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In the Shadow of Djoser’s Pyramid

Research of Polish Archaeologists in Saqqara


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.

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Glossary of archaeological terms

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Glossary of archaeological terms

akh (Egyptian) – spiritual element of a tomb’s owner, attributed with many superhuman, almost divine traits

akhet (Egyptian) – a higher level of existence, to which the deceased was raised during the funeral through the ritual of ‘transformation into akh’

anastylosis (from Greek) – the reconstruction of architectural structures from original fragments of an ancient ruined structure

ankh (Egyptian) – symbol of life

archaeological context – the arrangement in reference to each other of soil deposits, relicts of structures, moveable artefacts and other traces of human activities

archaeological layer – the smallest distinguishable stratification unit at an archaeological site

artefact (from Latin) – an object that is the product of human thought and work

aspective (from Latin) – in Old Egyptian art, a method of depicting three-dimensional reality on a plane in such a view as to enable each element’s immediate identification through its diagnostic features

‘beautiful name’ (Egyptian) – a type of sobriquet, usually a shortened version of a name

benben (Egyptian) – a stone object or hill, considered to be the spot at which Atum appeared in Heliopolis

Canopic jar – a burial urn with a lid in the shape of a human, baboon, jackal or falcon head, i.e. one of Horus’s four sons – the patrons of mummification; it was used to store the deceased’s entrails after the body had been embalmed; the name comes from the town Canopus in the Nile Delta

cartonnage (from French) – ‘a case’ for a mummy made from layers of canvas or papyrus stuck together, covered with a layer of gypsum on which a polychrome decoration was made

cartouche (from French) – an oval frame around a hieroglyphic inscription bearing a pharaoh’s name (depicted as a double rope with the endings joined at the shorter side)

choragic monument (from Greek) – in ancient Greece, a monument commemorating a choregos, a citizen who was the patron of a choir that had been victorious in a musical agon

‘closed deposit’ – intact group of objects preserved in their original spot

dakka (Arabic) – a dense mass of earth mixed with fragments of various objects, mainly pottery vessels for sepulchral purposes

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dating material– artefacts enabling the precise attribution of an archaeological layer to specific historical periods, e.g. the reigns of specific rulers

demotic script (from Greek) – the simplest form of writing down Egyptian texts, used from the seventh century BC to the fifth century AD, especially in administrative, legal and personal documents

deposit (from Latin) – objects laid away for safekeeping

determinative (from Latin) – a hieroglyph written at the end of a word in order to determine its meaning

djadjat (Egyptian) – a courtyard in front of a mastaba, more precisely – in front of the cult chapel

djed pillar (Egyptian) – a symbol of Osiris

domains (from French) – land property, from which victuals were drawn, necessary in the posthumous cult of persons from the higher levels of the social ladder

double crown of Lower and Upper Egypt – a composite pharaoh’s crown consisting of the red crown of Lower Egypt, in the form of a headdress with a flattened top raised in the back, and the white crown of Upper Egypt, in the shape of a high calpac

dromos (Greek) – an alleyway

‘false door’ (Egyptian) – a stone slab in the form of a door, part of a mastaba

foundation deposit – an assemblage of various small objects deposited below the foundations of newly-constructed buildings

graffito (sing.), graffiti (pl., Italian) – an inscription or drawing carved or drawn onto a wall, stone or vessel

Great House (Egyptian per-aa) – a royal palace

hieratic script (from Greek) – a type of cursive that is a simplified form of hieroglyphs, used from the Old Kingdom onwards to write on less permanent materials, such as papyrus, wood, clay, rock chips

‘house of eternity’ (Egyptian per-djet) – a tomb

ibu en wab (Egyptian) – a ‘purification tent’

in situ (Latin, ‘in place’) – a term used in reference to artefacts that have not been moved from their original spot

Isis lactans (Latin, ‘Isis breastfeeding’) – a representation of Isis breastfeeding Horus, especially popular in the Graeco-Roman period; the iconographic prototype of the Holy Mother with Child

ka (Egyptian) – afterworld incarnation of a deceased person; a spiritual element

khepresh (Egyptian) – a pharaoh’s blue crown, in the form of a type of helmet worn especially during battle

kherep (Egyptian) – a pharaoh’s sceptre, which doubtless initially was a mace with a cylindric head

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lychnaptai (Greek) – functionaries responsible for the lighting at cult celebrations

Maamur (Arabic) – supervisor of all the works concerning antiquity

mastaba (from Arabic) – a type of ancient Egyptian tomb in the shape of low-cut pyramid with a rectangular base, consisting of an aboveground part (made from dried brick or stone) and an underground part with a burial chamber

mummy (from Arabic) – a corpse preserved from decaying through appropriate treatment or dried-up due to natural mummification

muu (Egyptian) – the name of a person participating in the funerary ritual as the performer of mythological roles: they can be distinguished due to their headdress in the form of a wreath or crown, similar to the middle element of the ‘atef’ crown (the crown of the god Osiris)

nome (from Greek) – the name of an administrative unit in ancient Egypt

obelisk (from Greek/Latin) – a tall column, usually quadrangular, which becomes slightly narrower towards the top and ends in a small pyramid (pyramidion)

odeon (from Greek) – a theatrical building in ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt housing musical and poetic spectacles

‘Opening of the Mouth’ ritual – a funerary ceremony supposed to give the deceased back the ability to use his/her mouth, which was equivalent to regaining skills that are expressions of life; it involved a priest touching the deceased’s lips with a miniature hatchet and chisel, with the ritual ending in a washing ceremony

ostracon (sing.), ostraca (pl., from Greek) – the shard of a clay vessel used as writing material and for voting (in ancient Greece): in reference to Egypt, this name also refers to stone sherds, mainly limestone, used for writing material

palaeography (from Greek) – the study of the history of old writing forms, tools and materials

portcullis a dropped blockade of the entrance to a tomb, consisting of one or two heavy stone plates

pylon (Greek, ‘gate’) – one of two buildings in a shape similar to a cut pyramid, bordering the entrance to a temple or palace

pyramid (from Greek) – a monumental building in the shape of a polyhedron on a square base, serving as a pharaoh’s tomb in the Old Kingdom period

sarcophagus (from Greek/Latin) – a decorative coffin, made, for example, from stone, wood or metal, usually in the form of a chest

scarab (from Latin) – a large black beetle worshipped in ancient Egypt as the god of the rising sun

shen (Egyptian) – a sign expressing the cohesion of the world and having a protective function in Egyptian magic

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sphinx (from Greek) – in ancient Egyptian art, a figure of a lying lion with a human or animal (e.g. a ram’s) head

‘step pyramid’ – a pyramid in the form of a few, increasingly smaller mastabas, arranged one on top of another

stratification (from Latin/French) – an arrangement of layers

stratigraphy (from Latin/Greek) – in archaeology: the succession of cultural layers in the vertical section of the excavated site, allowing for the establishment of its relative chronology

survey prospection of the terrain

temenos (Greek) – a ‘holy circle’

terminus post quem (Latin) – the bottom limit of possible dating

tumulus (Latin) – a ‘burial mound’

Two Lands – Upper and Lower Egypt

udjat eye (Egyptian) – a symbol of a favourable ending, recovering one’s health and victory over one’s enemies

uraeus (from Greek/Latin) – a symbol of a pharaoh’s power, in the shape of an attacking cobra, placed above his forehead

ushebti (Egyptian, ‘the one who responds’) – funerary figurines, made from such materials as clay, faience, wood, stone; they were given the task of working for the deceased in the Netherworld

wabet (Egyptian, ‘pure place’) – a place in which the body of a deceased person was prepared for the funeral

wabet net ut (Egyptian) – ‘place of embalmment’