Czech archaeologists rediscover famous tomb of Egyptian high official 


Czech Egyptologists working between the pyramid fields of Abusir and Saqqara have announced a major discovery. They have located and explored a lost tomb that belonged to an ancient Egyptian official called Ptahshepses, who lived during the 24th and 25th centuries BC.

The tomb of the ancient Egyptian dignitary Ptahshepses was discovered and partially exposed by a French scholar Auguste Mariette almost 160 years ago.

Djoser's pyramid in Saqqara,  near which is the tomb of the dignitary Ptahshepses | Photo: Miroslav Bárta,  Czech Institute of Egyptology

However, not long after the discovery, the mastaba, a rectangular tomb with a flat roof, disappeared again under the sands of the Western Desert, says Renata Landgráfová, head of the Czech Institute of Egyptology:

“It appears that Mariette didn’t explore the tomb fully. Either he didn’t get to the burial chamber or he simply ignored what was in there, because we found a mummy preserved in its entirety.

“So the tomb was lost to us for over a century and when we discovered it, a year ago, we explored it thoroughly, including the substructure, or the burial chamber.”

Despite the tomb being lost for more than a century, Ptahshepses has become widely known thanks to a false door which was extracted by Mariette and put on display at the British Museum.

Cult chapel after cleaning | Photo: Petr Košárek,  Czech Institute of Egyptology

The door contains an extensive biography of Ptahshepses’s career, which suggests he had a very long and fruitful life, says Mrs Landgráfová:

“We have asked our Egyptian anthropologists to examine the mummy, but we didn’t tell them anything about the man. And they came back to us saying: He must have been very old when he died, which is exactly what the text says. So we have that confirmed from two sides.”

“Ptahshepses was educated at the court of the builder of the smallest of the Giza pyramids, still in the fourth dynasty, but he served under the fifth dynasty, the so-called Sun Kings. The other important thing about him is that he was, to our knowledge, the first non-royal person who was married to a royal princess.”

Burial chamber with sarcophagus | Photo: Petr Košárek,  Czech Institute of Egyptology

What makes the discovery really unique is that Ptahshepses is the oldest fully preserved mummy discovered to this day:

“The mummy is really extraordinary. The problem is that when ancient robbers looted tombs, the first thing they were after was the mummy, because they expected to find a golden amulet in between the linen wrappings.

“So they would open the sarcophagi, unwrap the mummy and steal anything that the man had on him. So the mummies that we find are usually in pieces. But this man, I really thought he would stand up and greet me.”

Eastern facade of the tomb | Photo: Miroslav Bárta,  Czech Institute of Egyptology

Czech Egyptologists discovered the tomb of Ptahshepses with the help of detailed satellite imagery of the area and the study of old maps. The research is still ongoing, and further discoveries will likely be made that will shed new light on his family and his time. But given his political, historical, and religious significance, it is already clear that the tomb is one of the most remarkable discoveries in Egyptian archaeology in recent times.