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In April and May 2023, the expedition of the Czech Institute of Egyptology at Charles University conducted further field research on shaft tombs from the mid-1st millennium BCE in the Egyptian site of Abusir. It was during this expedition that the archaeological team discovered the tomb of an unknown official from the time of the Persian invasion of Egypt. This section of the Abusir necropolis, where the eternal resting places of high-ranking officials and military commanders from the 26th and 27th dynasties are located, provides a unique source of new insights and information for the study and understanding of Egypt’s history in the Late and subsequent Graeco-Roman periods.
Ladislav Bareš, a long-time coordinator of Abusir shaft tomb research, specifies, “It is a lavishly decorated medium-sized shaft tomb, belonging to a certain Jehutiemhat, who held the position of a royal scribe.” He adds that, “Together with recent discoveries such as the large shaft tomb of General Vahibremerineit, this newly found tomb contributes to a better understanding of the changes that occurred in Egypt and neighbouring states in the 6th to 5th centuries BCE.”
Only the main shaft of the tomb, with dimensions of 6.6 × 6.6 meters, remains as the aboveground part was destroyed in ancient times. At the bottom of this 14-meter-deep shaft lies a burial chamber constructed from limestone blocks. The decorated burial chamber is 3.2 meters long, 2.6 meters wide, and 1.9 meters high. Access to it was facilitated by a small, northern shaft (1.2 × 1 meter) and an approximately 3-meter-long narrow passage connecting the entrance shaft to the burial chamber. For reasons yet unknown, this entrance shaft was largely filled with dozens of decorated limestone blocks, originating from the dismantled aboveground part of the nearby majestic tomb of General Menechibnekon.
The burial chamber is richly adorned with texts and scenes. The northern (entrance) wall is covered with a long sequence of apotropaic incantations against snake bites from the Pyramid Texts. Interestingly, in these magical texts, snakes were perceived both as potential threats and powerful protectors of the deceased and their mummies. Renata Landgráfová, director of the Czech Institute of Egyptology and an expert in ancient Egyptian language and texts, explains, “While the entrance to Menechibnekon’s burial chamber was guarded by gatekeepers from the 144th chapter of the Book of the Dead, in the case of Jehutiemhat, snakes from the Pyramid Texts play this role.”
Inside the burial chamber, a large stone sarcophagus is placed, bearing hieroglyphic inscriptions and depictions of gods, both outside and inside. The top of the sarcophagus lid is adorned with three columns of hieroglyphic text from the liturgy of the 178th chapter of the Book of the Dead, composed of fragments from much older Pyramid Texts. The longer sides of the lid feature the 42nd chapter of the Book of the Dead, dedicated to the deification of the deceased’s body parts, including depictions of individual deities to whom the deceased is assimilated.
The shorter sides of the lid depict the goddesses Isis and Nephthys, with accompanying texts providing protection to the deceased. The outer walls of the sarcophagus bear excerpts from the Coffin Texts and Pyramid Texts, partially repeating the incantations found on the walls of the burial chamber. At the bottom of the inner wall of the sarcophagus, the goddess of the West is depicted, and its inner sides bear the so-called canopic utterances, pronounced by this goddess and the earth god Geb. “The goddess of the West inside the sarcophagus represents the protector, guide, and symbolic mother of the deceased,” explains Jiří Janák, who analyzes and interprets religious and magical texts as part of the field research.
Jehutiemhat’s tomb was discovered nearly empty, as it had been looted (similar to other tombs in this necropolis) probably in the 5th century BCE. Anthropological analysis of skeletal remains, conducted by leading Egyptian experts, revealed that Jehutiemhat died at a relatively young age around 25, showed signs of an occupational disease (spinal wear from a sedentary job), and suffered from severe osteoporosis. This last fact could connect him to the family of other inhabitants of the Abusir necropolis of shaft tombs, where this disease has also been confirmed, such as the renowned Iufaa, owner of a nearby much larger tomb whose undisturbed burial chamber was discovered in 1996.
It is possible that most tomb owners buried in this part of the Abusir necropolis belonged to one extended family firmly rooted in the military elite of Late Saite Egypt. However, Jehutiemhat’s mother likely came from completely different circles and another part of ancient Egypt. Her two names can be translated as “Nubian” and “Fox,” with the latter written in an unusual, possibly Berber form. Detailed photo documentation and analysis of finds and texts will continue.
The ceramic assemblage was more or less proportionate to the size of the tomb (except for seven torches) and mainly originated from the small northern shaft, consisting primarily of bowls, jars, or lids. Imports were represented by a fragmentarily preserved amphora, the so-called “torpedo jar” from the Syro-Palestinian region, and a decorated neck of a Chian amphora. “The discovery of a large shard from a Chian amphora with a perfectly smoothed edge is particularly interesting,” says Květa Smoláriková, an expert in Egyptian ceramics and Greek imports in the Czech team, “because ancient looters likely used it as a shovel.”
“The recently discovered tomb of official Jehutiemhat in the Abusir archaeological concession is the latest piece of knowledge in the mosaic of ancient Egypt’s history at the end of its glory in the Late Period, in the 6th century BCE,” says Miroslav Bárta, director of Czech archaeological research in Abusir. He adds, “Shaft tombs represent a specific type of tombs from this period. They emerged as a specific attempt by the ancient Egyptian elite at a renaissance and are based on the model of the tomb of the ruler Djoser, the founder of the famous Old Kingdom, the era of pyramid builders in the 3rd millennium BCE.”