Reed Coffins Revisited,” in: M. Jucha, J. Dębowska-Ludwin, P. Kołodziejczyk (eds.), “Aegyptus est imago caeli.” Studies Presented to Krzysztof M. Ciałowicz on his 60th Birthday, Kraków 2014, pp. 105–113.

22 Kowalska, “Reed Coffins,” p. 433 (tomb XXVI, burial 393).

23 Kowalska, “Reed Coffins,” p. 430, fig. 149.

24 Myśliwiec, “Old Kingdom Coffins,” pp. 305–306.

25 K. Myśliwiec, New Faces of Saqqara. Recent Discoveries in West Sakkara, Tuchów 1999, pl. 18.

26 G. Jéquier, Tombeaux de partculiers contemporains de Pepi II, Le Caire 1929.

27 The coffin of a dignitary called Imapepi, later usurped for Ipi//Raherka; G. Jéquier, Tombeaux, pp. 123–125, pl. XVII

28 K. Myśliwiec, “West Saqqara. Excavations, 2000,” Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 12 (2001): Reports 2000, pp. 111–116.

29 Myśliwiec, “West Saqqara. Excavations, 2000,” pp. 113–116, fig. 5.

30 S. Ikram, “Preliminary Zoological Report, 2000,” Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 12 (2001): Reports 2000, pp. 127–132.

31 K. Myśliwiec, “Le harpon de Sakkara,” in: H. Győry (éd.), “Le lotus qui sort de terre”. Mélanges offerts a Edith Varga (“Bulletin de Musée Hongrois des Beaux Arts, Supplément”), Budapest 2001, pp. 395–410.

32 H. Altenmüller, “Magische Riten zur Beeinflussung von Naturereignissen: Der Fall der Nilpferdjagd,” Études et Travaux 26.1 (2013), pp. 44–55; K. Myśliwiec, “The Dead in the Marshes – Reed Coffins Revisited,” pp. 105–113.

33 For bibliography on the subject, see K. Myśliwiec, “Trois millénaires à l’ombre de Djéser: Chronologie d’une nécropole,” in: Ch. Zivie-Coche, I. Guermeur (éd.), “Parcourir l’éternité” – Hommages à Jean Yoytte, Vol. 2, Brepols 2012, pp. 855–856, fn. 15.

34 For bibliography on the subject, see Myśliwiec, “Trois millénaires,” p. 856, fn. 17.

35 Rzeuska, “The Pottery,” Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 12 (2001): Reports 2000, p. 140.

36 See fn. 28: “Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean” 12 (2001): Reports 2000, p. 114, fig. 6.

37 S. Ikram, “Typhonic Bones: a Ritual Deposit from Saqqara?,” in: Behaviour Behind Bones. The Zooarchaeology of Ritual, Religion, Status and Identity. Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the International Council of Archaeozoology, Durham 2002, pp. 41–46.

38 P. Lacau, “Suppressions et modifications de signes dans les textes funéraires,” Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 41 (1913), p. 1 (fn. 4) and 38–49.

39 The most famous of these is the statue of a dignitary from the fourth century BC with the name Djed-Hor, found in the Lower Egyptian Athribis: E. Jelinkova-Reymond, Les inscriptions de la statue guérisseuse de Djed-Her-le-sauveur, Le Caire 1956.

40 H. te Velde, Seth, God of Confusion, Leiden 1967.

41 H. te Velde, “Horus und Seth,” in: Lexikon der Ägyptologie, Vol. 3: Horhekenu–Megeb, Wiesbaden 1980, col. 25–27; M. Broze, Mythe et roman en Égypte ancienne. Les aventures d’Horus et Seth dans le Papyrus Chester Beatty I, Leuven 1996.

42 W. Barta, “Zur Reziprozität der homosexuellen Beziehungen zwischen Horus und Seth,” Göttinger Miszellen 129 (1992), pp. 33–38; B. Schukraft, “Homosexualität im Alten Ägypten,” Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 36 (2007), p. 30.

43 G. Dreyer, “The Tombs of the First and Second Dynasties at Abydos and Saqqara,” in: The Treasures of the Pyramids, p. 75; W. Helck, “Peribsen,” w: Lexikon der Ägyptologie, Bd. 4: Megiddo–Pyramiden, Wiesbaden 1982, col. 937–938.

44 See Alexander the Great’s throne name compiled from elements of Ramesses II’s two names: K. Myśliwiec, “Contexte archéologique,” in: Tell Atrib 1985–1995, Vol. 2, Warsaw 2009, p. 22 (fig. 5), 29 (fn. 31); in this special case, it probably functioned as Ptolemy I’s throne name: F. Bosch-Puche, “The Egyptian Royal Titulary of Alexander the Great, I: Horus, Two Ladies, Golden Horus, and Throne Names,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 99 (2013), p. 143, fn. 82.

45 K. Myśliwiec, Pan Obydwu Krajów. Egipt w I tysiącleciu p.n.e., Warszawa 1993, p. 18–21; K. Myśliwiec, Herr Beider Länder. Ägypten im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr., Mainz am Rhein 1998, pp. 14–16; K. Myśliwiec, The Twilight of Ancient Egypt. First Millennium B.C.E., New York–London 2000, pp. 1–6.

46 K. Myśliwiec, “The Red and Yellow; an Aspect of the Egyptian “Aspective,” in: E. Czerny et al. (eds.), Timelines. Studies in Honour of Manfred Bietak (“Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta” 149), Vol. 1, Leuven–Paris–Dudley 2006, pp. 225–238; K. Myśliwiec, “Epigraphic Features of the r-face,” in: D. Polz, S. J. Seidlmayer (eds.) Gedenkschrift für Werner Kaiser (“Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Abteilung Kairo,” 70–72/2014–2015), pp. 323–238.

47 L. Bène, “Les hiéroglyphes de Saqqara: Textes des Pyramides et inscriptions des mastabas,” Dossiers d’Archéologie 20 (avril 2011): Saqqâra. Des trésors inépuisables, p. 28.

48 See the bibliography on the subject in: Myśliwiec, “The Dead in the Marshes – Reed Coffins Revisited,” pp. 105–113.

49 PT § 1543–1550, utterance 580; see Myśliwiec, “The Dead in the Marshes – Reed Coffins Revisited,” pp. 105–113.

50 K. Myśliwiec, Trois millénaires à l’ombre de Djéser, p. 861, fn. 56–62.

51 M. Kaczmarek, I. Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin, “Anthropology. Demographic, Metric and Palaeopathological Study of Human Remains Recovered from the Lower Necropolis at Saqqara,” in: K. Myśliwiec (ed.), Old Kingdom Structures between the Step Pyramid Complex and the Dry Moat (Saqqara V, Part 2), pp. 354–357.

52 Kaczmarek, Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin, “Anthropology,” plate 2, fig. 131.

53 Kaczmarek, Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin, “Anthropology,” p. 357, fig. 131.

54 Kaczmarek, Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin, “Anthropology,” p. 357.

55 Kaczmarek, Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin, “Anthropology,” p. 350.

56 Burial 475: Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, p. 149.

57 Burial 555 in shaft 110 of anonymous grave XXIX: Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, p. 159, pl. CXXI b, CXXXII a–d; see the photographs on the covers of both volumes of Saqqara V; in reference to the conservation of this object, see Z. Godziejewski, “Conservation,” in: Old Kingdom Structures, p. 544.

58 Burial 475 in shaft 86 of anonymous grave XXVIII; Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, p. 149.

59 Kaczmarek, Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin, “Anthropology,” p. 350, table 1.

60 Kaczmarek, Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin, “Anthropology,” p. 350–354, table 1.

61 Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, pl. CXVIII (c), fig. 78 d.

62 Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, pp. 100–107; A. Kowalska, “Small Finds,” in: Old Kingdom Structures, pp. 449–456.

63 Kuraszkiewicz, Architecture, pp. 102–105, pl. LXXIV–LXXV.

64 K. Myśliwiec, “A Contribution to the Second Style in Old Kingdom Art,” in: S. H. D’Auria (ed.), Servant of Mut. Studies in Honor of Richard A. Fazzini, Leiden–Boston 2008, pp. 170–178; Kowalska, “Small Finds,” pp. 453–456.

65 E. Russmann, “A Second Style in Egyptian Art of the Old Kingdom,” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Abteilung Kairo 51 (1995), pp. 269–279.

66 Figures from the tomb of the dignitary named Tjeteti: J.C. Harvey, Wooden Statues of the Old Kingdom; A Typological Study, Leiden 2001, pp. 278–315 (A83–A101); in reference to dating, see: Ibid., pp. 74–78.

67 Kowalska, “Small Finds,” p. 457 (pl. CCIV c) and 465 (pl. CCVIII b).

68 Kowalska, “Small Finds,” p. 450–452.

69 A. Radwan, Die Kupfer- und Bronzegefässe Ägyptens (von den Anfängen bis zum Beginn der Spätzeit), München 1983.

70 K. Myśliwiec, The Tombs of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties at Saqqara, pp. 316–317.

71 Kowalska, “Small Finds,” pp. 436, 443, 452–453, 460–461, 465–467, 471–472.

72 Kowalska, “Small Finds,” pp. 436, 443–445, 447–450, 456, 459–462, 465, 471, 473–475.

73 Rzeuska, “The Pottery, 2002,” Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 14 (2003): Reports 2002, p. 144, fig. 1.

74 Kowalska, “Small Finds,” pp. 441, 444–447, 449, 461–465, 469, 472, 475.