Czech Egyptologists uncover rare untouched tomb

A statue to accompany one to the netherworld

Now, few people outside the Czech Republic are aware of the country's reputation in the field of Egyptology, but believe it or not, Czech Egyptologists are up there with the Americans, British and Germans. Several leading members of the Czech Institute of Egyptology were in Prague this week to launch an exhibition of photographs at the Naprstkovo Museum, depicting excavation work they have carried out on a rare find in Egypt - a tomb untouched by grave robbers. Nick Carey prepared this report.

The tomb of Inti
The tomb belongs a dignitary called Iufaa, and dates back to around five hundred BC. It was discovered by a team from the Czech Institute of Egyptology in 1995, and, unusually, had escaped the attentions of grave robbers in the intervening two and a half thousand years. Dr Ladislav Bares, one of the leaders of the team, told Radio Prague that the tomb was one of many located near the pyramids of Abu Sir:

"The tomb of Iufaa is one of a group of large shaft tombs that were built on the outskirts of the pyramid field at Abu Sir, in about the middle of the first millennium BC. They consist of a big enclosure, and in the middle of the enclosure is a huge and very deep shaft. At the bottom of the shaft, at a depth of about 25-30 metres, is the burial chamber proper, where the burial was situated."

The tomb of Iufaa is, say the team, a very rare find, because it was discovered intact. Many tombs in Egypt were broken into several centuries ago and all their valuable artefacts stolen. But because the site has remained untouched, it has provided a wealth of information on Egyptian burial habits:

A statue to accompany one to the netherworld

"There is wonderful decoration inside the tomb. There are about 80 square metres of reliefs, text and images, and also the original burial equipment was found there - canopic jars, canopic for viscera, taken out during mummification, the figurines of shabtis - servants that work for the deceased in the netherworld - and other pieces, so it's a wonderful open book of ancient Egyptian burial habits."

So rare are such finds, says Dr Bares, that the last tomb of this type found intact was discovered almost sixty years ago:

"It's very rare. A tomb of the same kind was found almost 60 years ago, and so far only about ten or eleven such tombs have been found in Egypt. Certainly unrobbed or untouched tombs can still be found, but most tombs have definitely been robbed."

But the team's job is far from over. They have been hard at work for five years now on the tomb of Iufaa, but Dr Bares says that there is a wealth of other tombs in the area that will take many, many years to excavate:

"To explore that part of the cemetery completely would take let's say 100-150 years, so I shall never see the end of the work there. But even so it's a great opportunity to work there."

And the exhibition of photographs from the dig at Iufaa's tomb is being held at the Naprstkovo Museum on Prague's Betlemske Namesti until the end of September.