Czech team discovers ancient tomb of royal scribe in Egypt
Czech Egyptologists have made another important discovery in Abusir – the roughly 2,500-year-old tomb of a young royal scribe. Together with other recent archaeological finds in the area, this newly discovered tomb gives researchers a better understanding of the changes that took place in Egypt and the surrounding area in the 5th and 6th centuries BC.
The tomb of the hitherto unknown dignitary, a certain Djehutyemhat, dates from the time of the Persian invasion of Egypt. Only the shaft, the part of the tomb below ground, was found preserved, at the bottom of which, at a depth of 14 metres, lies a burial chamber built of limestone blocks. Inside the burial chamber is a large stone sarcophagus, covered with relief decoration bearing hieroglyphic inscriptions and depictions of Ancient Egyptian gods.
The medium-sized burial chamber, measuring 3.2 m long, 2.6 m wide and 1.9 m high, is itself also decorated with inscriptions and drawings, as Ladislav Bareš from the Czech Institute of Egyptology details.
“The burial chamber is decorated in the usual style of the time for important dignitaries, even though this person was only a middle-ranking clerk. There are inscriptions that were meant to help ease his journey into the afterlife and guarantee him eternal bliss. They are almost exclusively religious texts, but there are also the names of his parents and specific formulations, for example a set of sayings which were supposed to protect him from snakes.”
Interestingly, the snakes mentioned in these magical texts represented both potential danger and powerful protection for the deceased. However, the inscriptions were unfortunately not able to protect the tomb completely – Djehutyemhat’s burial chamber was almost empty when it was discovered, as like other tombs in this area, it had been robbed sometime around the 5th century AD.
Ladislav Bareš says that the tomb dates from a time in the history of ancient Egypt when the civilisation was in decline and there was a lot of social upheaval. The shaft tombs in this area reveal an attempt by the ancient Egyptian elites of the 26th and 27th dynasties to foster a kind of renaissance. By building tombs in the image of the tomb of King Djoser, the founder of the famous Old Kingdom in the 3rd millennium BC when the pyramids were built, they hoped to restore Egypt to its former glory.
“The tombs are like time capsules that preserve what life was like for one generation sometime around the year 525 BC. It shows us how people of that time lived and what troubled them, because Egypt in 525 BC was a time of great social changes. It was the era of the Persian Empire and in their own way, people back then were dealing with similar problems to those we are dealing with today – being at the centre of a clash of different cultures, migration, different forms of assimilation, acculturation and adaptation.”
From the analysis of the skeletal remains, it was found that Djehutyemhat died at a relatively early age. However, despite his youth, his bones already bore the signs of severe osteoporosis and wear and tear of the spine, possibly due to some kind of occupational disease.
“From an Ancient Egyptian perspective he wasn’t actually that young – he was around 25 years old when he died, so he could have already been a practising scribe for ten years or so. Scribes in Ancient Egypt usually wrote in a kneeling position, so the back and especially the spine suffered a lot and his spine was worn out like some of the other tomb owners in Abusir. Maybe it was not only his profession – it could also have been genetic problems that were in the family.”
The aforementioned fact could place him in the same family as other dignitaries buried in the Abusir site, as osteoporosis was also confirmed in other shaft tomb inhabitants in the area. It is therefore possible that most of the owners of the tombs buried in this part of the Abusir necropolis belonged to one extended family, firmly anchored in the military elite of late Ancient Egypt.